DanceTeq graces Queen West in leaps and bounds

DanceTeq Centre has enfin quietly landed on its feet (as all dancers and stage performers should), tucked like a tightly held fifth position at the northwest corner of Queen West and McCaul right next to Malabar and just kitty corner to CityTV.

“It’s a brilliant spot—one we’ve all been working hard and patiently to achieve. And we’re finally here!” says Kevin Pugh, artistic director and former principal dancer of Canada’s critically acclaimed National Ballet.

dance-teq-centreThe expansive second floor of the 226 Queen St W location is composed of three spacious studios, two medium size rooms for wellness practitioners (physiotherapists, massage therapists etc) and large windows on all walls facing both Queen and McCaul.

DanceTeq has been a staple in the Toronto dance scene for over 15 years, offering open classes in ballet, jazz and contemporary to dancers of all ages and skill level.   And the new location is poised not only to continue offering a variety of dance classes but also a host of services that would cater to any type of performer, athlete or active, health-conscious urbanite.  A promising outlook that is sure to quickly push the centre forward in leaps and bounds as our busy-bodied population remains constantly on the market for fun and creative ways to stay fit and healthy.

danceteqChatting with Jeremy Naismith,  dancer (also formerly with the National Ballet) and business partner, he shares a vision of the new centre that would “create a permanent home for DanceTeq with enough room for Kevin to be able to grow with future demand. But more than that, to also create a comprehensive dance centre on par with Architanz in Tokyo, Pineapple Studios in London, or Steps in New York: offering a wide range of quality classes for all levels, and also maintenance and injury prevention” for active professionals from all walks of life who happen to be in Toronto.

As the final touches to the studios and spaces take shape, I can’t help but feel excited by its fresh appearance on one of the busiest and most popular neighbourhoods in town.

Faculty-picAfter years of classical dance training from some of most highly regarded, exceptional dance professionals (see short list below) having DanceTeq so conveniently accessible is a luxury and privilege for me.

How about you? As summer comes to a close and fall soon rolls around (with that roll on your waist from all the fun and bingeing under the sun), are you looking for a fresh new routine to stay in shape? Wanna bust a move and stay on your toes?

Drop in and check them out!

Follow DanceTeq on Twitter: @danceteq

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A short list of some of the incredible dancers who’ve taught and influenced @autom8:

  • Maureen Consolati (London Festival Ballet, National Ballet, ACTUS)
  • Josée Garant (ACTUS, Royal Winnipeg Ballet, Josee Garant Dance)
  • Debbie Wilson (Cincinnati Ballet, Les Ballets Jazz, Ballet Jorgen, OMO Dance)
  • Marie-France Verdi (Martine Époque, Linda Rabin, École nationale de Cirque)
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Bikaramba builds cadence for Canadian cycle tours

Bikaramba and I (@autom8) started following each other on Twitter soon after I started writing about cycling in Toronto (thanks @blogTO!) And thank you, Twitter. You have proven time and again that you are seriously the iconic face of social media.  No one messes with how exceptional you are at connecting people, places and things.

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source: bikaramba.com

Bikaramba’s mission is to “make the amazing experience of discovering Canada by bicycle more accessible to others – both new and more seasoned riders.” Cycling from Toronto to Montreal (their ‘Classic Canadian Tour’) is in fact a brilliant experience. I have done this route myself in 2000 during the early days of Friends For Life Bike Rally (second annual).  And in 2002, I also did a week long cycling tour of Provence in the south of France—so yes, I know exactly what the bike touring experience is like. And I think everyone should do it.

Scenic adventure, peace of mind
Active travel naturally attracts participants who are adventurous and enthusiastic, so our participants enjoy the trips and are thrilled to have the opportunity to explore Canada by bike,” notes Dorothea one of Bikaramba’s partners.

Those experienced with bike tours know the score: it’s not Tour de France. Racing to the next destination misses the point of savouring the landscape, including some of eastern Ontario’s picturesque countryside, serene lake shore vistas and the gradual but distinct transformation in flora as you follow the St. Lawrence river towards Montreal.

“For our rides, this is a great opportunity to spend time with family members and friends, or meet like-minded travelers who are excited to tour at their own pace, while we take care of all the arrangements – hotels, maps, road support, a tour guide and camaraderie on the road.”

