Continuing education: Playing for fun
Sometimes the prize is something less tangible than a bigger paycheck. Roll the dice and play for personal enrichment with these organizations.
Remember when learning was all about fun and games? Rediscover the joy of attaining knowledge with the following sampler of classes ranging from Japanese flower arranging to banjo playing. Expand your horizons, exercise your brain or just add to your collection of party tricks.
PASSWORD TO ADVENTURE
Sail through airports, tourist sites and restaurants, and get a leg up on local customs with the help of these cultural institutions.
The Alliance Francaise de Chicago (810 N Dearborn St, 312-337-1070, www.afchicago.com) offers beginner-, intermediate-and advanced-level French-language classes ($279) as well as French for Travelers ($279) and French Cooking ($269). Membership ($80 a year) grants access to literature and philosophy discussion groups.
The Instituto Cervantes (875 N Michigan Ave, 312-335-1996, www.cervantes1.org) serves up multilevel Spanish-language classes before ($321), during ($311) and after work ($397) as well as online ($80). Don't miss the weekly Spanish Movie Forum ($287 for eight), featuring Spanish-language films, criticism and conversation.
Up the road a bit, the Goethe-Institut (150 N Michigan Ave, 312-263-0472, www.Goethe.de/ins/us/chi) can teach you to sprechen Deutsch in a ten-week standard German-language course ($260). Intermediate and advanced classes are also available as are ongoing film and art exhibits.
The Instituto Italiano Di Cultura (500 N Michigan Ave, 312-822-9545, www.iicch.org) throws its hat into the ring with basic, intermediate and conversational Italian-language classes ($270). Also not to be missed: on-site exhibits with titles like "Caravaggio: An Impossible Exhibition" and "Pompeii: Stories from an Eruption."
Finally, the Japanese Culture Center (1016 W Belmont Ave, 773-525-3141, www.japaneseculturecenter.com) represents the Eastern world with introductory, ongoing beginner and advanced Japanese-language classes ($55) as well as lessons in chanoyu, the ancient Japanese tea ceremony ($95), ikebana, traditional Japanese flower arranging ($150) and a free zen meditation group.
NAME THAT TUNE
Get a jump start on the competition by learning the fundamentals at the Newberry Library (60 W Walton St, 312-255-3700, www.newberry.org), where adult-education students can familiarize themselves with the classics, develop the "skill of focused listening" and "move from the sensual to the perceptual" in courses like "Masterpieces: Piano Trios" ($130). Alternately, take a hands-on approach at the Old Town School of Folk Music (4544 N Lincoln Ave, 773-728-6000, www.oldtownschool.org), where you can learn to play nearly any instrument under the sun, including the accordion, flute and mandolin. Classes cost $130 for an eight-week session and instrument rental is available, just in case your commitment to the 35-pound accordion is fleeting.
I'LL TAKE HISTORY FOR $300, ALEX
Category: Chicago academics for $300Answer: The Graham School and the Chicago Architecture FoundationQuestion: What are two great spots for stress-free education?
College would have been so much more fun without the grades. Indulge your inner academic at the Graham School of General Studies at the University of Chicago (1427 E 60th St, 773-702-1727, www.grahamschool.uchicago.edu), where subjects include art history, African-American studies and philosophy, and class titles range from "Shakespeare's War of the Roses" ($200) to "Knowing the Good, Doing the Bad II, or Purely for the Hell of It" ($215).
Visual design takes center stage at the Chicago Architecture Foundation (224 S Michigan Ave, 312-922-3432, www.architecture.org). Learn the nuances of architectural botany or the history of women in architecture ($120), or enjoy free lunchtime lectures like "The Career of R. Harold Zook" and "Tall Buildings, A Global Perspective."
STEER YOUR WHEELS OF FORTUNE
When the sea calls, hop aboard a J/22 keelboat at the Chicago Sailing Club (2712 N Campbell Ave, 773-871-7245, www.chicagosailing.com). Basic Sailing 101 ($450) teaches you to rig, dock, turn and talk like a sailor.
If you're more interested in highways than waterways, head to Motorcycle Riding School (1400 N Halsted St, 773-968-7433, www.motorcyclelearning.com). The two-day "Basic Rider" course ($295) will leave you ready to straight-line ride, turn, shift, brake and ace your "M" state license exam. Practical riders will like "Motorcycle Maintenance" ($100) and "Accident Scene Management" ($35) while adventurers can pull up to "Sport Riding 101" ($225) and "Dirt Bike School" ($150).
Whether you ride on two wheels or four, learn how to align them at the Chicago Park District (312-742-PLAY, www.chicagoparkdistrict.com) Auto Repair class. Sessions ($40) are taught at West Lawn Park (4233 W 65th St) and meet twice a week. Popular since their 1980 introduction, the basic class teaches oil changing, radiator inspection and brake replacement, while the advanced course tackles on-board computers and electrical sensors.
