Break dancing Massive MonkeesWe’d like to highlight positive opportunities for teens so in this post, guest blogger Dr. Alok Patel writes about his experiences with the amazing break dancing crew, Massive Monkees.

Getting a teenager to focus is a daunting, nearly impossible task, for any professional. Smart phones, social media, and hormone-driven behaviors often corner the market for a high-schooler’s attention span. Nonetheless, the resurgence of a throwback dance-style, with a blend of mentorship, is turning heads in South Seattle. Teenagers, all over, are discovering themselves in breakdancing, or ‘breaking’ – the show stealing, acrobatic, immersive art, that can be seen anywhere from 80’s movies, to commercials, to music videos.

The rhythmic movements captivate adolescents and world-renowned bboy crew, the Massive Monkees, alongside Arts Corps, are parlaying the fascination into the nation’s first dance-based youth leadership program, right here in Seattle.

The Massive Monkees Winning a World Competition in Korea

I first learned about the movement at Chief Sealth High School’s Teen-Health Clinic. A bright-eyed 15 year old student had the most unique response to a typical screening question:

“What are you doing to stay fit and out of trouble?” I asked with a slightly jovial tone.

“I breakdance.” She responded without an ounce of hesitation.

The sophomore told me that she was a b-girl and was drawn to her new artform by Jerome Aparis, a.k.a. B-Boy Jeromeskee, a very ‘youtube-able’ member of the Massive Monkees. The Massive Monkees have worked with companies like Facebook and Xbox, performed with artists like 50 Cent and Missy Elliot, have been featured on MTV’s America’s Best Dance Crew, and still make time to teach free classes at Seattle schools. Naturally, I ditched the stethoscope, threw on some Converses, and attended an afterschool break-dance session at Chief Sealth.

Cross-legged, with a light funk-meets-electronica soundtrack in the background, I watched Jerome chat with each student about personal reflections before starting a “top-rock” warm-up.

“Yeah, sure, breaking is hip and gives kids ‘social proof’, but the real positive vehicle here is self-actualization.” Jerome’s enthusiasm was palpable.

“High school years are all about searching for yourself. And nowadays social media makes this even harder.” Jerome begun to explain the evolution he saw in kids as they found individuality from dancing. “They discover themselves, what they’re made of, and this translates into life skills. It’s incredible.”

I pulled aside one of his students, Nimith, a senior at Chief Sealth high school and asked what he gained from breakdancing.

“When I can, I practice 2 hours a day. I let creativity out through movement, focus on my moves, and it keeps me away from ‘bad things’.”

His younger brother, Nesai, a freshman, added another dimension to the art’s impact. “I’m usually a shy person and dancing is a way for me to comfortably express myself.”

Jerome’s influence on the teenagers was evident by the discipline, energy, and sheer joy I witnessed. I soon learned that many others could benefit from the same mentoring from Extraordinary Futures, the Massive Monkees’ non-profit. Extraordinary Futures and Arts Corps provide a dance-based leadership program to urban youth and bring adolescents together in the spirit of breakdancing, regardless of ability to pay.

Mike Huang, associate director of Extraordinary Futures, describes dance as a “craft that adolescents can claim as their own and have as a tangible product of hard work.” Mike, Jerome, and other members of Extraordinary Futures have effectively found harmony between a constructive afterschool hobby, artistic training, and life-coaching.

Joe Stolte, Executive Director of Extraordinary Futures, and Jerome speak about their work.

Speaking of the dancer’s craft, I saw some final products at the Bagley Wright Theatre, at the “Massive Monkees Break Challenge: The Grand Finale of the School vs School Breaking League”. Franklin, Hazen, Highline, Rainier Beach, Chief Sealth and several other schools had representation in the hip-hop-infused rivalry. I sat among a packed crowd of rowdy spectators as each ‘breaker’ threw out unique dance sequences in an attempt to outdo one another. I have never seen another athletic activity intertwine so many youth, from diverse backgrounds, in such a constructive light.

It definitely beat your average, high school sporting event.

After the show, I spoke with a couple other breakdancers to see if they shared similar sentiments to my Chief Sealth crew. A junior from Hazen High School told me that breakdancing gave him a unique way to connect with the world and meet people he would have never met. I then chatted with 12-year old boy, alias “Bboy Kulani”, who took home the “Upcoming Bboy” honor. Kulani told me that breaking was his greatest hobby, earned him friends, and kept him active. Kulani had an undeniable amount of confidence as he flipped and spun his way through dance routines – I have never seen a cooler 6thgrader.

After that competition, I was completely sold on the concept that breakdancing as the newest, freshest, public health tool. With the Massive Monkees and Extraordinary Futures pioneering the movement and more youth getting interested each day, I cannot wait to see what the funky, top-rocking future holds. Both here in Seattle and all-over the world.

To see Dr. Patel’s full blog post, complete with additional photos of the Massive Monkees click here.