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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20 Songs to Help You Get Over Winter

Winter is a fact of life for us in Canada. It’s long, harsh and hangs by its fingernails on the coattails of March, only to be finally dragged away by the wind and rain of April.

We’re finally in spring territory now. This first day of spring occurred earlier this week, the days are getting longer and the sun seems just a little higher in the sky.

Don’t get me wrong, I like living in a place that has four seasons – it makes you more appreciative of agreeable weather when we have it. It’s just that there are days when spring and summer are merely distant memories and not the very near future.

If you, like us, need a little post-winter, pre-summer music pick-me-up, we’ve got recommendations for you of sun-soaked tracks to take you into the lighter time of year.

Kings of Leon – “Back Down South”

Come Around Sundown is one of my all-time favourite summer albums, and “Back Down South” is one of my favourite tracks off of it. Due in part to their deep southern roots, Kings Of Leon always bring a summery, sweaty sound to the table, and this track is all of that, but tapped with a bit of nostalgia, for those warm nights when you’re thinking about home.

Frank Ocean – “Sweet Life”

I inherently associate Frank Ocean’s first album Channel Orange with warm weather because that’s when I first heard it. “Sweet Life” in particular is a slow, sultry jam begging to be played while lounging poolside or kicking back on a street curb with soft sunlight kissing your cheeks.

Geowulf – “Saltwater”

“Saltwater” is a track that absolutely needs to be played on a sunny day (despite the music video taking place at night.) From the dreamy guitar riffs to the melancholic lyrics, it brings you right back to days at the beach, where it’s nothing but you, the sun and the waves.

Tinashe – “Flame”

Let me be clear: any Tinashe song is a good bet to play any day in the year. But I’ve got a feeling that “Flame” is going to be a real banger this spring, and what better way to welcome in the warmer weather than a hot track by the hottest of the hot herself.

Hinds – “San Diego”

Girl-band Hinds brings the perfect blend of youth-powered garage rock and beach boardwalk tunes to the scene. Their song “San Diego” has an unstoppable energy and all the attitude when you need to start wearing shorts again after going six months without.

Janet Jackson – “Escapade”

I mean. I MEAN. Do I even need to say anything else about the ultimate vacation jam from the ultimate dance-pop diva?

Lower Dens – “To Die in L.A.”

This is actually a sad song. It’s not about happy, spring-y feels. But sometimes the warmer seasons aren’t about running in a field or cuddling on a ferris wheel. Sometimes they’re about riding around downtown L.A. in your convertible moaning about the one that broke your heart. The lyrics are heart-wrenching, the vibe is ridiculously cool.

Alabama Shakes – “Hang Loose”

Alabama Shakes is a fantastic group. Brittany Howard’s voice alone could wake me from my wintery grave and have me born anew. “Hang Loose” is a loud, boisterous call to life, to hang on and hope. As Howard belts out in the chorus, “We’re gonna be alright.”

Khalid – “American Teen”

This entire album is AMAZING. And the entire album is summer vibes for sure. Khalid’s jams are  simultaneously smooth and cocky, fresh and shy, much like the actual experience of being a teenager. The title track off of American Teen to me, gives the ultimate throwback to teenage summers, when there was nothing to do but cause trouble.

Empire of the Sun – “Half Mast”

This song is a ridiculous, ridiculously catchy pop ride through space. That is exactly how I would describe it. Empire of the Sun take you through the trials and tribulations of love with an electro beat and punchy vocals. (This is another track that I absolutely need to listen to on sunny days.)

On June x KEVI – “Sunrise”

“Sunrise” is one of those essential tropical house tracks for parties on the beach and long, warm nights in good company. The whole song is just screaming “summer.”

Girlhood – “Say It”

The fact this video has so few views on YouTube is insane. This track is so good! It gives a sick throwback to the 90s while touching on the current mood and vibe of young women. It’s a slow and easy track, easy to get lost in when you close your eyes and just listen.

Sublime – “Doin’ Time”

Sublime is a bit of a strange group, but they make some awesome music. This offbeat track is a great companion to help get you into the mood for the carefree mood of the summertime.

Vampire Weekend – “Walcott”

There’s something about this song, maybe it’s the piano riff, maybe it’s Ezra Koenig’s voice, or maybe it’s the fact the song mentions Cape Cod; either way, there’s something about this song that makes it sound just like summer.

Swim Deep – “Honey”

“Honey” sounds like a trip to the beach. Do you know what I mean? And if the line “Don’t just dream in your sleep/it’s just lazy” doesn’t inspire you to daydream the day away, then I don’t know what will.

Real Estate – “Easy”

Every Real Estate song ever is about summer. Trust me. Any song from the album Days could’ve worked for this list. “Easy” was chosen because 1) it’s one of the beach-iest and 2) I just really like it.

RAC – “Hollywood” feat. Penguin Prison

I don’t consider this a warm-weather song per say, but it does make me think of L.A. an awful lot, which in turn makes me think of warm weather. And honestly, this tune is just so catchy and pop-y. It’s easy to listen to, easy to get stuck in your head, easy to bop around to.

Only Real – “Get It On”

This definitely isn’t a song for everyone. It’s a British, white boy rapping with 90s-sounding instrumentals. I love it, and for me, it’s brazen and weird enough to make it into my essential summer tracks playlist. I’ll warn you though: it may make you want to steal a shopping cart and ride it down a hill. For no reason at all.

The Marvelettes – “Playboy”

If you like girl groups, or specifically, if you like girl groups from the 60s, then The Marvelettes are your gals for chirpy songs about beautiful-yet-terrible boys. This is a good one to play whilst sitting outside in the sun with your friends, complaining about every person you know.

Yolanda B Cool & DCUP – “From Me to You”

Okay, so the music video for this song features palm trees and girls in bikinis. Even aside from that, this is another song that is the embodiment of summer parties, either on a beach, on a rooftop or in someone’s basement. You don’t need to actually be in paradise. Let the music take you there.

 

 

 

 

 

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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