Getting into the swing of things

ALEX ROSS learns to swing dance and busts out the Charleston to some big band jazz.

Getting into the swing of things

I’ve always been a huge jazz fan. I was first hooked at the tender age of five when I saw Woody Allen’s Radio Days. Set during the ’30s and ’40s, I loved all the big band jazz the characters were constantly dancing to. Aside from Wallace Shawn shouting from a rooftop “Beware evildoers, wherever you are!” the film’s other standout moment for me was Barbara Hershey grooving in a kitchen to Glenn Miller’s “In the Mood” while talking about all the eligible bachelors in her life. I probably danced along, unaware at the time of how embarrassed I should be.

Now, as a tall, lanky, and slightly shy 23-year-old, dancing to swing, especially in public, might seem like the last thing I would ever do. Recently, however, I decided to take the plunge and learned how to do the Charleston and the Lindy Hop at Swing Dance Toronto.

Every Saturday night at Dovercourt House at 805 Dovercourt Rd., Swing Dance Toronto hosts an event called “Saturday Night Swing,” where you can dance the night away to tunes performed by a live jazz band. Thankfully for novices like me, they host a couple of beginner classes before the main swing dance event. The first hour is dedicated to learning the Charleston, and the second hour is devoted to the Lindy Hop. Both dances feature a few basic steps that act as the foundation for a variety of moves that range in both style and complexity.

I arrive at Dovercourt House at 7:10 pm for the Charleston class. I breathe in deeply, hoping that I won’t step on too many feet during the lesson. Joanna, one of the instructors, asks “How many of you have done the Charleston before?” In a circle of about 30 people, only a couple of hands go up.

The group is then divided into “leaders” and “followers”. Conventionally, men lead and women follow, but we’re encouraged to switch up this dynamic if we want to. In our own separate groups, we learn the basic steps of the Charleston, which is done to a 5-6-7-8 count. The leader (which I chose to be) starts off every routine on their left foot. Followers begin every step on their right foot. One of the first moves is a “rock step,” where you go back on your left, tap with your right, and then go ahead with the rest of the dance.

For the Charleston, it’s a rock step, kick out with your left foot, kick out with your right foot, a little double kick as you move back, and then repeat. This is all done lightly, with a bounce in your step. Being the gangly, long-limbed person that I am, I find myself kicking out a little too far, sometimes messing up the rock step when we have to repeat it. Eventually I’m able to get into a comfortable rhythm.

We then start partnering up. This is where things begin to get a little tricky for me. Doing the basics with a partner is fine, but then a move called a jig step is introduced, and I begin having trouble. A jig step involves doing a little kick between your partner’s legs. I’m able to do the basic steps, but when it comes for the necessary kick, I find my legs going all over the place.

The Lindy Hop class at 8:10 pm goes much better for me. Instead of doing the traditional 5-6-7-8 count, for the Lindy Hop we do a 6 count, which makes it much faster. The basic steps for this Lindy Hop are a rock step, followed by moving forward twice and then moving back twice. When we partner up, the instructors decide to add a little flourish. After doing the basic steps, we then do a “rock forward” which is basically the rock step, except instead of going back on our left foot, we step forward and indicate to our partner to move in front of us.

“I’m sorry if I step on your feet a lot!” says my partner when we attempt it for the first time.

“Don’t worry about it,” I say. “I was born with two left feet.”

She laughs. “I’m going to totally fail!”

“Well, Faulkner once said that all art is about failure. It’s just about how well you fail.”

My moment of profundity is so distracting that we miss most of our steps when I bring her forward. We both laugh. Swing dancing and Faulkner don’t really mix.

The instructors then have us twirl our partners after we bring them forward. I get it right the first time.

“It feels so natural!” my partner says after a couple of successful twirls.

I’m able to loosen up with the Lindy as I successfully twirl several different partners forward and backwards.

By 9:00 pm, the lights are dimmed and the band starts playing. They’re called Up Jumped Swing! and they’re pretty amazing. Everyone at the dance is very friendly and supportive. Some of the regulars teach me some other basic steps and let me work on the moves I learned during the classes. I’m able to hop along with my fellow beginners, messing up the moves, but still enjoying myself.  Eventually, I lose my self-consciousness and just go with flow. It feels great.

Near the end of the night, my partner from the Lindy Hop class says after a successful dance, “You’ve caught the swing dance bug! You’re not going to be able to stop now!”

Swing Dance Toronto has convinced me that I’m not hopeless when it comes to swing dancing. I’ll definitely be back. Hopefully, after a few more lessons I’ll be able to confidently declare: “You just can’t top the Lindy Hop!”

