Toronto Gets New Dance Studio

From left to right: Aaron Aquino, Aaron Libfeld and Roy Urbanozo. Photo by Sveta Soloveva

Voted the best in Toronto, The Underground’s dance classes are getting a new three-storey studio with a rooftop skylight this summer.

In just about two months, the new Underground Dance Centre will take the space above Yuk Yuk’s comedy club at 224 Richmond St. West, which is only two doors down from the original. Compared to the 3,700 square feet old studio with two rooms, the new space will be around 8,500 square feet with four rooms, including a rooftop with glass windows, which all the teachers are excited about.

“This is the floor I’m going to fight for,” said hip hop teacher Aaron Aquino. “I just want a sunny roof and fresh air coming through.”

Right now, the demolitions are complete and the team is collecting quotes from different contractors and deciding on who will build the new studio, said studio manager Roy Urbanozo.

The Underground Dance Centre gets a rooftop skylight studio this summer. Photo by Sveta Soloveva

The price for a single class increases from $15 to $17 starting May 1st, according to twenty-eight-year owner Aaron Libfeld. He added that still “a competitive price” around the city comes with new values. They are doubling the number of classes from 120 to 240, adding more hours for the teachers, and hiring more dancers to teach new styles. The old studio will continue to operate and customers will be able to use their passes at both locations. 

“Everyone is excited to see the new schedule,” said Libfeld. “There’s going to be a lot more of the popular styles, such as hip hop, dancehall, heels, Beyonce… We gonna have more k-pop and disco theme.”

Libfeld grew up as a competitive dancer, who took ballet, jazz, hip hop, contemporary, and acro at Vlad’s Dance Centre in Richmond Hill. The first thing he is looking for when hiring teachers is their personality. Even though someone is the best dancer in the world and they come with a bad attitude, they are automatically disqualified,” he said.

Excellent dance experience, understanding of the style, and ability to teach are the other requirements.

Photo by Roy Urbanozo

Teachers are not the only ones who create the mood in the studio. There are 20 young volunteers, who help at the front desk and receive free classes in return. Urbanozo will hire about 20 more volunteers to create positive vibes and a loving atmosphere in the new studio. 

Another innovation, prerecorded classes by choreographers from New York and L.A. is coming to the old Underground in just about a week. It’s going to be a unique experience, different from a simple online class, said Libfeld. “Even though they are [following] prerecorded videos, they are in a dance studio, in a dance environment, with other people,” he said. “Online classes are kind of the Netflix, but we wanna be like the Cineplex.”

Technology and social media have been a huge part of The Underground since it opened in 2014. Libfeld, who holds a Bachelor of Commerce in Finance and used to run a technology company at Ryerson’s Digital Media Zone (DMZ), said he applied all those skills to run his dance studio.

It’s very focused on working on the idea, getting feedback on that and continually innovating it,” he said.

Photo by Roy Urbanozo

Videos of every class on its Instagram, which now has almost 80,000 followers, helped the studio attract most of the clients and won the title of the best dance classes in Toronto by blogTO and Yelp within the first six months of opening. The Underground hosted the space for celebrities like Nelly Furtado, who rehearsed at the studio twice during her visit to Toronto.

“It’s exciting to know that we are providing the great content and sharing our love of dance in the world,” said Libfeld.

Both, Libfeld and Urbanozo said they are happy to expand their business, but the new studio is not the end of their vision. They will keep working on the main concept: providing their customers with the best experience. “We do our best because we want them [the customers] to come back. We want them to feel exclusive,” said Urbanozo. “There’s still a lot to learn about the industry and how to treat our customers.”

“We’ll only stop when we have to stop,” said Libfeld. “We are obsessed with the customer experience. For us it’s the worst thing if anyone walks out unhappy. So we make sure that we only hire the best teachers, keep the beautiful facility with professional cleaners every single night. That creates the whole experience which I think is different than anyone else does.”

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Breaking Barriers: Women in Photography

Mellow guitar chops, sounds of change clanging, and laughter: a Calgary’s Starbucks hasn’t changed its daily playlist, which satisfies those who escape their offices to find inspiration over a hot cup of coffee.

A photography intern Della Rollins was sipping her Americano and watching a woman flipping through the pages of a Calgary Herald. Rollins quit her public relations job before she went on a year-trip and she didn’t have to escape her office anymore. No more high heels and crazy hours, she thought, continuing to watch the woman.

