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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Vocabulary of Souls: Annie Thompson’s new collection

From left to right: Chris Binet and Kasia Kaminska. Photo: Sveta Soloveva
From left to right: Chris Binet and Kasia Kaminska. Photo: Sveta Soloveva

TEXT: Sveta Soloveva and Liat Neuman

Nature, architecture, graphics, and music — Vocabulary of Souls, the latest collection by Annie Thompson reflects everything. “The depth of happiness, gratitude and enjoyment that I had in my life inspires my work,” said Thompson. “Every single person and thing can come out in the collection.”

Vocabulary of Souls follows the last collection Life in General, which called on people to be expressive through their clothes notwithstanding situations. “People always say, I like it but where would I wear it?” said Thompson. “Wear it to the grocery store. It’s all about feeling.”

From left to right: Sveta Soloveva and Annie Thompson
From left to right: Sveta Soloveva and Annie Thompson

Maybe because ‘every single person’ inspired the clothes, they fit absolutely everyone.

To prove that, Thompson held a try-on evening called Me, Myself and Annie at her studio on Dupont Street, where clients and friends were grabbing hangers, posing for a photographer, and chatting lively alongside snacks and wine.

The warm welcome and the friendly atmosphere were all we needed on this chilly November night. The concept of the event was to celebrate passion for life, art, and fashion. It featured approximately ten inspiring clients and friends of the designer’s who acted as real life models, not to mention, a talented photographer, Anna Petro, who captured the most fun, beautiful, and intimate moments of the evening.

Me, Myself and Annie was completely different from other fashion events of the day; it was all about real people sharing their own experiences in this quickly shifting fashion world.

“I want any age, any sex, any colour, any style, and any person to feel comfortable in those clothes, to try them on. I try to bring newness and freshness by having all kinds of people here tonight,” said Thompson.

The guests — painters, DJs, publicists, models, and kids — were strangers to each other until the love of Thompson’s work brought them together at her studio. Some met Thompson at work, some met her online, others danced with her in a club. Listening to their lively discussion, one immediately became a part of that creative family.

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L to R: Veronica Hufana and Abegail Usman. Photo: Sveta Soloveva

Abegail Usman, who just graduated from Ryerson’s fashion communication program, got a position as a sales associate at Annie Thompson’s studio on her 23rd birthday.

“I was kind of feeling down because I hadn’t really gotten any job in a while. And on my birthday Annie gave me a call. That was a really cool feeling,” said Usman.

It was her 30th birthday when Veronica Hufana, the director of SRC Media, met the designer by accident.

“There [was] this awesome sale going around the corner,” Hufana recalls. “I checked it out. I’ve been hooked on Annie’s fashion since.”

Thompson personally does not consider her work to be fashionable, saying that the styles and colours that are trendy now won’t be trendy then. She doesn’t follow fashion magazines and just uses ideas that inspire her.

Photo: Sveta Soloveva
Photo: Sveta Soloveva

Thompson has been designing since 1981 and her passion for art, fashion, and humanity has gotten only stronger. Her aesthetic vision is embedded so deeply in the DNA of her clothes that a skirt purchased from the current collection will work perfectly with a jacket or a top from her previous collections.

In the world of fast fashion, when some companies are producing thousands of same garments for millions of the same stores every day, the creative process behind designers like Thompson is usually tied to slow fashion — in Thompson’s work, slow fashion means ‘hyper-local’, high-quality, utilitarian, and authentic.

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Photo: Sveta Soloveva

The idea behind her designs is to give the individual an opportunity to embrace the person he or she is in a comfortable way with a style that reflects his or her own personality and to enhance it.

Thompson designs, chooses fabrics, makes patterns, and cuts the first sample. Her sample-maker, Brenda, whom she has been working with for 25 years, is the only other person who is involved in the creative process. When the first sample is ready, she comes in from St. Catharines and does the fitting. Thompson is the only model for her garments, and she says that that makes her clothes even more normal, flattering, and wearable:

“I’m a regular body. I’m not very skinny. I’m not really the other way.”

Photo: Sveta Soloveva
Photo: Sveta Soloveva

It takes about five months to get a new style done. And there are 20 styles in the current collection — from elegant dresses and hats to baggy pants and hoodies, from calm grey to bright blue. Many pockets, circles, vertical and horizontal stripes. There’s so much stuff to experiment with and get inspired from.

It’s fair to say that the guests of Me, Myself and Annie were wearing their imagination when experimenting with Thompson’s collection.