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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Kitchen24: A Delicious Blend of Entrepreneurial and Community Spirit

“When people talk about food, it just creates a warm feeling,” says co-owner Alexandra Pelts. “It’s community building; it’s an integral part of humanity. . .as the old saying goes, ‘to eat is human, to eat well is divine.”

Hopefully, it is that positive drive people will feel upon the opening of Kitchen24, a new culinary space and “food incubator” currently set to open at the end of May, located in Suite 200 at 100 Marmora Street. For those unaware, such locations exist more commonly in the United States and are used to give culinary professionals the space they may not otherwise have to work on various projects for their businesses — a very realistic problem, in the increasingly expensive Toronto market. Intrigued food enthusiasts can also experiment for their own enjoyment if the close quarters of the kitchen in their cramped apartment leaves much to be desired.

A rendering of what Kitchen24 will look like, once it is unveiled to the public

There are already businesses in Toronto offering kitchen spaces for rent, but co-owners Steve Kidron and Alexandra Pelts noticed the degree to which such an idea can be ambitiously expanded. Kitchen24 will be a 28,000 square foot, commercial-grade location that is going to take into account the different cultural, spacial, and even business needs for those willing to pay the monthly price. The initial idea was born when Pelts and Kidron, business partners since 2010, began renting out their previous considerably smaller kitchen facility for a catering company. The partners of that company eventually split, but that got their internal wheels turning. Pelts wrote an ad for their space, which she placed on Kijiji. The response was positively shocking: It received over 300 inquiries from people within the food service industry, ranging from those with small businesses to others working in offices, intrigued to try out a new lucrative interest on the side. Pelts and Kidron discovered the gap in the market and, upon doing more research, they soon found that there were other companies that were advertising kitchen spaces for rent, all of which were quite similar — to a fault.

“There is definitely a need for a space like [Kitchen24] in the city of Toronto. There are a number of companies, maybe a dozen give or take, that have advertised that they have commercial kitchens for rent, but most of them I would say are renting their kitchens similarly to the way we did a few years ago. There’s not a single food incubator that caters directly to the food service industry.”

The location will be comprised of sixty cooking stations, and among them will be thirteen convection ovens, a pizza oven, two walk-in fridges — one main fridge, and a smaller fridge for kosher requirements — and a vast array of appliances. Not only is the idea exciting for businesses owners struggling with Toronto rental costs, but the drive to take into account the needs of the small business owners first — who have a dream and perhaps, just need a little help to get off the ground — is the primary factor that Kidron and Pelts both hope will result is a thriving, passionate, and fun culinary community.

Steve Kidron wears his heart on his sleeves when it comes to his desire to give passionate individuals who are eager to learn more as much of a helping hand as he can. He is an immigrant from Israel, who once owned a food truck before the stress of working around regulations proved to be too much of a hassle, as well as a previous business — Fresh for Less — that delivered meals to the needy. As Kidron notes, one of the main issues that people with a small food business struggle with is moving their venture from their apartment or basement to an area that can be certified by the Health Department. Other rental kitchens end up having long wait times and those individuals starting out have very difficult work schedules, with some working two to three jobs to make ends meet. “The economy in Ontario is becoming so expensive. Even if they have money, it can be scary to invest — it’s a risk they don’t often need.” With both his personal experience and empathy for those in the business, he aims to operate Kitchen24 with enough flexibility to cater to clients of various economic capacities.

While the need for space and flexible scheduling for clients is on the forefront of their minds, Kidron and Pelts hope that their plans for classes and mentoring programs that give a good foundational knowledge in the industry will go the extra mile.

“What we found out were there were a lot people with start-ups, with great ideas,” says Alexandra Pelts. “Either they are people who just graduated from cooking school or they have a recipe from their grandmother that they would like to develop and want to take it to another level. All the people come in with an idea and a passion to cook, but only a few have an understanding or an education in how to run the business — how to do a business plan, how to create a brand, how to market themselves, create packaging… many businesses fail because they can only bring it to a certain level and afterwards they need help in mentoring and obtaining the right contacts.”

Such an emphasis on giving the clients the know-how to spread their wings and thrive on their own is surely an exciting aspect of Kitchen24 for potential clients, but there are of course many plans that will prove to be more fun possibilities for community members as well. Hopes for future events range from cooking competitions, teaching classes on how to preserve food for the needy, and other industry pop-up events. One would also be correct in feeling that such a space would also be a perfect location for a cookbook launch party, as echoed by Ms. Pelts. There is much enthusiasm from the owners about what Kitchen24 can bring to the surrounding community, as well as the industry at-large. It would be remiss for those in-the-know throughout Toronto not to be paying attention to its development.

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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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A Conversation with Bobby Lo and Kara Lane of K.i.D

K.i.D. or alternatively, Kids in Despair, is a garage-pop band from Mississauga who is making waves with their detail-oriented production design and relatable lyrics. The band is a two person ensemble made up of Bobby Lo and Kara Lane.