Suddenly, the woman stopped flipping through and looked at a page with a man with a bike. Rollins heard her heartbeat: the photo was her first publication. This is amazing, she thought gazing around the shop. All these people looking at my picture!

Since then Rollins has been freelancing for the Globe and Male, National Post, and Maclean’s. Work, life, and travel were finally balanced. However, the dream job had its own challenges. Rollins realized it was not only precarious but also not women-friendly.

Photo by Sveta Soloveva

At Ryerson’s journalism conference on April 6th, Rollins and three other female photographers (Meredith Holbrook, Sarah Palmer, and Laurence Butet-Roch) discussed the key problems women face in photojournalism and gave some advices on surviving as a freelancer in Canada.

Last year World Press Photo conducted an online-survey of 1,991 photographers that showed that the field remains persistently male-dominated — 85% — despite recent photo-grads being more than 50% female. According to the News Photographers Associations of Canada (NPAC), only 12% of Canadian photojournalists are women.

“There is a lot of talented men,” said Rollins. “But women are winning awards like Photojournalist of the Year… They do brilliant work. So when you hiring, they should be on top of mind.”

There are not many networking opportunities for women in photojournalism, and, once they are are included, they tend to be assigned to cover exclusively women-oriented issues and events like the Women’s March.

Meanwhile, women’s voices are an integral part of diversity, said Butet-Roch, who has been photographing the indigenous Attawapiskat communities for seven years.

“Our journalism is just going to be better if we have more diverse voices,” she said. “Giving people the opportunity to report on what they want and not just assign the woman issue to a woman photographer or Indigenous issue to an Indigenous photographer. A woman Indigenous photographer being assigned a story on football would be wonderful.”

Freelancing is a job with no guarantees. But today, when the institutions primarily hire men, it seems to be the best career option for a female photojournalist.

“You have to really hustle,” said Holbrook, who has been photographing Palestinian Territories and Israel for The Jerusalem Post and working on different projects with National Geographic. “There are so many things you wanna do and other people won’t do. And you have to keep going and show people that you are still around, even if they are not answering. There are so many freelancers out there. You have to really show why you are different than anyone else.”

All the participants of the panel agreed on the positive sides of freelance jobs, such as choosing their schedule and subjects they are passionate about.

Butet-Roch, who used to be a stuff-photographer for four years in France, said she quit the job because she couldn’t get in-depth photography experience sitting “behind the desk.”

“There were […] stories that I felt I was missing out [on],” she said. “I wanted to be a freelancer and take time to actually get to know the story.”

Currently working on Virtual Aamjiwnaang, an interactive storytelling platform befitting Indigenous practices at Ryerson, Butet-Roch said that she is happy with her decision.

Rolliins, the contributing photo-editor at Maclean’s, said freelancing allows her to travel and work at her own pace. “Freelancing is a blessing that I didn’t expect,” she said.

The photographers shared some techniques that helped them to succeed in freelancing. One of the advices was building multiple skills in photography, videography, and writing “to have the door open” and be able to tell the story in different ways. However, it’s important to focus on one area.

“Have all kind of skills but specialize in one,” said Rollins who also writes. “They want you to do a little bit of everything. But if you are too spread out and not great in one thing, it’s hard to be hired for that one thing.”

A graduate from the Ryerson’s photography program, Palmer, who just got a grant for her project Drunk on Trump, suggested that freelancers keep their websites “light and clean,” featuring photos that represent only topics of their specialization.

Holbrook added that each photo should “speak to the audience” through its description. She also highlighted the importance of social media, saying that many photographers and organizations get connected to each other through Instagram. “It’s [Instagram] is a realistic way of branding yourself,” she said.

Having real photojournalism friends is effective for exchanging skills and, sometimes, equipment. “Find your small group of photo or journalism people who are constantly pushing you and teaching you,” said Rollins. One way to build that network is to attend photo conferences. One of them will be organized by News Photographers Association in the first week of May. All photographers will have a chance to review their work with photo editors from the Globe and Mail, National Post, and Maclean’s.

The discussion ended on a positive note inspiring freelance women photographers to keep following their passion. “As a photographer or journalist, you already have that type of skills that people are attracted to,” said Holbrook. “There’s something important, something that drives you into this area, so hopefully someone will pick up on that.”