An experience that offers the freedom of the road with peace of mind, as Dorothea puts it, is indeed what you should expect when embarking on a guided bike tour. “Biking long distances without having to carry all your luggage on your bike is pretty great!”

bikaramba1
source: bikaramba.com

And Bikaramba has had very positive feedback from their participants. One cyclist said,”The level of support and the doable length of the routes are what it took to get me to do this, but I might be looking for ways to increase the challenge. Thanks so much for everything!”

Exploring the true north, strong and free
I am always curious about the initial departing and final arrival points of a tour. To this effect, Dorothea explains that the starting point for the Toronto tours is the hotel where riders stay the night before the start of the trip.

“We hold a Meet ‘n Greet/Orientation session the night before our departure day to talk about the trip and make sure everyone is fully prepared. In the morning, riders have breakfast (which is included) and everyone leaves and rides at their own pace. We always aim to book quality accommodation where riders can feel comfortable and relaxed. We also focus on variety, to create an experience that is diverse and interesting.”

Dorothea also notes that they haven’t had requests to provide return transport, as people usually like to spend additional time in Montreal, fly back to their hometown directly or take the train.

bikaramba3
source: bikaramba.com

“It is very easy to travel with bikes nowadays and we provide people with information and help on how to pack and transport their bikes. Our goal is to attract visitors from around Canada but also from around the world.”

Bikaramba’s tours tend to be in the summer/fall months but depending on demand they are always flexible in terms of adding more dates.

“We are working on adding more tours and are planning on eventually expanding throughout the country. We are looking to add a new trip from Quebec City along the coast to Bathurst in New Brunswick. There is also some preliminary planning around trips in Alberta and BC.”

 

Toronto’s Twoople disrupts ‘noisy’ messaging party

Toronto homegrown Twoople (pronouced “2-ple” for ‘two people’) is “a revolutionary engagement platform that provides users with a personalized URL (eg., twoople.me/johnsmith) that when clicked, allows the visitor to chat with the user instantly, ” notes Pat Arlia, founder. “Similar to live-chat for websites, except not limited to use on a website (your Twoople address is a URL and may be shared/printed anywhere), and easy to use – anyone can create a Twoople address and share it. ”

twoopleSo you’re probably wondering how exactly does this aff-ect you? When we’re already seeing a flurry of big social and tech giants (Facebook/WhatsApp, Snapchat, Twitter, etc) racing to dominate the messaging space—even though I agree that it’s not about winning the race at all—this becomes a fair question. Well, it may not affect how you currently SMS your besties; but, if you’re an SMB, in sales, customer service, or even as consumer, it does. Connecting  to dialogue online is a cinch.

“Although Twoople is a messaging app, I don’t like referring to it as a messaging app because people assume it’s a P2P-type messenger like MSN, Skype, WhatsApp, BBM, etc. , “Arlia points out. “Messaging apps are generally exclusive, meaning both users in a chat have to first be acquainted, then add each other, and they both have to have the app. ” And this is where Twoople is different. It’s a heck of a lot less restrictive.

A Chat Strategy to empower Sales and Customer Service
As ReadWriteWeb’s Selena Larson points out, the messaging buzz is not about who gets to be the one true messaging app, but how each uniquely positioned app will serve to successfully address specific needs for specific scenarios.

sales
source: twoople.tumblr.com

“Twoople is an inclusive model that only requires 1 user be registered (the Twoople address holder).  The registered user shares their Twoople address and anyone who visits/clicks it can chat with them without registering for the service.  It even affords them anonymity should they desire (bonus points! IMO). ”

When I first tested out Twoople, I did notice the UI was easy and intuitive.  Within seconds, I connected with Pat and started chatting a bit about his brainchild.

“The product is useful as a sales, support, and feedback channel for businesses (who would be the Twoople address holders) to communicate with their prospects/customers (the visitors to their Twoople address).  The value proposition is to increase sales, improve support, and drive feedback by opening up a channel for chat with your prospects/customers.  Most businesses do not have a chat strategy and we believe that a democratized chat platform like Twoople will encourage them to adopt one.”

Silicon Valley of the North
It’s remarkable how Canada has a seemingly quiet, burgeoning startup community. That we are ‘quiet’ about it may well be typically Canadian, and some would argue that we’re quite good at inventing not so much at selling (OHRLY??)Nevertheless, I asked Pat about his thoughts on all this:

“The Toronto startup scene has gained some momentum in recent years. Credible startups like Top Hat and WattPad who have raised millions have helped improve visibility and have proved that migrating to Silicon Valley isn’t necessary like it once was. People have referred to Toronto/Waterloo as the Silicon Valley of the north.”