BEYOND THE GONG SHOW
Pick up some audience-pleasing moves at Arabesque (3703 N Elston Ave, 773-742-5250, www.arabesquechicago.com), where belly-, burlesque- and tribal-dancing classes ($15) will limber you up. Miss Exotic World 2005 is on staff, as are a host of other full-time performers, choreographers and directors eager to teach you their seductive moves.
If Beyoncé is more your style than Salome, partner up with Studio Flawless (773-426-4521, www.flawlessdancers.com) for weekly "Learn That Video" dance classes ($10) at Kinzie Suites (1648 W Kinzie St, 312-376-5031). Mimic the moves of pop stars like Omarion, Ciara and Amerie Tuesday and Thursday nights under the watchful eyes and hips of professional dancer SOL.
PLAY THE MATCH GAME
Match up your your latent domestic and artistic talents with the masters at these local havens.
The Chicago Botanic Garden (1000 Lake-Cook Rd, Glencoe, 847-835-8255, www.chicagobotanic.org) will help you flex your green thumb with certificate programs, classes and workshops on everything from "Growing Fruit Trees and Berries" ($207) to "Designing a Knot Garden" ($26). Dabble in different genres or work toward a certificate of merit in Midwest gardening, horticulture design or botanical arts.
If you have flowers, you must have baskets. Get yourself in gear at Curious Jane (5340 W Lawrence Ave, 773-685-4997, www.curiousjane.com), where owner Jane Deitrich offers everything from basket weaving ($45) to lip-balm making ($45).
Knitting is so 2004—move into 2005 at Dame Couture (4316 N Elston Ave, 773-463-2162, www.damecouture.com), where professional seamstresses Holly Greenhagen and Julie Fehler will teach you sewing-machine basics ($65). More advanced students will like the alterations clinic ($65), a three-hour session reviewing hemming, taking in and general garment revamping and "Pants That Fit" ($75), a crash course in tailoring professional pants patterns.
Get your hands dirty at Lillstreet Art Center (4401 N Ravenswood Ave, 773-769-4226, www.lillstreet.com), where ceramic-arts classes range from Tile Mosaics ($125) to Terra-Cotta & You ($275). Beginner-, advanced beginner– and intermediate-level wheel-throwing ($240) and hand-building ($240) courses are also available.
Remember shop class? Furniture designer and author Jeff Miller does. Enroll in a furniture workshop ($480) at J. Miller Handcrafted Design (1744 W Lunt Ave, 773-761-3311, www.furnituremaking.com) and rediscover the band saw while building yourself a new table. Choose from side, coffee or hall and get to work. If you're a "picture is worth a thousand words" person, head to the Chicago Photography Center (3301 N Lincoln Ave, 773-549-1631, www.chicagophoto.org), where you can learn close-up and flash photography, portraiture, and lighting and darkroom procedures. Techies will like "Photo 1 Digital" ($315), which covers basic operation and principles of exposure.
For those who want to delve into handmade paper and books, the Center for Book and Paper Arts at Columbia College (1104 S Wabash Ave, 312-344-6630, www.colum.edu/centers/bpa/home) offers community classes in papermaking, book binding, letter press and photography.
ROLL OUT THE TIC TAC DOUGH
A few months with these Chicago gourmets and you'll be ready to take on Charlie Trotter.
Think of the Chopping Block's (1324 W Webster Ave, 773-472-6700, www.thechoppingblock.net) Building Block classes as modern-day home ec. The multimonth series is designed to review essential cooking methods, ingredients and techniques. Learn basics like roasting, sautéing and braising as well as intangibles like timing and food matching by preparing 24 three-course meals. Take all 24 or pop in for favorites like crab cakes with rouille or roasted prime rib au jus. Menus are listed online; it's $270 for a series of six classes or $500 for a package of ten.
If you prefer to skip right to dessert, master the art at Cake Walk Chicago (1805 W 95th St, 773-233-7335, www.cakewalkchicago.com), where professional chefs review shells, writing, figure piping and roses in Cakewalk 1 ($35). Advanced icers can make their way to fondant class ($55) to learn coloring, crimping and embellishing with rolled fondant.
Learn whether your crab cakes take merlot or pinot at Bin 36's (339 N Dearborn St, 312-755-9463, www.bin36.com) "Wine Basics 103 - Food and Synergy" ($45). Beginners can start with "Wine Basics 101- Getting Friendly with Your Bottle" ($36).
WHAT'S MY LINE?
Follow in the improv footsteps of Drew Carey and Wayne Brady to the Second City Training Center (1616 N Wells St, 312-664-3959, www.secondcity.com), where the beginning improvisational program runs eight weeks and uses theater games developed by Viola Spolin, the "mother of improvisational theater." Learn basics like timing, presentation and quick thinking in five compounding eight-week terms ($275).
