Cyphers have a long and involved connection to the history of dance. They are informal freestyle dance circles and people take turns dancing in the center. Its roots are deeply tied to hip hop culture, African tradition and even beliefs. It becomes a sacred space to those who build and partake in them. Cyphers can be inclusive, joyful, supportive, and help to build community. People of all abilities and dance styles are invited to participate and they don’t need to have prior dance experience.
It started as most things do, a conversation among friends.
“Aurora and I wanted to get back into breaking. I don’t have my own style, not even a main style, that I do but Aurora was really excited to hang out even if we didn’t dance.”, said Victoria B. They made it official, and held each other accountable, by creating a flier.Located at 6509 Michigan Ave, Detroit, MI 48210, Motor City Street Dance Academy (MCSDA) hosts these women-only dance cyphers every Wednesday 7-9PM. Aurora added that, “We want to get better at dance and just have fun with dance. We invite others to join us.”
Aurora and Mathra used to dance together in high school but when Aurora left for college she didn’t have the time to practice. “Martha invited me to come back, to come dance. When I came back she taught me everything all over again from the ground up. I used to teach her and then she became my teacher, that’s the circle of life right”, said Aurora.
Martha started spinning 13 years ago. Her father was an engineer at Monarch Records in California. He had a trailer full of records that she smiled and called “my safe haven”.
“I had uncles that were breaking back in the day and would talk to me about it but this was in El Salvador and Guatemala. At first, I didn’t realize there were dancers in Detroit too. Once I found where the dancers were, I just submerged myself in the culture. I started meeting everybody and just growing from there”, said Martha.
“We’ve had all women crews in Detroit, it’s not new, it’s just a new generation. We are trying to bridge the gap for them and all come back together because at the end of the day this is our heart.” said Martha right before putting on her headphones to open up Wednesday night’s cypher session.
MCSDA did not exist when POPPET was growing up in Detroit. They left in 2015 to live inGeorgia and explore the street dance scene down south. Poppet and Mav reconnected in 2017 to create workshops together at MCSDA. See the funny thing about friends is they just might agree with you and help you accomplish something.
“There’s so much more connection, dance is just one string that ties us together. When you come together through dance, then you build together in other ways. It becomes easier to do. It opens that door”, said POPPET.
POPPET has known Mav, Executive Director of MCSDA since she was 15. “When I moved back to Detroit, I was looking for places to give back to the street dance community with the skills I developed in Georgia.”
Before joining the cypher she explained that, “A community is stronger when it’s united and you have all of these women all over the city of Detroit, strong powerful dancers whocan pull their own with the best of them. Being scattered makes it hard for us to feed off of each other’s energy, to feed off of each other’s inspiration. Street dance is very high adrenaline, that’s why the cypher is so important. That’s why the circle is so important. That’s why spaces like this and opportunities like this are important because we lift each other up. You can’t do that when we are all over the place.”
“We all have different strengths. I am really good at curating and pulling people together out of just the spirit of let’s just hang out and have fun and create.” said Victoria. She thinks of herself as creative in a visual sense and enjoys being around dancers because “they are also visual creators”.
She recounted how some of the people she stayed connected with, even through COVID, were all dancers. Dancing was the string that managed to keep them tied together. “There’s something very fundamental and cementing about it. Dancing just opens that door”.
“As far as I know, all other sessions have been coed. Street dance in a male dominated field. Having this space that is dedicated just for females, it makes it a little bit less intimidating, especially for the women who are just now stepping into the street dance world.” said POPPET.
“It was how you got your props, and respect. It doesn’t have to be like that anymore, and it doesn’t have to be like that anymore, we can all start from a space of mutual respect, instead of coming from a point of the male gaze where females are pitted against each other.” Thinking about the future POPPET focuses on what is possible and empowering “just because we were born from the struggle doesn’t mean we have to stay there.”
“We can move forward by focusing on the pillars of hip hop which are: peace, love, unity and having fun. That’s what people can expect when they come to MCSDA” said POPPET.
Victoria described the cypher as a space for female artists to “just kinda feed off each other and support one another to have that feedback on a daily weekly basis. It’s important for us to just be able to play or practice or just vibe and hang out and connect with each other.
Dancing allows us to create on the dance floor.”Dancing, hip hop, and culture can be a very male dominated space yet that shouldn’t keep women from coming together to have a good time. “Sometimes, you don’t want to fight for space. Sometimes you just want to share the space.” said Aurora.
These women dancers are coming together to empower women through a dance community. They have created a meeting place for women who enjoy music, dancing, and just vibing overall.
Victoria described MCSDA as a place to “Come and be surrounded and enjoy the music.” Whether you want to groove out a bit, stretch, see other people create, dance yourself, you can see what the Women’s only dance cypher is about and enjoy it.
“You don’t have to move, you can just be here and be safe,” said Victoria.For more information on Motor City Street Dance Academy, visit: https://motorcitysda.com.Connect with them on Instagram at @motorcitysda.