I hear the same things about Vancouver, Montreal and yes, even Ottawa. So why don’t we see this more often in mainstream media? Oh wait–that’s also probably why we don’t have ‘Hollywood, Eh’ up here (or do we) .. I digress.

Pat Arlia twoopling

“I think that’s a bit generous of a label only because of the difference in scale, but not because we’re not producing quality companies because we definitely are.”

Twoople 2.0
There are clear benefits for prospecting and timely customer engagement with Twoople. In my view, it has a good chance of evolving into a widely used communication model, given its inherent use of HTTP as protocol.

It goes without saying that HTTP-based tools are very effective at leveling the playing field. Democratization? Yep, that’s pretty much what the disrupt movement is about.

“We’ll be introducing a premium set of features for Twoople in the near future. Eventually these features will be paid features; however, we’re going to offer these features to our early users for free indefinitely as a show of gratitude for their support.”

There are also two subtle aspects about the Twoople brand, which seem overlooked, but I think are entirely noteworthy (especially for creative types like me): its logo design and slogan.  I quite dig.

Gizmolabs: Opening the door to coworking spaces

This is a reblog of the original post from autom.wordpress.com 

A random walk along Dundas St. West towards Chinatown made me notice something bright out of the corner of my eye.

photo (1)I thought it odd yet refreshing to see something colourful framed against the overall winter drabness of connecting buildings.

First impression made me think it was some sort of event or workshop. The signage was posted behind a glass door and the words “gizmo” popped right out.

So I thought, “cool! @Gizmodo‘s hosting an event in the city.. who knew, right?” Wrong.

A closer look made me realize that I’ve stumbled upon a local coworking space. I was thrilled at how visible the startup community can be, almost anywhere you are—even right in your own backyard.

So I decided to take a snapshot and share it on Twitter. Naturally, in the due course of social media serendipity, I ended up connecting with @gizmolabsTO and one of their founders @amirhabibz.

Because of my longstanding interest in the forms and dynamics of workplaces, I referred Amir to an archived copy of a ReadWrite article that envisions the workplace of the future and what elements it may entail.

Amir sees a general trend of the “workforce moving towards a leaner team. Most leaders in the modern workforce are wearing two hats since innovation is becoming big.”

Whether or not leaner teams are a direct byproduct of innovative efforts remains to be seen. But as I suggested before, there has indeed been a growing trend in many work environments for workers to become ‘generalists’.

Of course, there are pro’s and con’s to this trend. And the increase of generalists may have even influenced the growing emergence of coworking spaces and how its modern format incubated and hatched.

But on to my local discovery..

gizmolabs2aWho is Gizmolabs?

Amir tells me that Gizmolabs sprouted from a small community of makers and young startup fanatics and was created to provide startups, entrepreneurs, freelancers, designers, and independents with the much needed space, community and resources.

“We fill our space with passionate and dedicated people to help each other grow. Our space has been around for a year now and we have connected with a lot of great leaders and creatives.”

It’s no wonder there is a strong creative flavour to Gizmolabs. Their physical location is in fact right beside the two local bastions of art: the Art Gallery of Ontario (the whale skeleton) and the Ontario College of Art and Design (the floating cow).

But how exactly does one “help each other grow” when sharing work space?

“Networking is an essential component for all independents and entrepreneurs. A coworking space gives you the opportunity to meet and connect with people who you wouldn’t usually have contact with,” Amir points out. For example, we have talented marketing startups in our space who help others through referrals and advice. This usually comes in the form of generosity to create business relationships. These relationships are what help small companies and independents grow one step at a time.”

More than just cost-savings

The concept of sharing work spaces is actually not that new, especially within artistic circles. I have known many artists (painters, artisans, dancers and fashion designers) who have joined forces with others to share space.

gismolabs1Admittedly, the most practical reason behind a communal format is to share the cost of using the space itself. But is that really the only value proposition that makes contemporary coworking spaces more viable, long-term options for entrepreneurs and self-employed professionals alike?

“Coworking is about an innovative collective of independents who work in an open collaborative environment. This is something you can’t get in a regular work place,” Amir notes.

But in what specific ways do open collaborative spaces benefit those individuals and groups who opt to work in this set up?