Blues set for Labour Day home kickoff

U of T men’s football team prepares for 2012 season

Blues set for Labour Day home kickoff

In football, no game is as important as the next and there is no time to reflect or fear the future when the present is all that matters.

For the University of Toronto Varsity Blues men’s football team which is standing on the edge of the 2012 season, there’s a sense of calm that the new team taking the field after the off season’s many departures and acquisitions can be competitive in the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) East.

The Blues ended last year’s campaign with a 3–5 record, seeded seventh in the OUA. In his first season as head coach, Greg Gary led his team to their first triumph over the Guelph Gryphons since 1995, as well as victories over York and Waterloo.

This season marks a key change in the Blues’ on-field leadership: Andrew Gillis, last season’s fifth-year quarterback who became the sixth Blues quarterback to surpass 4,000 career passing yards, graduated, ushering in the era of Richard Quittenton.

Quittenton saw action in four games last year. While game experience is an important asset, what may prove most useful to the sophomore quarterback’s training and growth as offensive leader is the time he spent in the Toronto Argonauts’ training camp this offseason.

“Working with guys like Ricky Ray was so helpful because not only did they offer specific advice about things like reads and footwork, they also allowed me to see what kind of people they are,” he said. “Ricky Ray is definitely a quiet leader, and I think of myself in the same way.”

Leadership, outside of footwork, arm strength, and accuracy, is one of the most important characteristics that a quarterback must possess as the figurehead of the offense.

“In my mind it’s important to balance being confident with being humble; I find that too many people confuse humility with complacency,” Quittenton explains.

While guidance and talent is key, the unspoken connection between a receiver and his quarterback is the linchpin of a team’s success. From Joe Montana and Jerry Rice, to Dan Marino and Mark Clayton, every team rides on the strength of the relationship between the quarterback and his receivers.

I think as an offense we are going to have plenty of weapons this year.” 

Receiver Alex Pierzchalski enters training camp as the 2011 team leader in receptions with 37 for 443 yards. Coming off of a stellar sophmore season where he was ranked among the top 15 receivers in the OUA, he’ll be called upon to immediately establish  firm chemistry with Quittenton.

“[Pierzchalski is] coming off a great year but we’re expecting even more from him in 2012,” Gary told “If he transfers everything he’s done in training and preparation to the field, he’ll be hard to cover.”

Pierzchalski will be complemented by Paul de Pass, who ranked first in yardage in the OUA last season with an average of 21.2 yards per catch.

Every team develops unity in a different manner, but for Quittenton and his offense, the key to success is time.

“We’ve been doing it the old fashion way, working out during our free time. I think it’s important to practice for the practice, and that’s something that Pierzchalski, de Pass and I have been doing every chance we get,” Quittenton says. “I think as an offense we are going to have plenty of weapons this year.

“Guys like Pierzchalski and de Pass are versatile players and so they allow the coach to attack a defense in numerous ways, which makes my job a whole lot easier.”

Toronto’s defense proved last season that they could compete with the OUA’s elite, and the Blues are hopeful that it will only continue to improve. The loss of OUA All-Star linebacker Wilkerson DeSouza to the Calgary Stampeders through the 2012 CFL draft will be a challenge to overcome. Even so, strong players including Kevin Kinahan, Jaidan McBride, and Everton Williams will be called upon to fill DeSouza’s place, as well as those of fellow graduates Willie Sharpe, and Dorian Munroe.

A team’s success is not dictated by the records of its past or those of the years to come. A team must live in the present.

The Blues are not looking at the strides made last season or the players that lead that team. Instead, they are ruthlessly preparing for this year and creating an identity for this season’s team.

“We’re going to win. I guarantee it,” promises Quittenton.

Update: Quittenton kept his promise as the Blues beat Wilfrid Laurier 19–0. Check out Sports Editor Zoë Bedard’s game report to see what Toronto’s new quarterback had to say about the victory.

Supplies in demand

We give you the low down on what you really need to survive the school year

Supplies in demand

In all likelihood, by the time you reach university, you will have accumulated a hefty stock of school supplies. You’ve got pens and pencils, erasers and white-out, and you might even have a laptop. But these standard necessities are best supplemented by a roster of other supplies that you can’t find at Office Depot. For those who aren’t in the know, here’s what you really need to make it through the semester:


Neck pillow 

Necessary for ensuring your comfort and ability to nap during those three-hour marathon lectures in Con Hall. Also consider purchasing neutral coloured ear buds and a hoodie to cover them, so you can stealthily lull yourself to sleep with soothing music during class.