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Winter Stations: the beauty of Toronto’s beaches

North by Montreal studio PERCH

The comfortable temperatures have been pampering Torontonians this winter, and even if some of us got the winter blues, there was no need to travel too far. A winter walk along Toronto’s eastern beaches has never been so entertaining. Visitors can get lost in a forest of upside-down trees and leave “a message from the sea” in plastic bottles.

Those are some of the five winning installations of the third annual Winter Stations, the international design competition to transform lifeguard stations across Balmy, Kew and Ashbridges Bay beaches into an open-air gallery with fantastic and interactive exhibits.

The jury of professional designers and architects of the Winter Stations, which is growing every year in its partners, organizers, and participants, received more than 350 ideas from around the world. Five were selected to be built on the beach along with three designs from the University of Toronto, University of Waterloo, and Humber College.

“Sometimes it was their [students’] first construction project,” said organizer Aaron Hendershott of RAW Design. “They should feel quite rewarded for their success.”

Catalyst, the theme of the 2017 Winter Stations asked the participants to envision a new waterfront landscape and to reinvent the way Torontonians interact with the beaches during winter. As it is only a five-week event, the other requirement included thinkining about how the installation can be reproduced, recycled, or used in other way.  

Flotsam and Jetsam by students from University of Waterloo

The 20-foot high sculpture Flotsam and Jetsam by a team of architecture students from the University of Waterloo resembles a huge Tetris-like horse from afar. But a closer look reveals many plastic bottles in wire cages. The installation is a close-up on the abundance of disposable packaging and its harmful impact on our planet.

North by Montreal-based Studio PERCH is a forest of forty-one fir trees hung from lifeguard stands. Hendershott explained that it was made from trees that didn’t found their homes over Christmas. The green installation stands out in the middle of the sandy beach covered with light-blue crusts of ice.

Collective Memory by Mario García from Barcelona and Andrea Govi from Milan

One of the most interactive designs is Collective Memory by participants from Barcelona and Milan — two walls constructed out of clear plastic bottles in which people can write messages about their experiences as Canadian citizens or immigrants in Canada.

“Over the period of the installation, hundreds of messages are making the piece more dynamic and interesting,” said Hendershott.

The Beacon by Joao Araujo Sousa and Joanna Correia Silva From Portugal

The creators of Collective Memory, North and the winners from Portugal, who designed The Beacon, the wooden lighthouse, were paid for their trips to Toronto to see how their pieces were constructed.

“They were quite satisfied that we were able to maintain their vision,” said Hendershott. “Being able to see it for the first time is little bit magical and emotional.”

Midwinter Fire by students from the University of Toronto

He added that it is always difficult for the jury to pick only a few designs from hundreds submitted, but that they focus on presenting something entirely new each year.

“There are a lot of repeated ideas, and [we have to] make sure that we keep the event fresh for the public,” said Hendershott.

BuoyBuoyBuoy by Dionisios Vriniotis, Rob Shostak, Dakota Wares-Tani, Julie Forand from Toronto

The Winter Stations event was founded by RAW Design, Ferris + Associates, and Curio in 2015 to inspire people to explore the beauty of the North.

The eight installations will remain open for public viewing until March 27.

All photos by Sveta Soloveva

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SplitScreen: Peggy Baker’s Dance Showcase

David Norsworthy and Sarah Fregeau in Split Screen Stereophonic. Photo by Tim Nguyen

During a phone conversation, choreographer Peggy Baker compared her latest work SplitScreen to a couple of google-windows opened side by side on the display. Even if they talk about the same thing, the information on each them are different. Hence, one has to focus on one or the other window to get the information.

The audience had to make decisions of a similar nature while watching SplitScreen at The Theatre Centre this Tuesday evening, because each the four dances in the program has two synchronous, but distinct, lines of action.

Working with four of the best dancers in the Toronto dance scene — Ric Brown, Sarah Fregeau, Kate Holden, and David Norsworthy —, as well as Montreal-based lighting designer Marc Parent and Philadelphia-based guitarist Tim Motzer, the 64-year-old choreographer’s latest features some utterly fascinating moments of contemporary dance.

Holden, in a pale dress, illuminates the stage in the opening solo from Locus Plot (2015). With sharp moves and convulsive breaths she contradicts three shadows (Fregeau, Brown, and Norsworthy) who, staying in a far corner, stroke the air with their arms and legs as if they were singing a lullaby with their bodies.

