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Leading up to the Big Brain Award awards announcement and celebration on April 7, Chow Bella and Jackalope Ranch will introduce the Big Brain 2012 Finalists.
Up today: Cyphers
Years before Danny "Scooby" Morales found himself installing 4,000 square feet of hardwood flooring, the local, self-described hip hop head would bring his family out to 9201 N. 29th Ave. on weekends to sit on the curb and dream.
The building has a long history in the hip hop community -- years ago, it used to be the spot for late-night parties and dance-crew battles. It was here, and through his involvement as a founding member of Furious Styles Crew dance collective, that Morales met Jorge "House" Magana.
The building's sign has changed regularly; it was a record shop, a Jiu Jitsu studio, and a vacant space with a "for lease" sign. A few months ago, during one of his family trips to the spot, Morales says he finally took a deep breath and made two phone calls -- one to the building's leasing agent and the other to Magana.
Morales, 36, and Magana, 39, grew up in the neighborhood that surrounds Metrocenter Mall and Castles and Coasters. They both remember cruising around the amusement park and hanging out at the mall with friends during the summer.
"It used to be the place for young people to be and hang out before it got a bad rap," Morales says. "Now all the kids go to Arrowhead, and the hip-hop community goes elsewhere."
Two months ago, Morales and Magana opened Cyphers: The Center for Urban Arts with a big mission -- to bring the community back together.
The name, Magana says, is the term in hip-hop culture for the circle b-boy dancers, emcees, slam poets, and musicians often naturally form. "The cypher is where the energy is -- it's as much the feeling as it is the formation ... Dancers and performers spend a lot of time competing and performing on stages and for crowds, but it's in the cypher that they truly earn the respect of each other."
Respect plays a big part in the Cyphers operation. Magana says the curricula for each of the classes offered in the space -- from b-boy, break, and funk dancing to soon-to-come classes in DJing and aerosol art -- are rooted in learning the history of each art form. Before developing and fine-tuning the techniques, members build respect for the art and for each other.
First and foremost, Magana (who teaches a majority of the classes) is a dancer. He started dancing as a teenager in Chicago, and through various crews, he's performed and competed all over the world. When he moved to Phoenix in the early '90s, he and a few friends formed "Styles Crew" (now known as Furious Styles Crew), and while he continues to dance at local clubs, he also teaches urban dance in studios around town and at Arizona State University.
"When Scooby approached me about the spot a few months ago, I didn't buy it. But he won me over," he says, and laughs a little. "He's a lot bigger than me."
"I've had this idea in my head forever," Morales says. "I wanted a spot for my own kids to learn about hip-hop culture. I wanted them to have the opportunity to be a part of a community and have a safe place to hang out."
The two have loosely decorated the huge space's walls with rotating local artwork, and they have display cases full of old school boom boxes, high-top sneakers, spray paint cans, and awards given to the Furious Styles Crew. "Most of this stuff came from my house," says Magana. "But it kind of fits here."
Future plans for the spot include forming a dance crew of its own, a space for skaters, a recording studio, and a hostel-like area in the back for visiting dancers to stay. "We obviously have a ton of ideas and a lot of dreams," Magana says. "We kept asking ourselves, 'What if?' ... This place is the 'What if?'"
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