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CYPHER QUEENZ CHANGE THE SCENE

Breakdancing is the extreme sport of dance. Watching breakers at jams can sometimes feel like the equivalent of seeing Alex Honnold free solo El Capitan – you can’t peel your eyes away from the excitement. In a battle, or competition, breakers are judged based on musicality, ability to tell a story or engage in conversation, and execution of technical form all at once. Recognized as one of the four pillars of Hip Hop, breaking is a highly respected style for this reason: it’s physically intensive and highly artistic. Breakers can defy gravity and make it look easy. Let’s take a pause – imagine the athleticism, the artistry, the battling, who comes to mind when you picture a breaker? For most people, it’s a male. 

Breaking is also synonymous with b-boying – a term that has been used interchangeably over the past five decades. The gender generalization is derived from a scene that historically was, and still is, significantly male-dominated. It is undergirded by perceptions that a male physique is necessary to amass the power and upper-body strength required to take on forms idealized by breaking standards. While there are certain physiological traits that help with particular power-centric forms, there are also characteristics refined by many female breakers using flexibility and unique movements that are not equally celebrated. Naturally, this raises concerns regarding gender exclusivity and underappreciation for bgirls who partake in the culture, many of which have set new technical milestones rivaling their male counterparts. Despite the overwhelming majority of male representation, we continue to see the demographic of bgirls grow annually as women around the globe redefine traditional notions of competitive breaking. We’re witnessing the empowerment of a new generation, some of which is in motion within our very city blocks.

Susana “Suze” Machado at The Beacon. Photo: Phonexay Tony Udom.

Seattle is home to early bgirl pioneers including Anna Banana Freeze of Massive Monkees, Annabel Quintero, May Praseuth of The Good Foot Arts Collective, Mary Lee Nagy, Colleen Ross, and Anna Nagy, who all danced during a time when women were fairly uncommon in the breaking scene. Within the last decade, however, despite global recognition and widespread popularity, Seattle tallied a concerning shortage of femme-identifying breakers compared to other breaking communities. This comes at no surprise given Seattle’s breaking scene has an unfortunate history of sexual misconduct, coercion, and even violence towards women. A pervasive attitude of gender bias and gender gatekeeping, such as referring to it as a “guy sport” or “too physically demanding for women,” cultivated hostile and exclusive practice spaces for bgirls. This raised some major red flags, particularly for Anna Nagy. Nagy, also known as bgirl Naj, is a fixture in the local breaking scene. With over two decades of training, she has participated in hundreds of jams across the country and continues to be a significant force in the community as a role model on and off the dance floor. Nagy’s dancing is a sanctuary – there’s masterful fluidity between her movements in resonance with the beat and the floor. Inspired by a trip to Denver for Queens of Hip Hop in 2018, a jam for women featuring all female emcees, judges, and DJs, Nagy returned with a goal to create a similar gathering for women in Seattle. With perseverance through the pandemic, CYPHER Queenz has emerged as one of the most exciting street dance collectives to exist in the PNW.

CYPHER Queenz is a bgirl collective championing inclusivity, artistic expression, and centering women while honoring the foundational roots of Hip Hop culture. In partnership with The Good Foot Arts Collective, a non-profit driving youth harm and violence prevention through the arts, CYPHER Queenz co-produces educational workshops, No Excuses, to advocate for safer environments by addressing concerns with patterns of abuse in the scene. Praseuth, co-owner of The Good Foot Arts Collective, identified that “bgirls were tired of not being able to talk about violence, tired of being voiceless…and are seeking a place of belonging, especially in the greater breaking community to feel affirmed and supported.” No Excuses intentionally centers discussions addressing harmful behaviors, providing an opportunity for bgirls to engage in meaningful conversations. Bgirl-tailored practice sessions and classes are hosted monthly to encourage women to comfortably enter the breaking scene through open exploration. 

The impact has been astounding. CYPHER Queenz has over twenty regular members who stand at the forefront of this shift, creating a space where women and non-binary dancers of all levels can express themselves freely, away from the male gaze that has long enveloped the breaking scene. The Queenz feel empowered to enter battles and cyphers knowing there is a community of people who will speak up for them should they encounter abuse. “It’s scary to take up space. Not all of us are used to having our self-expression be witnessed. It’s super vulnerable,” says dancer Kristine Angelica (Fumaça), who points to the looming expectations to fit a certain aesthetic and the experience that simply being a woman can deny you respect and the chance to learn something new. “CYPHER Queenz has abolished that narrative. No matter what body type you have or what way you look, they hold space”. Leading this movement is Nagy – representing an amalgamation of openness, kindness, and dedication to the foundations of Hip Hop revealed in her character and trademark flow. For Briana Tamaki (Breeze), Nagy’s zeal and the communal spirit of CYPHER Queenz has been a game changer. “It all started with Anna. She was a role model as a person and dancer, and I felt like I could really grow if I kept dancing with her. CQ helped me experiment and express my breaking in new, fun, funny, weird, creative, and cool ways.”

