Lue “Finisher” Thao founded Cypher Side in 2017 as an accessible space for youth and the community in the heart of the city. It’s a break dance, hip-hop choreography and freestyle dance studio with a very intentional name. “Cypher” means a circle that anyone can join, and “Side” refers to space. Thao has been a fixture in the Twin Cities hip hop community for over a decade. He began breakdancing as a youth, competing and eventually teaching.
“Giving knowledge, passing it down like each one teach one,” Thao said. “It inspires me as a person and I like to inspire people and teach them how to be positive, how to grow as a person, getting confidence and better self-esteem. Me growing up, I had low self-esteem and dancing helped me to overcome that.”
“Each one teach one” is a proverb that originated during slavery in America. Education was scarce, so when one slave learned to read and write, it became his or her duty to teach someone else.
“Growing up, we would always have to travel 30 minutes to find a place to practice, sometimes we don’t have rides,” said Thao. “It’s been a big goal and dream of mine to have an accessible space for youth and the community, providing an opportunity for the kids as well. So just having a place near home for the kids to have access to.”
Thao was teaching classes through the Saint Paul Public School District, where he met Mary Anne Quiroz, who was the after school coordinator at the time. Fast friends, they often talked about their dream of having their own creative spaces; so when Mary Anne and her husband, Sergio, opened the Indigenous Roots Cultural Center, Thao was on board.
Thao’s goal is to gain more connections and create more partnerships to sustain the performance opportunities for the students. In Spring 2018, one of Cypher Side’s crews performed at ROOTED, an event put on by Maia Maiden Productions, where they were compensated for their time. Thao hopes to see more events that pay the performers.
Thao, who grew up on the East Side, also hopes to be able to provide scholarships for low-income families, and be able to bring in guest teachers (especially if they can incorporate cultural dancing infused with hip hop).
“Seeing parents investing in their kids is a really great thing,” Thao said. “We have a group of diverse students. People are starting to see that it’s really beneficial, not just to dance, but mentally. I [want to] figure out a way to still help the community by making it affordable, provide scholarships, or a way to help this community in need.”
Cypher Side offers classes for those 4 and up. More information on classes can be found on their website.
Cypher Side’s Year End Show is THIS weekend! December 15 at 4:30. Purchase tickets here.