For your caffeine supply.


TV series

It’s critical to have all the seasons of any given TV show downloaded and ready for any time something needs to be done for school. You will likely need an absurd amount of these shows over the course of the year to help you procrastinate.


Complimentary campus maps 

For the throngs of lost first-years.

Complaints about school

Complaints like, “Man, ROSI really screwed me, once again,” or, “Just back to school and I already have three essays due next week” are essential for bonding with other students. Such laments will surely prompt similar bouts of kvetching from your peers, and are a great way to break the ice when you’re looking to make new friends.


A touch of hipster 

A messenger bag, Ray-Ban sunglasses (or better yet, Ray-Ban glasses), a vintage-looking bike, and a plaid shirt are key to looking cool.


Pictures from summer break

Show these to people (who cares if you annoy them?) and recapture your summer mood when the back-to-school blahs start to get you down. Also consider buying a beach towel to lie on while you’re between classes.



For the moment the reality of being back to school hits.

Publication liberation

Making academic publications freely available to researchers and curious students should be standard practice

Publication liberation

As a University of Toronto student, I have access to all of the peer-reviewed articles I could possibly need. On campus, I can easily walk to Robarts and take out a book or journal. Off campus, in South Africa where I have spent the past three months working, access is just as easy; it takes a second to log on to the U of T library portal, enter my username and password, and immediately download any article I choose.

I tend to abuse this privilege. I’ll begin by retrieving an article actually relevant to my research (HIV prevention). But often, after attempting to gain some background information, I’ll realize that I’ve spent an hour reading about how the prevalence of malaria impacted European colonial policies.

It’s this gluttonous consumption of information that struck me when I met a researcher from Zimbabwe at a training session for HIV researchers in Cape Town. He runs a clinical trial site that tests novel methods of preventing HIV transmission. Reviews of HIV and contraception are essential to providing the best clinical care to his trial participants. But because he is not associated with a wealthy university, he lacks a subscription to a journal database, and cannot afford to individually purchase articles.

This is just one example of how the traditional academic publishing model prevents researchers in developing nations from retrieving the information they need. It is also one of the primary reasons why open-access publishing has grown rapidly over the past ten years.

Open access publishers, such as The Public Library of Science and BioMed Central, publish peer-reviewed papers on the Internet, and don’t charge access fees. To minimize costs, they only produce electronic copies and charge authors to publish articles; typically this fee is covered by the department. But in return anyone from experienced researchers to curious high school students can immediately access the article. There are also benefits for the publishing author: articles published in open source journals tend to be cited more than those published in traditional journals, an important consideration for PhD students and assistant professors looking for tenure.

In 2009, however, only one in five papers published in the medical sciences was available through open access. My own experience conducting research at U of T mirrors this statistic. The vast majority of papers that I’ve seen published by U of T researchers are submitted to traditional journals, which restrict access. U of T has moved towards open education in other areas, notably in the recent announcement that it will be offering free online courses through the American company Coursera (see pg 2). But our efforts to encourage open access publishing are lagging behind.

Two actions could bring U of T’s commitment to open access in line with other international institutions. First, the University of Toronto should join Harvard, Duke, and UCLA, and become the first major Canadian university to sign the Berlin Declaration of Open Access to Knowledge in the Sciences and Humanities. The Berlin Declaration was created in 2003 to encourage researchers to publish their work in an open-access fashion, and to encourage institutions to reward researchers who do so. Second, U of T students and professors involved with research, whether in the sciences or social sciences, should make an individual commitment to submit their papers solely to either open access journals or open access repositories.

If universities across the world implement these policies, it will be as easy for researchers in developing countries to access the information they need as it is for me to waste an hour of my time.

Size matters

Requiring all students to take a seminar course could raise academic standards, hone presentation skills

Size matters

First year at U of T is notoriously dispiriting. Few incoming students, even those from the most overcrowded schools in Canada, will have ever experienced anything like a lecture in Convocation Hall. First-year chemistry, political science or psychology can be slow going in any case, but perhaps especially so in a giant lecture hall that makes it difficult to engage with the lecturer and other students. Labs and tutorials do little to improve the first year experience — they are often too large for any meaningful interaction to take place. No wonder many students struggle to make it through their first year.


