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Leisure classes.

Bored? Boring? Ready to recharge your mind or restart your life? Somewhere in Sarasota there's a class for you...

"Sarasota is filled with people who love to be educated," says Sandra MacDonald, continuing education director of Ringling School of Art and Design. Partly that's our demographics - all those sophisticated retirees, with time and inclination to keep exploring life and expanding their horizons. Partly it's our many cultural institutions and human service groups, each one overflowing with expert resources and a messianic sense of mission. Maybe our history of attracting free spirits and dreamers with fresh ways of thinking and being has something to do with it, too. For whatever reasons, we have enough education junkies here to fill hundreds of classes every semester, from mainstream subjects such as art, science, business, cooking and languages to more esoteric options, from barrier island exploration to out-of-body psychic adventures.

To review just a few of the numbers, Sarasota's Adult Enrichment program (part of the county's Adult and Community Education Center) offers about 250 classes every year to 6,000 students. At Manatee Community College, the Human Development Institute has more than 100 classes serving up to 2,800 students. The Education Center on Longboat Key (now celebrating its 10th anniversary) is offering 99 classes this year and expects about 700 adults to sign up. Ringling School of Art and Design teaches some 2,000 of us in continuing education classes every year. And that's just a sampling, with all sorts of other institutions, non-profits and private sources adding to our enlightenment I.Q.

To give you a flavor of this intellectual stew, we asked some schools and educators to single out some of the standouts...

For the past seven years, Miriam Tassinare has been teaching vegetarian cooking at Sarasota Technological Institute, with demand so high her classes were often scheduled three semesters a year. Now she's teaching from her new restaurant, Mim's Healthy Gourmet, in Southgate Plaza. She attributes the interest in her classes to a major shift in lifestyle. "Even meat eaters are looking for different, healthier options," she says. But many haven't a clue about how to cook in a healthier way.

While some students admit they're afraid that vegetarian cuisine will prove boring, they soon learn there's a big variety of recipes. "There are infinitely more kinds of fruits, grains and vegetables than meat," Tassinare points out. In her demonstrations, she focuses on basic cooking techniques as much as the specific recipe. "Students can take or leave the recipes," she explains, "but at least they'll go away with technique."

The classes are lively, with lots of discussion during preparation. Tassinare maintains a healthy sense of perspective. "When mistakes happen, which they sometimes do, I always say that's OK. It prepares people for what may happen in their own kitchens." And no mishap ever interferes with the grand finale: "We all sit down and have a fabulous meal."

Selby Garden's continuing education programs (not surprisingly) emphasize horticulture. Yes, you can take fabric painting, but the crowds head for "Orchids 101." This was one of the first classes offered when the gardens opened nearly 50 years ago, and it's still going strong. Today it's taught by either Jim Edmundson or Ed Golden.

As Edmundson says, "Many people think that because they live in Florida, they should be able to grow orchids." It's not quite that instinctive. Orchids do thrive here, growing, in fact, in the most varieties of any plant, but you must follow some basic rules for success. Students, some holding their own fledgling plants, listen intently to those basics in classroom sessions. After lectures, a slide show and some show-and-tell, they venture out into the gardens for field work.

Sharon Holsinger says the class kept her enthralled. "Orchids are so beautiful, it's almost like they can talk to you." Edmundson carries the anthropomorphism even farther: he tells his students that like people, orchids like to be comfortable and enjoy frequent snacks.

The class of the moment at Florida Ballet Arts is the Pilates method of exercise, taught by Maggie Amrhein. While Florida Ballet Arts enrolls many young dancers in the area in its weekday classes, working moms and middle-aged housewives seem to make up most of the students in this Saturday-morning class.

Developed by physical trainer Joseph Pilates, the Pilates method encourages body alignment and breathing as well as muscle strengthening, which is why so many dancers like it. Now the mainstream is realizing that a good workout doesn't have to mean sore muscles.

Exercises are done on the mat and several spring-resistant machines with names like "the reformer," "the electric chair" and "the Cadillac." Even the mat exercises have unorthodox names. ("It's time for the corkscrew!" Maggie announces brightly.) As she walks about, gently stretching an arm here, a leg there, and directing the flow of inhales and exhales, there are none of the usual grunts and groans associated with exercise classes, just an occasional, "Aa-ah" of satisfaction. Yet despite the lack of straining and suffering, class members say they see tremendous results. "I feel more fluid," one says. "My body doesn't seem as compact," someone else comments. The Pilates method is already a hit in L.A. and New York, says FBA co-owner Kim Freedom. "Now it's definitely catching on in Sarasota."

