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Learn seriously cool skills at these offbeat Baltimore classes

Seven skills you probably don't have -- but might want to give a try.

Learning is a wonderful thing. Especially since it never stops.

Sure, your school days may be in the past. But no matter your age or station, there are always new talents to acquire, new techniques to learn, new expertise to develop.

Maybe there's a musical instrument you've always wanted to master, or a dance you've never had the courage to attempt, or a craft you'd like to try. Or maybe there are some skills out there that you've never really thought about – until now.

Here are seven classes, all offered in the greater Baltimore area, all in areas just a little bit off the beaten path. Have fun giving them a try.

Ukulele

Plenty of wannabe musicians take up the violin, or the trumpet, or the piano, or even the guitar. But how many pick up the ukulele?

More than you might think, says Robert Friedman, a longtime veteran of the local folk music scene who's been offering uke lessons since 2014.

"The ukulele is a great instrument," says Friedman, 68, who started off on guitar and first picked up a uke some 50 years ago. "It's really portable. You can play it in the car without hitting the driver in the face. It's not as intimidating as the guitar."

Classes, offered both for beginners and those looking to expand their skills, are taught at the Creative Alliance in Highlandtown, five sessions of 90 minutes each. "Really, people from all acts of life" sign up, says Friedman, who lives in Evergreen.

The surefire highlight, he adds, are the jam sessions he and his students put together when the class is over. They play a lot of folk music, but have also been known to dabble in calypso, reggae, rock and other genres. "You try to mix it up," he says.

The next "Ukulele for Beginners" class starts Tuesday at the Creative Alliance, 3134 Eastern Ave., with 90-minute sessions set for consecutive Tuesdays through March 22 beginning at 6:30 p.m. "Intermediate Ukulele" classes begin March 29. The cost for the sessions is $80-$90. creativealliance.org.

Jewelry making

Beth Pohlman hopes some of her students will get hooked on jewelry making as quickly – and unexpectedly – as she was.

"I had never taken a jewelry class before I went to college," says Pohlman, 35, who was attending Towson University with an interest in ceramics when she signed up for what she thought would just be an interesting elective.

She changed her major soon thereafter, eventually graduating with a degree in metals and jewelry.

"It's something I just stumbled into entirely," she says. And something she hopes her students at the Baltimore Jewelry Center on North Avenue stumble into just as enthusiastically.

Her "Meet the Bench" course, four three-and-a-half hour classes meeting on consecutive Thursdays, offers "a really good introduction to some of the basic skills of metalsmithing and jewelry making," she says.

Students work with brass, bronze, nickel and other metals. Tools are supplied, and by the end of the course, they'll have designed and made their own piece of jewelry.

"The first five minutes, it's like, 'Holy crap!'" says Pohlman, who lives in Station North. "It's great, watching people going from, 'Oh my, I can't believe I'm doing this,' to sawing metal with this tiny little saw. You can do finely detailed work."

The next four sessions of "Meet the Bench" begin at 1 p.m. March 3 and run through March 24 at the Baltimore Jewelry Center, 10 E. North Ave., suite 130. The sessions cost is $195. baltimorejewelrycenter.org.

Mime

An interview with a mime should, by all rights, consist of a lot of blank space and dead air. But Zuri Thorpe loves what he does too much, and is too intent on sharing that passion with others to remain as quiet on the outside as when he's performing.

"It's afforded me a lot of great opportunities," says Thorpe, 24, a trained dancer and self-taught mime who combines the two skills in his performances. "Facial expression and body expression – I love teaching people to intertwine those two things. Often, our body language talks louder than our mouths do."

Performing under the name Zuri Uso (Swahili for "Beautiful face"), Thorpe, who lives in Pigtown, says his ultimate goal is to build a performance troupe that will spread his combination of dance and mime – "It's something that is generally able to touch anybody and everybody," he says – to audiences throughout the area. He calls his effort "One Mime Baltimore," and has high hopes.

"We want to get people acclimated into what we're trying to do," Thorpe says. He started last month, in a studio alongside Rehoboth International Covenant Church at 9016 Liberty Road in Randallstown, and is looking to schedule future classes. So far, Thorpe says, he's got "three or four" students showing up on a consistent basis.

For more information about One Mime Baltimore and its schedule of classes, which run $15 per one-hour session, check out its Facebook page, facebook.com/M1MEBaltimore.

Belly dance

Learning to belly dance is pretty much a case of mind-over-matter, says Isabel Asra, who teaches the art form in 90-minute classes at Sanctuary Bodyworks in Fells Point.

Making your hips move that way may not look easy, and it isn't, she says. But that's not because there's anything unnatural about it. Rather, it's because people don't demand enough of the muscles they have.

"The movements are pretty organic, and our bodies were designed to do them," says Asra, a Patterson Park resident who lets on only that she's in her 30s. "It just takes time for the brain and body to connect."