“There are more benefits to a coworking space than just the space. Some independents can’t stand working at home and become more efficient in a coworking community. Others use the networking and information aspect of the space and some just use the resources. In terms of collaboration, we have developers who work independently and help each other when faced with technical issues,” says Amir.

Not just for startups

At hindsight, coworking seems almost exclusively conducive to individuals, independents, startups and freelancers.

“Coworking is not just for a certain type of entrepreneur or organization,” Amir points  out. “We have members from big companies such as Intel who work remotely and need a space to work in. We’re also giving space to designers, agencies, and sometimes teachers who need a community-driven space.”

Having been used to studio spaces where artists would only literally share the space and its maintenance, the modern day “coworking office” clearly offers more sophisticated advantages in comparison.

Like most other coworking spaces, Gizmolabs is set up to be flexible and modular depending on their member’s needs, offering a number of resources from standard office hardware to conferencing.

$T2eC16JHJH0FG1)sTCqvBSD81dygUw~~48_2“Some coworking spaces have a theme. In other words they’re only for designers, makers, startups or gamers. So if you’re not in any of that you can’t join. We’re still experimenting with that idea ourselves. We mostly have developers and startups in our space, but we haven’t excluded anyone from our space yet,” confirms Amir.

Coworking Phase 2

The sharing economy—highly popularized by the startup denizens of Silicon Valley—has given rise to many popular services that have successfully broken into the mainstream, like Uber and AirBnB.

Given need and demand, coworking spaces could surely evolve and offer more different types and services to help expand its market share. So I asked Amir’s thoughts on  how straightforward it would be for coworking orgs to start other locations in other regions/markets. And how practical it would be for coworking spaces to expand to offer overnight accommodations for members or the public.

“If there is demand then growing it is simple. It’s not that complicated to setup a coworking space and make resources available. The hard part is creating a warm community and gathering people over one roof. Currently we have daily membership for people to use the space. Although there hasn’t been much demand at the moment, I can see that in the future overnight accommodation can be a possibility.”

Gizmolabs is located on 298 Dundas St. W – Level3, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M5T 1G2.

Mây — a hot wildflower on Dundas West

Mây Toronto bar is located on the north side of  Dundas West between Manning and Claremont. Just as Chinatown cuts off from Bathurst westward, the rejuvenated face of Dundas has been flaunting its new hip-n-trendy swag in what used to be an uneventful corridor of Little Portugal.

image (1)
source: Mây Facebook page

“It’s been a whirlwind the past two years,” says Ana co-owner. “We’re quite pleased by the steady  success of our revitalized space. It’s been a lot of hard work and perseverance, and we’re so thrilled by how Mây is suddenly becoming a favourite spot for both locals and people (bands!) from everywhere.”

A longtime karaoke, Viet-centric establishment with tinted black windows that practically made it invisible to outside traffic, Mây has finally bloomed from a perpetually enclosed ‘fixer-upper’ bud of a bar into a veritable urban wildflower. In fact, it’s become a popular performance venue among upcoming artists, particularly musicians, exactly as their owners envisioned it two years ago.

image (2)
source: Mây Facebook page

“We’re now tagged as a music venue and have hosted NXNE and the TD Toronto Jazz Festival. Upcoming artists really dig our space, and we book bands from all music styles, but definitely rock, R&B and jazz tend to get magnetized here,” Ana smiles recounting past gigs.

When I first visited Mây two years ago, it was indeed in pretty rough shape. Now, the open, gallery style space sports a newly designed bar that’s been diligent with expanding a selection of beer and fancy cocktails. A favourite is a draft lager from local Hogtown Brewers, which goes well with any number of very reasonably priced tasty finger foods on the menu (Viet Tapas!)

IMG_7625There is a mini arcade with two machines (one of which is a rare Iron Man pinball machine) at the front east side of the bar. On the west side is a cozy lounge area, which occasionally transforms into a small stage. The modular drinking/eating area occupies most of the middle space, while the back features a billiard table and a curtained area where they plan to dedicate as a video gaming lounge.

“The back part is key, as it’s often the area where musicians, DJ’s etc, set up and perform. But we also also have a space downstairs, which we’ve devoted to alternative music styles like punk rock, industrial, metal etc.”

In fact, Mây kind of reminds me of how the original Sneaky Dee’s used to be when it was just a sliver of a bar on Bloor West across from Honest Ed’s. Now-famous bands and artists first played at Sneaky’s basement before making it big . And that was way back in the 80’s. When I actually used to waiter for Sneaky Dee’s 😉

Here’s to hoping Mây keeps transforming into the next quiet gateway for artists as well as a well loved local hang out for years to come.