The computer classes at Multi-Media World, says president Allan Schulte, are designed to produce "ah-ha's." And that seems to be the reaction of most of the students in the two-hour "Computer Introduction," which the brochure coaxingly describes as a "non-intimidating class on personal computers for beginners." Through hands-on experience and friendly, personal instruction, the students get used to the equipment and programs. One older man jumps when his computer squawks at him, but his wife won't let him back off. "Come on, Harry," she urges, nudging him back to the keyboard. "This is the future - we've got to get with it."

Schulte and his wife Marcia also teach advanced computer classes, including classes in programs such as Lotus and Quicken. They also offer instruction in new technology. Right now, they say, many Sarasota professionals are learning how to use computers to put together multi-media presentations that include graphics, text, sound and video that can be played on a personal system or projected onto a larger screen.

Brigitte Muller, president of the local chapter of the Alliance Francaise, knows her subject. A native Frenchwoman, she taught the language for 25 years in Michigan, and since moving to Sarasota five years ago she's taught French not only for the Alliance but in such unusual locales as the control tower at the airport. ("I was teaching a group of French pilots and needed to know how the tower communicated.")

At the Alliance, conversation classes are the most popular. There are eight courses from beginning to advanced offered in 10 week sessions, and students can learn even more through cooking classes, lectures, musical and cultural events and monthly conversations over meals in local restaurants. Lively and welcoming, these gatherings bring people of all ages and backgrounds together; nobody cares how much or how little you know so long as you participate.

Muller says she's proud of the students and the organization. "We offer scholarships to one high school student and two teachers, all expenses paid, to study in France." The real gift, however, is Muller and her colleagues. "We're all retired and we do this because we like to."

It has to be one of the most unusual course titles anywhere: Brains Unlimited. Offered through the Sarasota Adult Education Enrichment program, Dorothea Pedersen's course aims to give students a better awareness of their right and left brain functions - and ultimately, of themselves.

Through a series of exercises, students experience the fundamental differences between the right (intuitive) and left (logical) hemispheres. Once you understand the origin of your reasoning and emotions, says Pedersen, you can increase creativity and clarify your thinking. It also makes it easier for people to express emotions and achieve a healthier, more balanced life.

One night's class involves a series of exercises using the undominant hand. "In most, the left hand triggers more visual responses, which is why it helps release creativity and emotions," says Pedersen. She points out that squeezing a squishy ball in the left hand can stimulate creativity and that activities that involve both sides of the brain simultaneously - such as walking - have the most benefit. Next Pedersen dims the lights and puts on classical music as part of an alpha wave exercise. Alpha waves are brain waves of low frequency that increase relaxation and creativity. After the exercise, students talk about the class. Several are repeats, a few for the third time. One couple agrees the emotional payoff is significant. "It's helped us in every area of our marriage," the wife says.

Herbie Rose has been teaching watercolor painting at Ringling School of Art and Design for a dozen years now. His expressive technique, combined with his Jamaican accent and entertaining witticisms, keeps students coming back over and over.

During most classes, Rose puts one of his own works on the board as a model, then circulates, giving advice and suggestions. A student is having horizon problems. "Think of it in terms of light and shadow; then you'll be able to create a form," Herbie suggests. After a while, he, too, begins the exercise, pointing out the steps he's taking and colors he's using to achieve a particular effect. The students watch, spellbound, hoping to get some of Rose's magic into their own work. "I know the value of practice," he says. "The only way to learn is to do." He also takes his students to Jamaica to capture the vibrant colors and Caribbean architecture there.

Over the last 10 years, Fran Carter's genealogy classes at MCC have sent more than 3,000 people digging for their roots. The classes are so popular that Carter had to add yet another one to the schedule this fall to accommodate the demand. The author of 21 books on the subject, Carter recently won a distinguished service award from the Federation of Genealogy Society. Currently, she's scanning Revolutionary War letters on CD Rom and indexing every single Civil War soldier from both the North and South.

Carter credits the area's demographics for much of the course's popularity. "When folks get a little older, they start to wonder about their family, their history, why they are the way they are," she explains. In the beginning class, she teaches them to go back in time through charts, public records and official forms. The advanced class helps people who have done some research, then become stuck. One of the biggest problems? Many people don't know how to use the library, so this semester she's offering a course just on how to do research.

"I can do this for anyone," says Carter confidently. Although she knows most about the United States, England and Germany, she says, "I've had an Italian who was successful because the steps are just the same."

What are people most surprised to learn? "That this is really a science. Just like an algebra equation, you can literally create a formula."
COPYRIGHT 1995 Clubhouse Publishing, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1995 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:educational programs and services offered in Sarasota, Florida
Author:Turnage, Neal
Publication:Sarasota Magazine
Date:Jan 1, 1995
Previous Article:Happily ever after.
Next Article:Class acts.

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