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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Hot List Profile: Mötem

Motëm is a musical artist and new age romantic from Hamilton. Figuring him out isn’t an easy process, but it’s entertaining and strangely poetic.

Photo by Eric Slyfield
Photo by Eric Slyfield

His twitter, like a moleskin for the thoughts of a meandering visionary, is as good a place to start as any: “i’m just a vampire spending money”. If that doesn’t help, Motëm’s described what he does as “strong individualist music not adhering to any specific genre but with interests in electronic, rap, hip hop, funk; associated with many Scandinavian musical styles like skweee and the sad boys movement.” For those that don’t know, the sad boys movement is pioneered by Swedish rapper and producer, Yung Lean and skweee is a diverse mashup of electronic and more traditional musical styles. We’re a little closer now, but it’s best to experience the one and only Motëm for yourself. He’s already released two albums this year — Where the Wild Things Are EP and Songs in the Key of Mötem

Where the Wild Things Are is equal parts pensive and turnt, taking you on an absurd, yet sincere tour of Mötem’s psychological landscape. “Tubular” starts on a note of synth-laden rambunctiousness. Repetitive and hard hitting, the track bangs all the way through. And he pumps out sensational videos at an insane rate. Watch, listen and try not to get tubular.

Songs in the Key of Mötem is a bit more blown out, with a proclivity for hype psychedelics. It’s much longer than Where the Wild Things Are and, understandably, the album explores new sonic grounds. “Goths Love” captures Mötem at his most tender — and ridiculous. Emphatic or absolute parody? It’s a fine line, to be sure. “I’m a goth because I love so hard. Shower me with roses of various shades of grey.”

Understood or not, Mötem plays by his own rules. Follow the unabashed poet on twitter via @motem or visit his website here.

 

 

Novel Ideas: Author Dalton Higgins launches his sixth book of pop culture essays Rap N’ Roll

book cover (final 2)

Award-winning journalist, author, broadcaster and blogger Dalton Higgins’ sixth book Rap N’ Roll: Pop Culture, Darkly Stated, a collection of pop culture essays, launches on December 4th at A Different Booklist bookstore located in Toronto’s Annex neighborhood.

Coming on the heels of 2012’s Far From Over: The Music and Life of Drake – carried in the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame & Museum collection in Cleveland – which clinically sheds light on the Drake phenomenon, and 2009’s Hip Hop World – which is carried in Harvard University’s hip hop archive, and led to a 2010 Hip Hop Scholar of the Year award nomination courtesy of Washington DC’s WBLINC – Rap N’ Roll is Higgins’ first art house-styled collection of writings that cover a wide range of topics including music (reggae, punk, rap), race, technology, public transportation (TTC), Jamaican culture, skin bleaching, performance enhancing drugs and the publishing industry itself.

“I’ve been blogging and writing essays about popular culture in magazines since 1995 from the vantage point of someone who is a global citizen yet distinctly African Canadian,” says Higgins whose pioneering work in the area of music presentation and criticism has taken him across the United States, Denmark, France, Australia, Germany, Colombia, England, Spain and Cuba among other destinations. “The fact that I am equally versed in hip hop as I am in hockey tends to confound some readers, but it’s 2015 and my prose simply signifies the voice of a first Generation Canadian lending their distinct point of view on a plethora of things affecting contemporary culture. Honest discussions about race, culture, hip hop, athletics and technology is what needs to happen more and is what tends to wet my reading audiences whistle.”

Reggae. Punk. Race. Hip hop. Technology. Counterculture. Toronto. Rap N’ Roll: Pop Culture, Darkly Stated is all of these things. And then some. Available in both hardcover and softcover glossy full colour format, Rap N’ Roll is a theoretical culmination of some of the more provocative topics and subject matter that Higgins has written about in North American periodicals over the last 20 years. Is rap the new rock n’ roll? Is the traditional book publishing industry on its deathbed? If you live in Toronto, has the TTC acronym come to stand for Totally Terrible Crap? Are Iggy Azalea and Macklemore the future of hip hop, and is MAGIC! the future of reggae? How did Jamaica become so tallawah despite its small size? Was sprinter Ben Johnson a PED futurist given the Lance Armstronging and A-Rodization of professional sports? Higgins also tackles tough topics related to cultural appropriation and digital culture with the honesty and precision of a seasoned veteran. Rap N’ Roll makes the perfect pre-Holiday gift item and/or stocking stuffer for the free thinker in you (and your friends and family members too).

May We Introduce, Ammoye

Ammoye Addicted art work Final_edit

Some would claim to have love at first sight, but with Ammoye, it’s love at first listen.

Her name, which is inspired by the Italian word for love, embodies who she is as a performer, and what goes into her music which draws from her Jamaican roots, effortlessly blending reggae, hip-hop, dancehall, and dub, and infused with gospel, soul, and R&B. Her latest single and video, “Radio”, is being played across all airwaves, having already climbed the charts in the U.K. and Galaxy Gold Radio.

Ammoye’s singing career began as a child in Clarendon, Jamaica. Raised by her grandparents, she found solace by singing in her local church’s choir. After her choir practice, she would sit atop a mango tree in her backyard and show off to neighbours with stories, poems, and her own songs. She moved to Toronto to be with her mother in her teens, and immersed herself in the community by forming the church group Sisters In Christ. After investing herself in that group, she created the Voices of the Underground Artist movement, which became an integral resource for independent artists in Toronto to promote and perform their music.

Her first full-length album, a dancehall and dub infused hip-hop house collaboration with Canadian producer Rise Ashen, garnered much praise, and in both 2013 and 2014, Ammoye was nominated for the “Best Reggae Recording” at the Junos.

“Balance and being in the right state of mind is very important to me, so I always do a prayer before my performances to connect and align with my higher self, and make sure that all I am channeling in that moment is appropriate energy wise,” she explained, when asked what she couldn’t perform without.

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She recently signed a recording deal in with New York’s Pyramid Global Entertainment, with distribution through Universal Music Group. Ammoye has performed at festivals and events across Canada, alongside the likes of Ziggy Marley, Michael Bublé, Beenie Man, Richie Spice, Justin Nozuka, Kreesha Turner, and Anjulie. Her single “Radio”, from the Baby It’s You EP, focuses on her Jamaican roots, with an emphasis on the melodic style of reggae known as lovers’ rock. More recently, she released her single “Revolution” with Canadian dub producer Dubmatrix.

“I like playing around with different sounds and genres, fusing them together with my reggae,” she explains. ” ‘Revolution’ was inspired because I am so passionate about starting a love revolution, which will also transcend throughout my mix-tape, Enter The Warrioress, set to release next month, and my new album, The Light, coming out in the new year. ‘Revolution’ is about bringing about a new way of thinking and being. We as a people have forgotten that this illusion of separateness is exactly  that, an illusion, because we are all the same, one people. Fighting with each other is in fact fighting with ourselves. So that song was talking about coming back together. My mission is to write and perform songs with a message that connects with my Soul Rebelz on a soulful level.”

Ammoye describes all these experiences and lessons as a harmonious series of events which have led her to this moment, where she knows she is prepared and ready to have her Soul Rebelz share her spirit through her music. With her mixtape coming out in October, follow this goddess’ journey on social media @ammoye and become part of #SoulRebelz movement.

All photographs courtesy of PrettyHate Photography & Love and Crossbones.