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Geordie Derraugh’s Chess Wizardry

It’s a little known fact that there is a substantial underground chess scene in Toronto. Learn Buffet instructor Geordie Derraugh is at the forefront of this burgeoning community. Derraugh offers excellent individual private chess instruction – he even makes house calls.

The soft-spoken 24-year-old hails from a small town called oustide of Toronto. Neither of his parents played chess. He learned the moves at the age of five but didn’t play much until he was nine. He started taking it seriously at the age of 12, at which point he almost beat his coach the first time he played against him. Geordie has been regularly beating his instructors since, a fact that prompted him to start teaching chess himself.  He achieved his master’s designation years ago.

The game is one of daunting strategy and precision. With nearly endless mathematical possibilities to win (and fail), it is a game conducted in solitude, where reliance on calculating probability is as important as going for the jugular. “You have to be competitive. It’s just like in sports – you have to have that killer instinct to succeed,” notes Derraugh. Without it, players hold back, and fail where they otherwise would have succeeded. “The desire to win draws me to the game,” says Derraugh. “I’m very competitive and I always want to be the best.”

Derraugh can beat the computer when it comes to chess apps on Mac and PC, but hasn’t yet conquered the computer program Houdini (who, incidentally, no chess grandmaster can beat either). Derraugh claims that the advent of computers changed the landscape of chess considerably; the machines can forecast the mathematical possibilities of a certain move, and play accordingly – in other words, they present a far more difficult opponent than your typical casual (human) player. Players that grew up dueling with our machine overlords eked out a certain advantage. Magnus Carlsen (the current reigning chess champion and Derraugh’s idol) boasts a peak rating of 2872, the highest of all time. At 13, he was the third youngest grandmaster in history.

Derraugh’s teaching methodology goes something like this: he plays a few games against his student, carefully observing his/her patterns and technique. He then will offer critiques and play again, this time suggesting other strategies to achieve better ends. He presents his students with logic and math puzzles that encourage them to think laterally. In chess, there are infinite numbers of possibilities, and he focuses on an ‘end game’ strategy rather than putting the onus on initial impressive moves. His inspiration in this technique is renowned chess player Magnus Carlsen.

Derraugh has fun with the game still, it’s not all merciless battle. “One of the funniest moments was when I was a kid playing an intense last round game with a long-time rival of mine in Kitchener, named Justin McDonald. We were both already quite good for our age but for some reason in the heat of battle, with very little time on our clocks, we both started moving our pawns backwards, towards our own first rank. We didn’t realize what happened until the arbiter told us after the game was over!

Dan Lee has been Derraugh’s student for the past 6 months. Every two weeks, for an hour, Derraugh runs Lee through his paces, playing a few games, pointing out different tactics, even going to the point of playing blindfolded. Derraugh often plays against his parents blindfolded, an exercise which forces him to visualize the entire board and memorize what has already transpired (so he can anticipate moves to come).

Derraugh asserts that the most common rookie mistake is subscribing to faulty calculations in opening moves that can set you up for a downfall later. Often it is easier to teach chess to malleable young children because they don’t have deeply entrenched habits – the result of erroneous training. Children are more likely to be focused on problem solving (rather than getting overly fixated on the minutia of the game). The most rewarding part of all is witnessing his students steadily improve.

Advice for new players? Immerse yourself in the world of chess. Read everything you can get your hands on in terms of tactics and books. Learn actively and kinesthetically by playing as much as you can, against opponents who give you a run for your money. Most importantly, perhaps, is to think positively. A defeatist attitude will not get you far in this ruthless and Machiavellian realm.

Derraugh divides his time coaching and playing chess with finishing up his undergrad in mathematics at U of T. “I plan to improve my chess as much as I can and eventually reach grandmaster level,” says Derraugh. “I also want to continue teaching chess. Eventually I may switch paths but for now I’m enjoying this lifestyle.”

 

 

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West Coast Swing in TO!

TO West Coast Swing

“West coast swing was such an unknown entity for such a long time,” says Julie Epplett, founder of TO West Coast, a dance organization that offers lessons in this engaging but relatively unknown dance style.

“You couldn’t even use the word swing because people would visualize Lindy Hop, East Coast Swing, Jive or Jitterbug- which is not West Coast Swing at all. So until people can actually see it and go; ‘Oh I see. This is the song from the radio. You mean you can partner dance to this?’”