In an effort to compensate for this unpleasant aspect of the first-year experience at U of T, Victoria College requires that all incoming students take a first-year seminar. This requirement can be fulfilled in a variety of ways ranging from the “Pathways” seminars offered by Vic, to the “199” courses offered by most departments, to the “One” programs pioneered by Trinity College and Vic that have since been adopted by other colleges. The requirement is intended to ensure that students have a chance to engage with their peers and their instructor, and to delve deeply into a subject that interests them.

A review of Vic’s academic programs commissioned by Victoria University president Paul Gooch last year noted that the “requirement that every [Vic] student take at least one small class is one that the reviewers heartily endorse.” Given the success of the Vic small class requirement, other colleges, and perhaps the Faculty of Arts and Science as a whole, should consider adopting a similar requirement. Such a change would likely do as much as, if not more than, the new breadth requirements to improve the quality of undergraduate education at U of T.

Small courses not only represent an opportunity for students to engage more deeply with their studies, they also give them a chance to develop crucial presentation and writing skills. Unlike tutorials, where students can often coast without participating much and frequently have little interaction with their teaching assistants beyond handing in assignments, the structure of seminars requires active participation from students. This, along with requirements for formal oral presentations that are often incorporated into small courses, ensures that students develop the skills crucial for their success.

Indeed, given the success of Vic’s small course requirement in improving the first-year experience, colleges should consider creating a similar requirement for second and third year. While upper-year courses tend to be smaller than first year ones in most departments, the accompanying reduction in the number of tutorials, particularly in third year courses, is rapidly diminishing the quality of the upper-year experience. A small course requirement for second and third year could counteract this trend by offering students a further opportunity to hone their speaking and writing skills, and to pursue an aspect of their major or specialist program that particularly interests them.

Last year, Vic began to offer “Vic Two” courses on topics ranging from creative writing to China in the 21st century. These courses are open to students who have either completed a Vic One program or who have a 3.2 GPA. The Vic Two courses could be used to fulfill an upper year small course requirement. Some departments offer “299” and “399” courses, better known as “research opportunity courses,” which could also be used to fulfill the requirement. Departments could also create their own second and third year seminars on the model of the “199” courses, which would help better prepare their students for fourth year courses, and for graduate or professional schools.

Expanding the first year small course requirement to other colleges and to upper years would require additional funding. Small courses are more expensive for colleges and departments to operate than larger ones. But the benefits of small courses are significant, and they should make up an important part of the university’s commitment to improving the quality of undergraduate education. To this end, perhaps the provost, Cheryl Misak, could offer special funding to assist with the expansion of small courses as she has with the “One” programs, which recently expanded to Innis, New, St. Michael’s, University and Woodsworth Colleges.

UTSU’s to do list

The students’ union must repair relationships with the colleges and work to build school spirit if it is to improve the student experience

Last year’s UTSU elections were eventful to say the least. Rather than bringing students together for a discussion about serious problems at U of T and how to move forward, they served as a mechanism to further divide students. Accusations of racism, negative campaigning, and a hostile debate environment only added fuel to the fire. Now is the time for the union and key political players on campus to move on and take serious steps to improving both the union and the student experience this year.

In order for the union to operate effectively, it must be able to reach all U of T students. Ideally, this is where the colleges would assist the union, so that campaigns and events can be planned and initiated successfully. However, there is a longstanding divide between the UTSU and some of its constituent colleges. The UTSU, in the past, has not been transparent enough with the colleges. Some colleges, for their part, have tried to undermine the legitimacy of the union (pulling out from UTSU frosh kits and excluding the UTSU from the St. George Roundtable, for example). It’s a poor relationship that seriously reduces the potency of the union to represent all students.

This year, the UTSU should take steps to mend this gap with the colleges by making meetings as transparent and accessible as possible to college representatives. By establishing this transparency, the UTSU would give colleges an open forum to air grievances and hopefully reach compromises, improving the dialogue between the UTSU and those who oppose it.

To make inroads with the opposition and colleges, the UTSU will likely have to make its electoral process smoother and more transparent as well. While the vote itself seems democratic, UTSU opponents claim the rules and regulations surrounding the elections penalize the challenging slate. A Chief Returning Officer that plays favourites does not lend any democratic credibility to the election process, and thus, leads to students becoming disillusioned with the union’s ability to represent them effectively. The solution to this problem is simple: reform and relax the electoral code so that all students have a shot at holding office. To do this, the union may have to do a better job of asserting itself within the Canadian Federation of Students. Organizing nationally has proven beneficial to the UTSU; however, more autonomy is needed to change the election process.