Mây—the force is definitely with you.

Mimico Cruising Club: truly an urban oasis

The Mimico Cruising Club is located in the idyllic stretch of Humber Bay Park West. Whether or not you have a penchant for nautical adventures, you will no doubt be delightfully surprised by its relaxed and welcoming atmosphere.

Mimico Cruising Club
source: http://mimicocruisingclub.com/

“First and foremost, the location and the grounds. While only a couple of blocks from busy Lakeshore, it’s been called ‘an oasis in the city’ and there’s a very good reason why,” says Michael Power,  sailor and member since 2008.

MCC’s grounds are not only aesthetically pleasing but also nestled against restored wildlife habitat for fish, flora, butterfly and migratory birds.  It’s an oasis for all, not just urbanites.

“I’ve been a member since 2008 when I first moved to Toronto. I had a boat that needed a home. The year before, while visiting on business, I got invited out for a sail by a member and thought the place remarkable. I really didn’t think about another club when it came time to find one,” recalls Power.

Mimico Cruising Club
source: http://mimicocruisingclub.com/

The “post-and-beam clubhouse design reflects the character of a park setting and was officially opened in 1984…We have grown from 250 members in 1979 to nearly 500, with docking facilities for 302 boats up to 49ft. (LOA) and dry sailing with a crane, for dinghies and keel boats to 3000 lbs.” [source: Mimico Cruising Club]

I’ve had the pleasure of sailing with Michael for a number of years now and continue to learn and discover more about the joys of sailing.  And when cycling to the club from downtown,  there are so many changing vignettes in the surrounding  areas of High Park and Sunnyside you get to appreciate; the Martin Goodman Trail takes you straight to their door.

Mimico Cruising Club
source: http://mimicocruisingclub.com/

So if you’re an urban sailor on the market for a new slip, Michael offers a tip, “Looking for a club? Get engaged. It’s a community with everyone having a common interest of being on the water. I’m always amazed at the variety of people you meet and their backgrounds. With regular membership turnover (as with anything else, people retire from boating just as others get into it), you’re always meeting new people.”

And if you’re a an adventurous landlubber longing for something new,  take note: “those wanting to try sailing should contact the club and see if anyone’s looking for crew — whether for cruising or racing. It’s a great introduction to a very different way to experience Toronto. Then you can determine if you want to take sailing courses (the Humber College Sailing School is next door) or eventually get your own boat.”

ezriders ‘sing the bike electric’ on the Danforth

2014-08-06 12.18.43ezriders is located on the north side of the Danforth in the middle of Greenwood and Coxwell. And while the Walt Whitman reference may be completely lost on your average urban cyclist, they’d certainly be thrilled knowing there’s a cool shop in the east end that specializes in electric bikes of all shapes and sizes!

“I definitely agree. Toronto is a booming cycling town , and compared to other major cities like Vancouver and Montreal, the city’s geography is a lot more bike-friendly,” notes Greg Moore, owner of ezrider. “There is a growing market for ebikes globally although the uptake in usage in town hasn’t been as obvious.”

image (2)Indeed, ebikes are ideal, alternative commuter vehicles that rival the efficiency of non-electric bikes, scooters and motorbikes, and it only costs about a quarter to charge its lithium batteries (the way you’d charge a smartphone).

ezriders carries a series of ebike brand names including Pedego (California), Stromer (Switzerland), Currie (California) and Easymotion of BH (Spain) as well as their own line of ebikes like EZcargo and EZfolder. And although they are slowly moving away from showcasing this model, they also have the odd e-scooter.

Scooters here range from $800 up to $2300 and bikes can start from $900 up to $4300. They currently have a special running for cargo bikes at $2500 (orig. $2800). I noticed a handsome,  black matte Ford (Pedego) cruiser, which prompted Greg to segue into a funny story familiar to many, but made me forget to ask him what the black beauty was going for.

image (1)“When we were on Queen, we had our share of challenges and successes with having the commuting public understand and appreciate ebikes .  But now as gas prices never seem to stop climbing, people are becoming more aware of greener alternatives, and looking for equally efficient ways of getting around town.”

ezriders don’t just do ebikes. They also service non-electric bikes and offer a basic tune up for $40.