Anna Nagy aka Bgirl Naj (Center) and CYPHER Queenz dancers.

Similarly, Maia Melene D’Urfé’s transition from contemporary dance to breaking was facilitated by welcoming invitations from Nagy. For D’Urfé, a movement polyglot, dance is a multi-faceted expression of self and the inclusivity fostered by Nagy has been instrumental in her exploration of breaking and its cultural heritage. They are often told by friends within the contemporary dance scene that breaking seems too scary to attempt because the movement or culture can feel intimidatingly foreign, but “CYPHER Queenz is always the first recommendation” D’Urfé suggests “as a place to start”

In fact, CYPHER Queenz was part of Susana Machado’s (Suze) early introduction to breaking. Machado, one of the fastest emerging bgirls starting a little over two years ago, has found breaking as a way to balance introversion. “Breaking gives me a sense of release,” says Machado, “it’s almost as if you’re working through things without really realizing you’re doing it. Prior to breaking, I found it difficult to introduce myself and chat to people I didn’t know, but dancing and joining this community has helped a lot with my social anxiety and getting more confident in those interactions.”

Breaking is also a means for communication for Justine Palacio (Sacred Fire, Soul Breakerz Krew) who immigrated from the Philippines from the United States in high school. At the time, Palacio didn’t speak English and had difficulties making friends, so breaking became a major outlet for Palacio to express herself. Similarly, Jasmin Montero (Min, Straight from Bolivia) born and raised in Bolivia, adds an international dimension to CYPHER Queenz. For Montero, CYPHER Queenz was a revelation; the presence of bgirls practicing together was unlike anything she had experienced in Bolivia where female breakers are scarce. The collective has been crucial in providing a sense of community and belonging for Montero as she found not only a space for improvement and expression, but also a platform that underscores the significance of solidarity among women in the breaking community. Palacio and Montero’s presence enriches the Seattle scene with global perspectives, reminding us that dance knows no borders or linguistic barriers, and the breaking floor is home for anyone with a story to tell and a passion to share.

Jasmin Montera

As we cultivate a new generation of dancers, offering a sanctuary where the breaking floor remains a canvas for creativity and playfulness is paramount to paying homage to the roots of Hip Hop. Palacio has been doing just that in her youth classes that spread the ethos of CYPHER Queenz. Teaching young breakers and leading by example, Palacio emphasizes the importance of maintaining the joy and purity of dance, even in the face of competition. Her work with the next generation underscores a pivotal aspect of breaking’s evolution in Seattle: the nurturing of a community that values growth, respect, and mutual support over rivalry.

Educational and social praxis in dance transcends beyond session, cyphers, and jams. There is something inexplicably unifying about dance – it deepens introspection and builds comradery. This is best summed up by Angelica. “Dance is like coming home to your highest creative potential. It’s a spiritual ritual. It’s the deepest form of meditation. When I dance, I see the choices that I make in my dance and the ways that I interact with the people in the room. I’m seeing myself grow every time.” 

Feature photo: CYPHER Queenz at Northwest Folklife 2022.  Photo by Andre Reminisce.

About Anna Nagy aka Bgirl Naj

A member of Funky Dynamics, 1inA Million and Fraggle Rock Crew, Anna has been involved in breakdancing and hip hop dance styles for over a decade. Known as Bgirl Naj, Anna has participated in hundreds of performances in the Northwest and throughout the country, in addition to competing in national and international battles. Some of her accomplishments include 1st place victories in solo Bgirl battles: Smoked in Ohio (2008), Bboy Hodown (2008), Outbreak Canada (2010), and Illin Empire LA (2012). 

Anna Nagy teaches open level breaking at The Beacon (812 Rainier Ave S) every Thursday from 6:30-7:30pm and every Saturday at The Good Foot Collective (6951 MLK Jr Way S. Suite 222). Anna Nagy will be teaching a mini workshop followed by an open session and cypher. Entry is free and no experience necessary.