The mood changes completely when two men, Norsworthy and Brown, simultaneously perform their energetic solos. The oldest choreography Yang (1998) is the most gymnastic and fast-paced. The audience’s glances shift from one dancer to the other as they jump, somersault and run in turns, impressing with their virtuous dance techniques.

Split Screen Stereophonic (2013) is an imperturbable observation of the intimate lives of two couples. Again, the attention shifts between two duets — Fregeau and Norsworthy, and Holden and Brown — who change their body languages in relation to their partners and echo each other throughout the whole dance. Fregeau and Norsworthy’s performance is especially passionate and intense.

Peggy Baker in Epilogue. Photo by Tim Nguyen

“People who come to see my work, see very highly-structured choreography that creates room for extremely spontaneous and physical interpretation by the dancers,” says Baker.

The dancers are not the only characters in the contemporary fairytales. The presence of light and music is irrefutable. It’s felt particularly in Epilogue when Baker appears on the stage along with Motzer. Her solo is a silent monologue accompanied by two chairs, the symbols of dismantled relationship. Baker replaces the chairs, saturating each move with drama. Because the dance has many pauses and focus on the story-line rather than extraordinary movements, sometimes Motzer’s melody We Were stands out in place of the performance.

Light helps the dancers deliver their complex moves and emotions. It gives the performers dramatic looks by illuminating only one side of their faces, or, together with Larry Hahn’s setting for the stereophonic, it divides the scene into two different apartments with large windows.

This harmonic textures of light, space, and sound intensifies the sense of three-dimensional space and gives plenty of room for imagination.

SplitScreeen is at The Theatre Centre, 1115 Queen St. W., Feb. 21-26. Tickets: 416-538-0988 PURCHASE ONLINE

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Dancing in the City — A Love Story

Anna Martynova Bernard is a house dancer and Marty Bernard is a popper. Together they are Millenium Funk’n crew and the most romantic dance couple I’ve ever met. Spending time with them gets you into magical situations: we were sitting in a coffee shop, talking about dance and incredible incidents that bring people together and right at the end of our conversation, their wedding song started playing.

Sveta: How did you two meet?

Marty: I remember like it was yesterday. It was July 1st, 2014. And I remember that day because it was Anna’s birthday. So we met at the club called Revival. There was a house dance event. So there were two DJs playing, and a lot of house dancers were getting down. It was one of those nights when I was thinking, like, You know what, I’m so tired. I don’t wanna go out. But something inside told me, Just go. So I peeled myself out of my bed and went out. I met our mutual friend Mugabi who invited us there. I finally made my way into the centre of a big group of people. They just were getting down, dancing. Mugabi introduced me to Anna. And then, BOOM! That’s how it happened. And she was dancing in the circle at that time, so I just was like, wow! 

Anna: I was supposed to go to another party for hip hop dancers. And I had a lot of friends who were going there, but something inside me just told me, I just don’t wanna go there. And I decided to go to the house party even though I didn’t even know who was going there. I didn’t wash my hair. I didn’t have any makeup on me. I was wearing a T-shirt that I wear at home [both laugh]. So, for some reason I left my condo and went to that house dance party. That’s where we met.

S: What were your first impressions of your Valentine? 

Marty: I had the feeling of being impressed and being blessed. So it’s like being ‘imblessed’. That was what I felt when I saw her.

Anna: I never felt that way before. When you just see the person, and you’re just smiling for no reason. And then you realize, Ok, there’s something wrong here [both laugh]. And my second impression was that he’s a really DOPE dancer. That’s like two in one. That’s perfect.

S: Do you remember your first date?

Marty: Oh, yeah [laughs]. I remember picking her up at her place. And I still remember the outfit she wore. She had this pink — like a peach colour — top and white shorts. We saw a party on Facebook. And it was like a Motown Party, where the DJs were going to play Motown all night. And we were really excited ‘cause Motown is DOPE. So we went to this party. It was on Queen Street, and it was in a basement. We went downstairs, and there was only the DJ and not a single person. But the music was so good that we ended up battling each other. Even though there was nobody there, I didn’t even care. I was so happy. It was perfect. And the DJ was loving it too. After, we went to another place in Parkdale. And that club was packed. And we danced there too. And then we went to the rooftop.

Anna: We were dancing and we didn’t even realize there was no one around. Time flew so fast. I wasn’t in a dancing outfit. But he was. What happened next… It was very late, and I was like, I had so much fun. I didn’t want that night to end. So I was like, Ok, what are we gonna do next. I had this beautiful rooftop in my condo that time. We were just sitting and talking. It ended up so romantic.