Asra says she fell in love with belly dancing while living in New Orleans. She had gone out one night, she says, to listen to some of her musician friends play.

"The act that was on before them was a belly dance group, and I just fell in love with what they were doing," she says. "The sort of suppleness and the sort of hypnotic nature of the movements were really fascinating to me."

And while all her students, so far, have been women, belly dancing is not a female-only activity, Asra insists.

"It's rare, but men do participate in belly dance," she says. "I have yet to have one as a full-time student, but if one shows up, he'll be welcome."

The next four-week belly dance session at Sanctuary Bodyworks, 710 S. Ann St., begins at 7:30 p.m. March 14. The cost is $75 ($25 for single classes). sanctuarybody.com.

Beekeeping

There's nothing dangerous about honey bees, insists Rich Scheper, education committee chair for the Central Maryland Beekeepers Association. And the honey they make, as everyone knows, is delicious.

"Most people get into it for the honey," he says of the association's beekeeping classes, eight sessions of two hours each taught at Oregon Ridge Nature Center in Cockeysville.

But there's still that stinging reputation to contend with. That's one of the first things addressed in the courses, which are taught by master beekeepers and members of the association,

"A lot of the class is easing people's minds about the nature of bees," Scheper, 46, says. "They only sting if they are in danger somehow – which means the only way you're going to get stung is by making mistakes."

Classes range in size from 30 to 70 people, the Cockeysville resident says. And beekeeping's rewards can be impressive. "A single hive can produce between 60 and 100 pounds of honey in a year." Which is very sweet, indeed.

The CMBA offers an introductory courses in beekeeping in the spring; the cost is $50 for an individual, $60 for a family. Registration for the current class, which began yesterday, is full. Other classes may be scheduled; check out the association's website (centralmarylandbees.org) for details

Glassblowing

There's nothing easy about glassblowing, says Anthony Corradetti, owner of Corradetti Glassblowing Studio at Clipper Mill. But the rewards sure are beautiful.

"It can take five years to attain certain skills," says Corradetti, 60, who started working with glass when he was a third-year college student, and has never stopped. "Still, it's kind of addictive – the heat, the fire, the way the glass moves. It's something that people kind of fall in love with."

Corradetti, who lives in Sparks in Baltimore County, offers Beginner 1 and Beginner 2 classes at his studio, as well as private classes for those who want to develop their skills even more. The classes, usually offered on Sundays, run six hours. By the end of the day, students have made something – "usually a clear glass cup or a flower, maybe a paperweight," he says – that they get to take home.

"Most of the people we get are honestly just there for the curiosity thing," he says, and will "never really do it again." Still, he notes, some of his students have gone on to become professional glassblowers. And everyone, even if they'll never again come close to another piece of molten glass, seems to relish the experience.

It's also not as dangerous as some think. Glassblowers use a long, straw-like device to shape the glass (twirling it properly, and at the right speed, is the hardest part of the process, Corradetti says), and horrific tales of what happens if you inhale are the stuff of urban legend.

Not to worry, he assures. "If you breathe in through the pipe, it's not going to hurt you," he says. "There's not a whole lot of danger. People think there is, but there isn't."

Classes are set for 10 a.m. Feb. 28 (Beginner 2) and April 3 (Beginner 1) at the Corradetti Glassblowing Studio, 2010 Clipper Park Road, Suite 119. The cost is $225. corradetti.com.

Skateboard building

There are those who can't imagine riding on a skateboard, much less building one themselves. But riding them isn't as hard as it looks, and building one is pretty easy, once you put your mind to it, says Chris Lavoie, 35, director of the public workshop at the Station North Tool Library.

"Our goal was to simplify the process and make it easy for people to follow, step by step," the Hampden resident says.

The tool library started offering the one-day, seven-hour classes last year, he says. "I had just watched a skateboarding documentary. We probably all had a little bit of cabin fever, from it being so cold. We were looking to give people more excuses to come in and build something for themselves…We just realized, we'd never made a skateboard before."

Thus was the class born. The do-your-own skateboarders must be at least 7 years old; kids under 15 need to have their parents with them, while those under 18 need their parents' written permission.

Students make their own skateboard decks (the flat part you balance on) from scratch, gluing seven individual pieces of veneer to each other, then using a press to mash them together until the glue hardens. (Which takes a while; decks that are made by one class are finished by the next.) They trim the mold as they want, using a router to shape the edges and sand the surfaces. Then things really get creative, as students decorate their skateboards to the limits of their imagination.

"It energizes so many people," he says, "to not only make something, but to make it professional and make it cool, and to be able to ride down a hill on it."

The next skateboard class is set for 10 a.m. April 23 at the Station North Tool Library, 417 E. Oliver St. The cost is $145-$195. stationnorthtoollibrary.org.

chris.kaltenbach@baltsun.com

twitter.com: chriskaltsun

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