The dance is decidedly cool. It’s the sultry shuffle from Pulp Fiction when Uma Thurman’s character sashays coyly around John Travolta. Throwing around terms like “basic whip” and “sugar push”, the dance has a vague 1950′s vibe but is adaptable to nearly any slow-paced modern music. Epplett has participants in their 20′s and those in their 70′s. It’s a highly social dance form that she didn’t initially latch on to.

“I had a friend in NYC, I’d go down and visit her. She told me she was doing this thing called West Coast Swing, and I’d heard about it – I’d actually heard negative things about it. I heard how hard it was.” She met someone who asked her to dance and she couldn’t follow.

“It’s true. And he was just like; ‘don’t you West Coast?’ And I thought, well I’m not going to West Coast if those are the kind of people who are going to do this dance,” she scoffed. “Really!”

Eventually though, it found her.

 

TO West Coast Swing

“We went to Denim and Diamonds (on Lexington in NYC) it had a disco ball shaped like a saddle. It was a real country bar in the city. John Festa was teaching west coast swing. It was something like ten dollars, and you could get a half hour beginner class, and then there was a half hour break, then there was a half-hour intermediate class, then you got half off your first drink ticket. I saw John Festa dance the dance, and I thought, Oh my God! I have to find this.”

She searched Toronto when she came back and found a teacher through the Toronto Swing Dance Society. After training for a couple of years, he announced he was leaving and she was devastated.  ”I cried when he moved back to Vancouver, and he said “You know Julie, you can teach this dance.” She decided to give it a go. She attended every workshop and event she could across the US and Canada. She’s been teaching out of Dovercourt House for the past six years.

The bright, expansive second-floor space of the Dovercourt House quickly fills on a chilly spring evening with men in their business casual shirts and slacks, and women with breezy blouses and open-soled, heeled sandals. The sandals are typical, although “some have started to wear TOM’s, which is kind of strange,” says Epplett. The dancers have been at this particular class – High Definition – for six weeks, and their intuitive steps denote a high caliber of instruction. Epplett actively participates, while her other instructor, Shelly, corrects participants’ form.

TO West Coast Swing

“I try to get into the rotation of the dance, either as a leader or a follower, and Shelly steps in and looks. So we get the two things – kinesthetically, I give feedback and then Shelly’s got such a great eye – she can see things going on that I can’t always see.”

The tone is jovial and light-hearted. People are focussed on learning correctly, but more importantly, they are there to socialize and blow off some steam. The dancing style lends itself to a moderated, sustained pace throughout the evening. It doesn’t quickly exhaust like the frenetic East Coast equivalent.

TO West Coast Swing

Shelly has been teaching dance for 15 years. Although she started with jazz, “just by default, I ended up dropping all the others, because I was so fascinated with this. It took all my focus.”

The pair quickly launch into various forms, with the women creating sweeping arcs with their toes across the floor. The dance is understated and casual, and the continual swapping of partners ensured that you had remain adaptable to different styles.

There is no cap on class size, they simply fit in as many as they can pack in.  “It’s danced in what we call a slot, so we can fit a lot in,” says Epplett. The room quickly fills up. Free West Coast Swing dancing is available the first Tuesday of every month at Dovercourt House.

TO West Coast Swing

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Line Dancing with Seniors

“Staying Alive” blasts through the stereo system as a group of ladies shake, shuffle and kick-ball-change to the beat. The ten seniors are led by Matt Langdon, the program co-ordinator at Second Mile Club in Kensington Gardens.  The club has been providing programming for seniors since 1937. They provide an adult day program, caregiver support and daily seniors’ recreation. Their mandate is to “provide accessible, welcoming facilities that offer various activities to promote social and intellectual participation.” The class appeals to all levels – from beginner to advanced. The average age is 75.

The tone is casual and fun – they wear low heels or trainers. They dip, turn and stomp – to everything from “Walkin’ After Midnight” to “Putting on the Ritz” to “Boot Scootin’ Boogie”. Langdon has been running the program at this location for the past year. In addition to line dancing, Second Mile Club members also learn painting, knitting, bingo & mahjong. They also do regular yuan ji, fitness training, and watch movies. Tucked just above Kensington Market, the prime location of the club lends itself to a diverse and eclectic group of participants.