S: When you think about your relationship, what is the first thing that comes to mind?

Marty: God. For sure, I think of all of the incidents in my life and in her life that connected us, and it can only be God. There was a dance battle a year before we met and she took a picture of the dance circle. And I’m standing right there. She came to California all the way from Ukraine. I was in California visiting family. And we were at Universal Studios at the same time in August, 2011. I was walking in Universal Studios, and my wife was somewhere around.

Anna: God — a hundred percent. We’ve even been to the places at the same time in the past, and we didn’t know each other. Apparently, we went at the same time to Universal Studios in California. And I saw his picture on Facebook. It says the date — August, 2011. And when I looked at my pictures, it was the same date! And I even didn’t live in Canada at that time.

S: How would you describe dancing together?

Marty: I feel like for me dancing together restores a part of dance that I lost for a long time. There is so much pressure in the world. You gotta make money. You gotta live. And sometimes doing that pulls you away from art. And sometimes you are trying to manage two worlds. But when we met and started dancing together, it created a perfect version. I don’t have to struggle between two worlds anymore. I felt like it is the right place to be, and I got that young, fun feeling back. Everything else just disappeared.

Anna: I’ve never felt so comfortable dancing with someone. I was more like a selfish dancer. I was enjoying myself in the studio — just me and the mirror. I tried to dance with other people, but I’ve never really showed myself truly. But with Marty…you just wanna dance with him. It’s a good feeling.

S: Have you ever tried to choreograph something together?

Marty: For the battles. Usually in the battle world, when another crew poses their routine, you are trying to respond with your routine. So we like to have something. Other than that, we haven’t done any choreography.
Anna: Together as a team we’ve been very much focused on the battles and parties.
S: What was the most romantic thing your Valentine did for you?
Marty: Oh my gosh, where to start. I feel like Anna is doing romantic things every day. But if you force me to pick one, it would be when she said yes when I asked her to marry me.
Anna: Oh, that’s not fair. That’s what I was gonna say [all laugh].
Marty: That’s why I went first.
Anna: Ok, you tell the story.
Marty: Oh my gosh, I’m getting shy now. It was Saint Valentine’s Day of 2015. I was planning for so long and trying to keep everything in secret. I felt like I was a spy. I was hiding while getting the ring and the diamond, talking to her parents. They speak Russian, so I had to call her best friend, and we Skyped them. She had to translate everything for me. We had to do it without Anna knowing anything about it. That was not easy.
Anyway, when Anna and I met, we often walked around UofT campus ’cause I was going to school there. One place we liked to walk to was Trinity College. That part of the campus was our favourite. We would walk there and then go to the church. It’s just incredible and so beautiful. A lot of the times, we would sit there and just be one, peaceful and relaxed. I set it up so that we would take and walk all the way through the church. I had rented out the church, so no one else could come in [laughs]. There’s usually no one there anyway, but just to make sure. And I got her best friend to come with the camera and hide in Trinity College. So if Anna says yes, her friend would videotape everything. So we were there, and finally I asked Anna to marry me. She said yes.
S: What are some qualities you admire about your Valentine?
Marty: There are so many. I think anybody who knows Anna agrees that she’s somebody who constantly pursues truth and knowledge. She makes me better every day. I think as people we try to become the best version of ourselves. And I feel like Anna keeps me focused on that. So the best quality of her… she’s just a good person. She has infinite love.
I remember once we were in a laundry. And an elderly lady was trying to get in with her stuff. She was struggling with the door. Without even thinking, Anna just ran and helped her to get in. And the lady was so grateful. I was just looking at this, and it hit me what kind of a person Anna is. Sometimes people would help other people because it helps them. Someone treats someone kindly because it’s their boss or just a popular and influential person. But I think you see people’s true characters when they help somebody who has nothing to give them. There were so many moments when I witnessed Anna just being so kind to people, who really had nothing to give her. She’s the kind of person I wanna be.
Anna: Probably his most impressive qualities are kindness and generosity. The way Marty treats other people is just inspiring. He always tries to see the situation from someone else’s perspective, and just tries to be himself. He’s an example for me of how to treat other people.
[Etta James’s At last starts playing]
Marty: It’s our wedding song! [both look at each other surprisingly and give each other high fives].
Anna: That’s so awesome! I’m shocked.
Photos by Sveta Soloveva
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