Once the UTSU has addressed these issues and earned more of the students’ confidence, the union should tackle student life issues at the university. U of T is a large commuter school, and building community is a monumental challenge, one that needs to be addressed by the UTSU. Working with colleges, the UTSU should plan more events that bring together all students and build spirit. The UTSU should also work more closely with the Varsity Blues to get students involved and excited about U of T’s athletic endeavours, and to improve turnout at Blues games. Additionally, building community at a large school like U of T requires a thriving clubs scene. The UTSU should do its best to increase clubs funding, allowing clubs to attract more students and take on more interesting projects.

Finally, the UTSU should continue to represent students and pressure the administration and government officials to reduce tuition fees, and address other grievances that students have. The UTSU must not be overly political, but they should not hesitate to be assertive with the government when it comes to making education accessible and affordable to all. That’s not being political, that’s representing students.

It is my hope that the UTSU and other student leaders on campus can take some of these steps to lead U of T into a brighter, better future.

Muslim chaplaincy ambition in full swing

New chaplain would provide spiritual guidance, moral support

The Muslim Chaplaincy Organization at the University of Toronto is the first of its kind in a public university in Canada, and was established by the Muslim Students’ Association at U of T in the spring of May 2011. For nearly a year, community leaders, academics, university administrators, and students were engaged to complete the research and development phase of the project. The project then launched its #70in70 campaign in June 2012, aimed at raising $70,000 in 70 days to launch the Muslim Chaplaincy in September 2012. The objective of the Muslim Chaplaincy is to engage Muslim youth, and provide an inclusive space for them to foster a meaningful Muslim identity, which will be supported by quality education and counselling services.

The MSA realized that there was a need for a chaplain in their university community after encountering students who were questioning their faith, their identity, and how North American culture integrates into their faith. These students needed to speak about relationships, family, identity, faith, and career with someone who could understand them and could provide positive guidance to assist them in their personal and spiritual journey.

The University of Toronto is a centre of intellectual and cultural exchange in one of the most diverse cities in the world. It attracts great minds and talent, and produces exceptional individuals. Yet within this array of great intellect and success, there is also confusion and depression. A chaplaincy is important because it fosters and nurtures healthy individuals by providing positive mentorship and spiritual care. The goal is to nurture individuals who can graduate from university having developed a strong sense of who they are, individuals who are aware of themselves mentally, physically, emotionally, and who are healthy civic citizens ready to give back to the society around them.

The Muslim Chaplaincy follows the model already established by other faith communities at the University of Toronto. There are also many Muslim chaplaincies that exist in universities in the United States, such as NYU, Yale, Princeton and Hartford. The chaplain would be a self-identified Muslim who is committed, well educated, balanced, and a positive role model, who is also well acquainted with youth issues and culture. The full-time Muslim chaplain, whether male or female, will be accessible to students on a daily basis, and will provide an open and inclusive environment for all individuals, regardless of faith or creed, to cultivate positive relationships. The chaplain will also be involved in engaging with the larger university community, in inter-faith work, and community service initiatives.

An important aspect of this project is that it is entirely financed by the community through donations. The university will provide institutional support, but does not provide faith community financial support. We’ve managed to raise over 50 per cent of the $70,000 needed and are confident we can get this service up and running by the start of the school year.

This is the beginning of a new era of Islamic leadership and it will begin at the University of Toronto!

Aisha Raja is president of the Muslim Student’s Association

Freshly Pressed: Life is Good by Nas

Freshly Pressed: Life is Good by Nas

“Twenty years in this game/ looking 17,” Nas claims on “The Don,” the second single on his latest album, Life is Good. While certain tracks on Nas’ 10th solo album are certainly reminiscent of the works that he released as a younger man, the personal content of “Life is Good” proves that when it comes to his style and the emotional depth of his lyrics, Nas has definitely matured over the years.

In the past, Nas’ albums have been dominated by tracks about violence and street life, but these themes take a backseat on Life is Good. Instead, Nas opens up about his children and his divorce from singer Kelis. In the soulful hip hop tune “Bye Baby,” Nas takes a nostalgic turn and raps about the ups and downs of his married life, including his costly divorce and the joy he experienced with the birth of his son, Knight. In “Daughters,” Nas reflects on his parenting skills, admitting that he is not the strictest parent, but asserting that he tries to raise his daughter properly nonetheless.

Nas’ ability to tell a story through his thoughtful, and at times emotional lyrics, along with his intelligent wordplay, makes Life is Good his best work of the last decade. If he continues to infuse his impressive rhymes with heart, the future looks bright for this veteran rapper.