Line dancing is simple enough. It is reminiscent of folk dancing and involves lining up and dancing as a group doing steps in unison (as opposed to partner dancing). Different derivations were suited to disco (the electric slide) and latin (the macarena). Line dancing is repetitive and easy to learn. Langdon is good-natured and guides the beginners. “This one’s kind of like a vine step… watch me,” he says, as he demonstrates the steps for Jimmy Buffett’s classic drinking anthem, Margaritaville.

The Second Mile Club is open to all seniors who want to get out of their house, meet new people, and take part in some fun activities.

 

Check out Matt’s Second Mile Club programming on Learn Buffet or call him at 416-963-9546

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Line Dufour’s Weaving Class

Line Dufour's Weaving Class

“I’ve gone into it kicking and screaming, like why can’t I just be a normal person with a normal job? Maybe I was about 24 or 25, just walking down the street, and I saw a weaving loom in a store window. It chose me is all I have to say about that.”

Line Dufour is an internationally renowned weaver. Her hand-woven tapestries are in collections across North America. Although lack of funds dictated that she pass up that particular loom, the seed was planted for her to pursue the craft in earnest when she enrolled at OCA years later.

Opting for such a pain-staking venture may seem strange, but the medium has been enjoying an upswing in popularity. She teaches weaving through TDSB’s ongoing education classes. Massive looms fill a bright, sunny classroom in Toronto’s west end, with a row of smaller table looms lining the windows.

“All the colleges have given up their weaving programs because its not a financially viable thing,” explains Dufour. “It’s not like a computer,” she says of the practice’s financial viability. “Once you’re on the loom, you’re on it.” In other words, you can’t use the looms interchangeably. The intricate apparatus look like inside out pianos, or a medieval torture devices. The larger floor models can cost anywhere between $1200-$100,000 brand new.

Line Dufour's Weaving Class

She begins by winding the threads on a warping board. The longitudinal threads – the warp – are woven through the lateral threads – the weft. The loom functions by holding the warp threads in place during weaving. These threads are passed through heddles.The number of heddles determines the warp thread count (and the fineness or width of the weave). By raising and lowering the pedals of the loom can determine the pattern – which sections are raised, and which are not.

“There are thousands and thousands of patterns that you can do, even on the most basic loom,” says Dufour. For an upright tapestry, she demonstrates, the warp is backgrounded by a picture, separated into color sections (like a paint by number). She deftly demonstrates on her latest major project, the Ontario Art’s Council-funded collaborative tapestry; Fate, Destiny and Self-Determination.

The massive tapestry will eventually be “co-created by people all over the world. Already there are 150 people from 20 different countries participating. They are weaving little shapes that I send, either by email or regular mail. So they’re starting to come in. This piece will be woven by anyone who wants to come weave it, you don’t have to have any weaving experience at all.” This collaborative piece will eventually be melded together with a portion that she herself is completing in her home studio. The two sections “can be placed as close or as far away as you want. They can take up the whole wall, or take up a small space. The shapes are going to be floating, as though they are coming together as one piece, or breaking apart, whichever way you want to look at it.”

She has completed pieces for both utilitarian and decorative purposes. She’s working on a series where she uses children’s painting as the pattern for her tapestries. “I love children’s painting. It reminds me to stay spontaneous.” Weaving is not just something you can just wing – even the most abstract works have some measure of pre-meditated pattern. Even making a simple scarf is a serious time commitment. A scarf could run you up to $4000 if you were to take into account and pay a living wage for hours invested.

Line Dufour's Weaving Class

The renewed interest in weaving points a love affair with all things home-made: the Etsy-styled, DIY products. While mass production has cheapened factory-made materials, they leave something to be desired when it comes to tactile connection. People want to make their own.

The history of weaving goes back millennia, and it has been found, in some inception or other, across cultures. In western culture it was used initially for practical reasons. “Tapestry weaving actually preceded painting as a decorative process. So it kept the castle walls warm, and kept the walls warm because the stone walls were so cold and damp. So it evolved a decorative function as well, because pigments for painting had not been discovered. Oddly enough, the history of art never acknowledges that. There’s a hierarchy.” She thinks weaving has been historically looked down on as mere ‘women’s work’, whereas painting and sculpting are still considered to be loftier artistic ventures – the domain of men.

The participants in this class work methodically and pause for a snack of potato cakes midway through the morning, while harpsichord music plays softly in the background. You could think of worse ways to spend a morning. “It can be very relaxing, if there’s stress in your life – for sure. It is.”

Line Dufour's Weaving Class

 

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