Breaking Down

Written by Michelle Beaver Category: Valley News Issue: March 2014
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Cyphers, the Valley's only hip-hop culture center, needs a new home.

Ty'Keihm Beard always liked dancing, but was nervous last year when his older brother took him to dance in public for the first time. "I didn't know what people would say, or how they would act," Beard, 14, said of his introduction to Cyphers: The Center for Urban Arts, a hip-hop community hub in northwest Phoenix.

Beard did just fine, and was exhilarated to see his first "cypher" – a circle of cheering spectators with dancers in the middle, usually grooving one at a time, dance-off style, à la the 2004 film You Got Served. Beard couldn't get enough. He now has a dance name, "T-Wrecks," and recently won a beginner's battle against dancers from all over Arizona. He's also on a new dance crew, the Beat Drop Kidz, and calls it family.

Many Cyphers students have similar tales. The center attracts dancers, graffiti artists and deejays to form one of the most dynamic youth communities in Phoenix, and offers classes in aerosol art, turntablism and hip-hop dance forms like popping, breaking and krumping (see sidebar). About 75 kids take lessons at the center every month, and events like dance contests draw at least 100 people. The owners of Cyphers have big plans, and a big problem: The center's about to be homeless.

Their landlord is selling the building, which borders amusement park Castles N' Coasters, to a developer who plans to raze it later this year to build a grocery store. The landlord offered another space nearby, but the building is half the size and rent will be seven times higher. The Cyphers founders say the reason they were given for the hike is higher post-development property value.

Edson "House" Magana, 40, who started Cyphers in 2012, declined to share financial details, but says they can't afford the higher rent. He and business partner Danny "Skooby" Morales, 38, say Cyphers isn't about making a profit; their prices of $7 a class and $2 for open dance sessions on Wednesdays are already below the industry standard.

Finding a new location has been tough, but as this issue went to press, Magana said Cyphers would likely end up at the Phoenix Center for the Arts. "We want people to understand that if we offer a place to do [graffiti art], and to spend their time, kids aren't getting in as much trouble on the streets," Morales says.

Morales knows what happens to kids when they don't have guidance. He says he did "a lot of things he shouldn't have" as a teenager before he started driving trucks and became a family man with two sons. When his older son got involved in breaking (commonly known as "break dancing"), Morales became friends with his teacher, "House" Magana, and the rest is history.

Magana is a member of the international, invitation-only dance crew the Mighty Zulu Kingz, started in the Bronx in 1973. For him, hip-hop "isn't about girls shaking their booties." He and Morales teach hip-hop values of respect, perseverance, originality and creativity. Cyphers will stay open, Magana says, even if they have to run it out of a backyard until they find a new home. They will man a table at the Magellan Health Services-sponsored MY Fest at Tempe Beach Park on March 23 and want to find a new place for Cyphers in central Phoenix so people Valleywide have access. "Hip-hop needs to be accessible," Magana says. "I want kids to have something to belong to, something that gives them a voice."

Word Up
Hip-hop dance styles explained
Popping: Dancers quickly contract and relax their muscles, causing jerking motions. A related dance style is "the robot."
Locking: A dancer executes a fast movement and freezes in position for a few moments before resuming the dance.
Breaking: Evolved from myriad sources, including the funk dance moves of James Brown, New York City street dances of the early '70s and Kung-Fu films. Incorporates moves including hand stands and head spins.
Housing: Improvisational dance with an emphasis on "jacking" (moving the torso back and forth in a wave motion) and complex footwork.
Krumping: Driven by exaggerated moves and aggressive energy, this style includes arm swings, chest pops and stomps.

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