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Dancing Under the Stairs

Under the Stairs Dance Space

Celebrating the roots of Guildford Recreation Centre’s dance space and Surrey’s dance community

If you’ve visited Guildford Recreation Centre, it’s likely that you’ve seen groups of dancers practising under the stairs. This space has been home to many dancers since the early 2000s and many of them have moved onto empowering paths where they continue to give back to youth and the dance community. 

In its early days, the space was primarily used by breakers as they didn’t have a designated practice space—despite being one of the most active dance styles in Surrey. It was so popular that it eventually held entire crew battles. Over time, the space’s popularity continued to grow and more dancers from other styles continue to share the space. 

To encourage the dance community’s talent and continued growth, the City of Surrey recently made improvements to the space, adding new flooring, mirrors, and a sound system. And following the success of Surrey Youth: Street Dance Showcase, held at Surrey Civic Plaza on June 28, the City recently created space in the plaza for a weekly event series called Street Dance at Civic Plaza.

Through dance, these spaces have been transformed into a vibrant celebration of creativity, community, dedication and talent. To pay tribute to this growing art in Surrey, we interviewed four pioneers that made the "Space under the Stairs" one of Surrey’s most beloved and influential spots.

 

Edmar Reyes (@edmarbreaks)

Edmar Reyes
Photography by @shawnkimchi
 

What did the space under the stairs at Guildford Recreation Centre mean to you? 

The space under the stairs is where I was originally hired by the City of Surrey. I was able to use this space regularly to train and get to where I am now. I wouldn’t be as good, nor would I have my position with the City, if it weren’t for the space under the stairs. The space helped introduce me to a lot of people in the local dance community and is where I’ve made some lifelong friends. 

How do you continue to give back and be a positive impact for youth and the dance community? 

I use my position with the City to help bridge a connection with the dance community. I’ve always wanted to find some way of giving back to the community, so I use my influence and position to be able to create dance events and practice spaces throughout Surrey. I want to see the community grow, prosper, and be self-sufficient. I want to be able to provide the future generations with the chances I never got and be able to see the dance community grow to became internationally known.

When was a time that you faced challenges in your journey as a dancer and how have you stayed resilient in overcoming them? 

I’ve had a lot of injuries during my dance career. Some due to lack of proper teachers, some due to over training and stress, and some just from insomnia. Most of my adult life was spent as a starving artist and I struggled to make a living, so my health always suffered because I trained so much and wasn’t able to get enough nutrition. Dance really did help keep me going and motivated to persevere. I even went back to school to learn more about health and fitness in the Sport Science program at Douglas College. I’m grateful I took that route as it helped me keep going with dance and improve my personal health.

If you could share one piece of advice to youth in the dance community, what would it be? 

Find a good mentor to teach them right. Someone who can guide them along the right path through dance as well as to balance dance with the rest of their lives.

 

Jackie “JK” Agudo (@everydayjk47

Jackie "JK" Agudo
Photography by @jermgonzalo
 

What inspired you to start dancing and to continue dancing to this day? 

I started dancing because my older sister introduced breaking to me when I was eight. I still continue this dance and do it professionally to this day because I love this art, sharing it with the community, building and connecting with other artists, and showing people that breaking was not just a fad in the 80’s—it is alive, active and worldwide. 

What did the space under the stairs at Guildford Recreation Centre mean to you? 

Under the stairs was everything. That was legitimately my second home; especially when we weren’t in school. We would come early in the afternoon and stay until closing. If we needed some space to quickly practise or rehearse anytime during the day before an event, we could count on the recreation centre.

When was a time that you faced challenges in your journey as a dancer and how have you stayed resilient in overcoming them? 

There are always challenges on the road. For me, maybe because of my background in playing sports, I’m super competitive, not just with others but with myself. All I know how to do is to keep pushing and to continue to strive to excel in my craft. If there is a will, there is always a way. Whatever it is I wanted to do with dance, I fought for it. When things weren’t going the way I wanted, I didn’t let it stop me and just focused on my goals. Some doors aren’t meant for us so when one door closes, hands down there is another door, so that helped to keep my head up...as long as we do our best, the rest will fall in place.