They recently opened for Prozzäk at the Danforth Music Hall with a powerful live sound and nostalgic visuals. I was lucky enough to catch them in action and was enthralled by how they made some of my favourite records come to life and how they paired it with a simple, yet effective stage production. Kara Lane’s melancholy vocals flowed smoothly over pink and blue backdrops, along with pictures of inhalers, fried eggs, and Judge Judy.

Anyone who has grown up in a suburban setting can relate to the rather repetitive and mundane day-to-day activities associated with this environment. K.i.D. directly captures this feeling through their music and creates a lyrical storyboard for anyone tired of living in their parent’s basement.

We had the chance to chat with Bobby and Kara about their roots, their music videos, and where they’re most likely to be on a Saturday night.

Photo Courtesy of K.i.D.

Kimberley Drapack: How did you meet?

Bobby & Kara: We don’t remember, some medications we’re on cause memory loss.

K: What was it like growing up in the Toronto music scene?

B&K: It was a good place to figure our shit out. Toronto is an eclectic city artistically so we never felt afraid to try anything there. 

K: You describe your sound as “garage pop.” What does this reference mean to you and how does it describe the content of your music?

B&K: Our songs are very pop structurally but our subject matter is kind of sorrowful and we have bad personal hygiene, so we think our “garage” band roots always shine through.

K: Your single, Errors, has an amazing music video. What was it like working with Nadia Lee Cohen? How did this collaboration begin?

B&K: She’s a genius. We were huge fans of her films so we decided to reach out on Instagram. Still can’t believe we worked with her to be honest. She’s a goddess.

K: Along with Errors, your latest single, Taker has a really unique design. What was it like shooting the video? Where did you draw your inspiration from for the storyline?

B&K: It was fun shooting the video. It’s just inspired by our lives, we’re big into video games and not getting off the couch.

K: What is your experience signing a record contract? Would you recommend it to those currently entering the industry?

B&K: We’re lucky we found a label that gets us and embraces our vision. Labels are right for some artists and less right for others, we always aimed to sign with a major label.

Photo Courtesy of K.i.D.

K: Your music directly relates to many anxieties young people relate to everywhere. Rather than producing unrealistic narratives about luxury items or an opulent lifestyle, you share a very honest story of your life and your direct experiences. What does this mean to you?

B&K: We would just rather write about our actual lives, so we form genuine connections with people. Maybe one day our lives will be fancy and the lyrics will change but for now we just need to be honest about the fact that our days are comprised mostly of chronic self-doubt and excess porn consumption.

K: What was it like working with Mike Crossey? Will you collaborate again in the future?

B&K: He’s the best. We hope to work with him again. We already have our second album written.

Photo by Kimberley Drapack

K: Can you tell us the story of your first live performance?

B&K: We opened for a drag queen and we sucked ass.

K: Where would we find you on an average Saturday night?

B&K: In bed with someone’s father.

Photo Courtesy of K.i.D.
Photo Courtesy of K.i.D.

Check out K.i.D.’s latest EP Poster Child on Spotify and continue following our arts & culture coverage on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

Model Citizen: Adam DeSouza

Photo Credit: David Tran

We recently discovered model Adam DeSouza on instagram and reached out to him to participate in an upcoming photo shoot. Get to know the Toronto-based based male model and lookout for our upcoming menswear editorial featuring Adam.

1. How did you get into modeling?

I started modelling in 2016 when I first walked for Toronto Men’s Fashion Week. Since then I’ve walked in a few other shows and shot with multiple  photographers throughout Ontario.

2. What has been your favourite modeling job to date?

My favourite modelling job to date would be any of the runway events I’ve done, in particular my first season at Toronto Men’s Fashion Week. I love these events because of all the people you get too meet.At a shoot you normally get to meet a small team of 2-5 people, whereas, with these events you’re around large group of like-minded individuals.

3. What do you like to do in your free time?

In my free time, I like to learn about a variety of things. I am really interested in learning about the body, as I get ready to go back to school for massage therapy. I love anything fitness related.  At my core though, I’m really just a homebody.  I enjoy the simple pleasures in life like making a home cooked meal, listening to and finding new music, binge watching Netflix or just driving down to the bluffs to feed the ducks.

4. What music are you currently listening to?

Right now I find myself listening to a few artist like Joey Badass, Stevie Wonder, Chance the Rapper, System of a Down, Anderson .paak, pendulum and Tool just to name a few.

5. What has modeling thought you about yourself?

Modelling has taught me that there are many different avenues you can take when pursuing something that you are interested in. With the technology  available through the internet, we can teach ourselves about literally any subject.

Photo Credit: Henry Tsai

6. How would you describe your personal style?

My personal style is the love child of Curt Kobian and John Lennon. I would describe it as “Grungy Hippie”.

7. What would surprise people about you?

Something that surprises a lot of people about me is that I train and compete in Muay Thai (kickboxing with elbow strikes, in short). I really enjoy fighting in the ring and performing for a crowd. My last fight was in Ireland last summer.

8. Fill in the Blank: I cannot live without ______________

I cannot live without music.

9. What are some of your future goals? 

My main goal for the future is starting my career as a massage therapist and personal trainer.  I want to dedicate my extra time to modelling and mauy thai and see where they can take me because they’ve already taken me to some amazing places.

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