Massive Monkees share success with community — 2013 Visionary Award Recipient

The Northwest Asian Weekly presents the Visionary Awards Gala, an event honoring visionaries in the APA community, on Oct. 18.

By Gabrielle Nomura
Northwest Asian Weekly

The Massive Monkees have come a long way on their journey to stardom. (Photo courtesy of Brysen “Just Be” Angeles)

In that moment, “Massive Monkees” couldn’t have been a more fitting name for the Seattle breakdancers.

As they took the stage to battle Korea’s beloved Jinjo Crew, the Monkees looked far from human. Exploding with quick, sneaker-clad steps, fresh moves, and hip-hop swagger, these men were larger than life.

But the Jinjos fought valiantly, spinning on their knees like whirling dervishes with do-rags and colored jeans. The Korean b-boys, ferocious warriors all, confronted the Monkees boldly with dynamic choreography in their arsenal.

Finally, when the music stopped and the dancers waited to find out the results, “Massive Monkees” flashed triumphantly on a giant TV screen.

Swinging their discarded T-shirts, the sweaty dancers sashayed triumphantly onto the stage with excitement, pumping their fists in the air.

Monkee dancers perform feats that seem beyond human capacity. (Photo from Brysen “Just Be” Angeles)

The Monkees were the first American crew in the history of the R-16 Korean contest to win. Yet this 2012 victory at an international competition is just one small blip on the heaving resume of these dancers — heroes at home and in hip-hop galaxies beyond. The group has shared the stage with Alicia Keys, Jay-Z, Public Enemy, Missy Elliott, LL Cool J, Ludacris, 50 Cent, and Akon. They provided nightly, in-game entertainment at Seattle SuperSonics games, and placed third on MTV’s “America’s Best Dance Crew.”

From a group of kids in hoodies dancing at community centers, to superstars meeting prime ministers and earning spots on Xbox commercials, member Jerome “Jeromeskee” Aparis said their secret to success is simple: Authenticity.

“When other groups followed the ‘mainstream’ path, we decided to focus on our roots, maintain our foundation, and be bold about it,” Aparis said.

Originating from Seattle’s Franklin High School, these percussively gifted artists perform in front of more than 1 million people each year.

Fame has brought the crew an expansive reach of talent. The 29 current members hail from the U.S., U.K., France, Egypt, Cambodia and Germany — an international cast of characters for a crew that competes and performs all over the world — especially in Asia. In Japan and Korea, a thirst for hip-hop culture often brings big budgets and bright lights.

“I don’t know if it’s the culture or their respect for the art, but the organizations who bring us there in particular treat us with a lot of respect and care,” said Brysen “Just Be” Angeles, an original Franklin member.

Angeles said the group takes pride in its diversity, noting that many members of the group are Asian American. Many in the group are also Seattleites and proud to be from the 206 area code, where, in 2004, Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels officially dubbed April 26 as “Massive Monkees Day.”

“The Massive Monkees have shown that they’re the best in the world, and they’re sharing it with their community,” Mayor Nickels proclaimed at the time. Three years later, The Seattle Arts Commission honored the group with The Mayor’s Arts Award.

The Monkees have continued to enrich the arts, not just through their performances, but with their “each one, teach one” philosophy: earning respect from your predecessors, then passing that knowledge along to the next generation.

More than a year ago, the group opened The Beacon studio in the International District’s old Milwaukee Hotel.

This was made possible by a grant from Storefronts Seattle, the Shunpike-run project that brings art exhibits and creative enterprises to downtown storefronts.

While these arrangements are typically temporary, the Monkee’s classes were such a success that the crew was able to sign a long-term lease with building owner Coho Real Estate. Now, they’re here to stay.

The Beacon provides a space for producing, performing, and teaching with an emphasis on inclusivity and the positive side of hip-hop culture. Students include dancers of all ages and skill levels, as well as children in a free youth after-school program.

Students learn self-actualization and positivity through their dedication and hard work, Aparis said, and self-actualization inspires confidence, which allows people to lead by example. People who lead by example help their peers make better choices for themselves, he said, which leads to building a community and a culture of working together and inspiring and impacting others.

“Breaking has a fascinating way of doing this,” said Aparis, who has seen powerful examples from his students — children and adults alike.

When learning to breakdance, says Aparis, it’s not enough to gain the strength to suspend one’s body in a yoga-like perch, or master the art of spinning on one’s head. Strong technique is a start. Taking ownership and creative liberty with the steps is how to really dance. Some students might have poor upper-body strength, but great footwork, and that’s OK.

In other words, he said, to thine own self be true.

This guiding principle has been helpful to “Just Be” Angeles.

“‘Just be’ my amazingly talented, creative and gifted self on the dance floor, and at all times.” (end)

The Visionary Awards Gala is Oct. 18 at China Harbor Restaurant from 6–9 p.m. Tickets are available for $70 before Oct. 15 and $80 afterwards. For more information, email rsvp@nwasianweekly.com.

Gabrielle Nomura can be reached at info@nwasianweekly.com.

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