If you could share one piece of advice to youth in the dance community, what would it be? 

Do what you love! It’s hard to not give in to what society wants you to do and what others believe is best for you. But at the end of the day, are you happy? Are you truly doing what you love to do? Could you see yourself looking back 30 years from now and say, “I actually did what made me happy”? Live with no regrets! Give it your all in anything you do. Whether you do it professionally or not, live your life and give it your best.

 

Arthur Tiojanco 

Arthur Tiojanco
Photography by @shawnkimchi
 

What inspired you to start dancing and to continue dancing to this day? 

When I was young, I would watch videos that had breakdancing in it and would try to copy those moves in my family room. I started taking classes in grade 10 and practising with newly found friends who were also learning. I felt it made me unique and gave me an identity amongst my peers. I continue to dance to this day because I love the music and the movement. It has become an outlet that allows me to de-stress after a tough day, keeps me active and challenges me mentally and physically.  

What did the space under the stairs at Guildford Recreation Centre mean to you? 

It was a second home to me and my crew! It was a place where I made best friends, learned my hardest moves, and could go to just be myself. It was a free, open space with a smooth, unforgiving floor (Perfect for broke teenagers!). I've met so many other dancers from practising there and have made countless connections that go beyond dance. Every so often, new people would come by and practise with us.

I remember one time someone came to practice and was boasting about how good his flips were and that he could do a wall flip! He then proceeded to run to the wall to flip off from it and it went straight through! Needless to say, he didn't do the flip. We were sure we were going to get kicked out or have to pay for the repairs. I can't remember how staff reacted, but we were allowed to continue practising there even though there was a giant hole in the wall!

How do you continue to give back and be a positive impact for youth and the dance community?

Throwing events for the community is currently the biggest way that I positively impact the youth and the community. From large events like the Vancouver Street Dance Festival and the Driven Car Show Battles to smaller events during the Commercial Drive Car Free Day, giving opportunities for dancers to compete and show what they've been working on at practice is super important for the community. I don't teach as much as I used to, but I am always open to sharing my experiences and insight with anyone who asks.

If you could share one piece of advice to youth in the dance community, what would it be?

The skills you learn through dance are never limited to just dance! Through it you learn resilience, dedication, hard work, creativity and community. Use those to find your passions in life even when you're not dancing.

 

AJ “MegaMan” Kule Kambere (@aj_megaman)

Photography by @wonderbryce
 

What inspired you to start dancing and what did the space under the stairs at Guildford Recreation Centre mean to you?  

What inspired me to dance is the love to entertain people. I love to see people smiles on their face when I’m dancing, and that brings me joy and I love to perform. Guildford Recreation Centre was close to my house and it was the spot for dancers to practise in Surrey. It was the first place I ever had a dance battle, and it was under the stairs that Heavy Hittaz Crew was formed.

I remember when I had my first crew dance battle, I was in a crew called G.C. (Godz Children) at the time. We battled a bunch of B-Boys and It was 10 vs 10. The police showed up because they thought it was a gang fight when we were just battling (haha!).

When was a time that you faced challenges in your journey as a dancer and how have you stayed resilient in overcoming them?

I face challenges every day. I do a style of Popping called “Bopping” and it’s not as appreciated around the world. So, I have to continue to be a voice for this minority of a style and to show the world that there are different ways of dancing.

How do you continue to give back and be a positive impact for youth and the dance community?

I feel like it’s my job amongst others to go travel the world, teach, compete and judge dance competitions to put Surrey on the map for dance. Many people know of Vancouver, but few have even heard of Surrey. I want to train these next generation dancers from here and help expose them to other dance opportunities around the world. I want the next generation to see that I invested in myself, I trained and I made it to the top. I’m a local Surrey boy. So, if I can do it, why can’t you?!

If you could share one piece of advice to youth in the dance community, what would it be?

Invest in yourself! You want to be at the top of your game? Train in your local communities, save up money, go travel and see other dance communities. Represent your community around the world and once you’ve come back from seeing other dance communities and explored them, come home and train again. Make yourself better and repeat the cycle.

 

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