Budding actors can take the stage at Act One Studios (640 N LaSalle St, suite 535, 312-787-9384, www.actone.com) for Fundamentals One and Two classes ($325). Cover terminology, techniques, dialogue and monologue delivery and enjoy one private lesson with your set of nine sessions.
TRUTH OR CONSEQUENCES >br />Seek the eternal truth of the universe or simply meditate the stress away at the Peace School's (3121 N Lincoln Ave, 773-248-7959, www.peaceschool.org) "Meditation for Beginners" class ($75). Spend six weeks with the Peace School professionals and you'll be channeling breath and brain power to forget about your boss's tantrum last week.
Once you've got the basics down, visit the Diamond Way Buddhist Center (830 N Hermitage Ave, 312-421-0133, www.diamondway.org) for free biweekly guided group meditation. Sessions are led in English, last about 30 minutes and use visualization and mantra recitation.
If you have a problem a little meditation can't tackle, head to the weekly healing circle at Healing Earth Resources (3111 N Ashland Ave, 773-327-8459, www.healingearthresources.com). The New Age bookstore's Tuesday night circles are led by local Reiki practitioners who use energy healing to alleviate physical and emotional pain, all for a $4 suggested donation.
The prize: Your very own pet paperweight
Obstacle to overcome: Aversion to flames
Improve your odds with: Patience and attentiveness
Instructor Andy Lussie's talent for blowing glass allowed him to spend a couple of years following Phish, selling his wares from parking lot to parking lot across the country. His love for the art is infectious. Even though we were just blowing a drinking cup (the introductory Experience Glass class lets students choose between that or a paperweight), his seemingly boundless energy and humor had the class relaxed in the face of 2,000-plus–degree heat. Those who catch the blowing bug can sign up for a more intensive two-day class that gives students the tools necessary to blow on their own. There's also the opportunity to rent studio time and perfect your own works of art. Lussie got us well on our way, saying that while he wanted to cry after viewing the results of some Experience Glass sessions, the cup we turned out was one of the best he's seen. We're not sure if he was just blowing smoke up our ass, but you can't argue with his passion.—Tim McCormick
Chicago Hot Glass, 1250 N Central Park Ave at Division St (773-394-3252, www.chicagohotglass.com). Experience Glass class: $50; Levels 1 and 2: $330.
Break a leg
The prize: Learn to rock your body
Obstacle to overcome: Two left feet
Improve your odds by: Letting the music move you
It was only November of 2004 when Brian "B. Rock" Ekerman embarked on his dream of offering private break-dance lessons with a diminutive ad on Craig's List, though he's been breaking for more than 15 years as his sinewy arms testify. He's convinced that it kept him free from run-ins with the wrong elements and he's hoping he can do the same for others. We were just hoping not to make an ass of ourself when we popped into a class. "Listen, it's all about originality," he barks to his class. "I give you the crayons so you can draw the picture." His five-week program brings in a diverse group of wanna-be B-boys and B-girls, including a father-and-son duo. Even his introductory class can give some students enough confidence to be comfortable in nearly any dance circle.—Tim McCormick
Chicago Breakdance, Dance Chicago, 1439 W Wellington Ave, suite 309, at Greenview Ave (773-829-2255, www.breakdancechicago.com). Five-week classes $95.
Be your own sommelier
The prize: Ordering, buying and drinking wine with confidence
Obstacle to overcome: Fear of wine lists, wine stores and wine snobs
Improve your odds by: Keeping an open mind—and spitting
Sam's Wine & Spirits has always offered wine classes to the curious and thirsty, but recently the powerhouse retailer joined forces with Kendall College. The resulting collaboration, called Sam's Academy, takes students out of the dreary warehouse space where classes used to be taught and into state-of-the-art classrooms. In these rooms, which are equipped with temperature-controlled wine storage for up to 300 bottles, wine novices turn into wine nerds in just four short weeks.
Bill St. John, a veteran wine writer and educator, is the academy's main instructor. His teaching style encourages asking questions, involves lots of wine tasting and leaves students with a ton of written material. The intro class he teaches is like most: Students are taught about the major grape varietals (merlot, Riesling, pinot noir, etc.) and given pointers on storing wines and pairing them with food. But his intermediate class is another story. There, students focus on wines from southern France, southern Italy and the southern hemisphere, where some of the best wine values are. It's specialized yet incredibly practical, so students don't just come away with the vocabulary needed to read Wine Spectator—they come away knowing how to buy great, cheap bottles. Now if that's not an essential life skill, we don't know what is.—David Tamarkin
Sam's Academy, Kendall College, 900 N North Branch at Halsted St, 800-777-9137. Each four-week course costs $160, which includes four wine glasses (yours to keep), the wine you drink in class and all written materials.