Back to school: grown-ups live and learn
By GWEN OREL
It’s time for kids to go back to school… and adults too.
No need to look longingly at aisles full of construction paper and notebooks, or those shiny new sneakers in the shoe department.
Montclair offers loads of offerings to adults interested in trying out a new skill or learning about a new subject.
They say if you ask a class of 5-year-olds who can sing or dance, they all raise their hands. Maybe it’s time to bring back that curious, inner kindergartner.
The oldest dancer taking classes at Sharron Miller’s Academy for the Performing Arts is 98 years old.
“She’s been coming for about 15 years,” says Miller, who founded her dance school in 1996. The adult programs began about 24 years ago, she said: “Parents kept saying, ‘It looks like so much fun.’ It evolved into having an adult and a senior program.” The parents would wait for their children for an hour or more, and look through a vision panel, where they could see in but students cannot see out.
Today, SMAPA offers adult classes in modern dance, tap, theater dance, Hip Hop, flamenco, and more, about 35 different options all told. All the classes are drop-in — you don’t need to commit to a full semester. The first class is $20, then students can buy a class card — and drop in on any class on the schedule. Adults 65 and older can take senior classes for only $15 a pop. (Younger students, however, must register for a semester. In those classes, skills are cumulative.)
There are least five adult classes a day, and SMAPA is open seven days a week. All the classes are offered in the morning and in the evening, so there are options for people with free time during the day, or for commuters.
Teachers teach to the level of the class that day, Miller explains. “You’re never too old,” Miller says. “You need to start slowly. Don’t throw yourself into a marathon, when you have not even run a block.” There are basic level classes for people who have never taken a class in their lives, she says.
The person at the desk can make suggestions about which class to take when you go back to school, or contact Miller with the student's goals.
The classes are designed for people to enjoy having their bodies move through space and stimulate creativity, more than to be technically challenging.
“You can take floor barre, which is a yoga and stretch class combined,” Miller says. “One student calls it her Zen class. You breathe through stretching.
“Or you can take Zumba class. It’s fun, and better than being on a treadmill going nowhere. A lot of adults come who don’t like the idea of a gym. It’s not creatively fulfilling. Why not have dance that is recreational, as well as develop skills?”
Serious students can advance to the prep level classes the teenagers take, she explains.
Miller, 74, says she dances to keep in shape. “I wouldn’t be on a machine if my life depended on it,” she laughs.
Sharron Miller’s Academy for the Performing Arts is at 14 South Park St. A full schedule is at smapa.org. 973-655-9819
Even if you haven’t picked up your instrument since marching band, Jazz House Kids may have an ensemble for you.
Trumpeter Ted Chubb, who has been running the adult combos for about 10 years, says there are different entry points for adults depending on their skill levels.
Most classes meet on Sunday and Wednesday evenings. Classes begin the week of Sept. 25.
“The Community Big Band is really ‘come one, come all.’ Just dust off the trombone or the saxophone from the closet and take part,” Chubb says. The band is conducted by Ed Palermo, a beloved JHK faculty member. Palermo writes and arranges music for the band, based on the talent and skill levels of the players.
Unlike SMAPA, Jazz House Kids doesn’t offer anything for the absolute beginner: as they do their younger students, adults are expected to have a working knowledge of their instrument and to be able to read music .
Another offering is the improvisational jazz session prep class. Jazz House Kids has just begun an intergenerational brass band, to include current students, adult students, and even faculty. The bands perform throughout the year. Another option is a singing ensemble, with a class that recently moved to Wednesday evening from Saturday morning.
“If someone has never improvised before, it is a great starting point to learn how to do that,” Chubb says. “Some of the musicians have become really passionate and built music into their lives. Some dip a toe to see how it feels. I have a lot of respect for people coming back to the music.
“It’s humbling to take something on as a beginner, or to come back to it after putting it down after a number of years. For students interested in growing, this opens up another artistic part of their lives. One gentleman played trumpet, and now he runs his own jam session at Trend on Wednesday night.
“That’s an ideal thing, to get students to a point where they can do it on their own.”
Amy London runs the vocal academy classes for adults. Singers will learn vocal technique, and learn how to sing with a rhythm section consisting of piano, bass, and drums, she says. There is also a choir they can join.
“This is America’s own music. Your brain responds to music,” she says. During the class she plays piano, and sometimes they bring in the rest of a rhythm section.
“Everything is sung in the jazz arena,” says London. “I bring in lots of songs. Duke Ellington, Cole Porter, Harold Arlen, some Bossa Nova.” Some of the singers even become professionals, she adds.
Students perform in the family tent and on the big stage at the annual Montclair Jazz Festival.
Chubb can tailor something to any instrument — strings welcome — except the bagpipes, which would be hard, he says with a laugh.
At the Jazz Festival, a 10-year-old and a 60-year-old paraded the field in the intergenerational brass band, playing New Orleans jazz together.
Jazz House Kids is at 347 Bloomfield Ave. Schedule and registration are at jazzhousekids.org. 973-744-2273.
ADULT SCHOOL OF MONTCLAIR
The Adult School of Montclair, based in the Montclair Public Library, offers classes in 18 different categories, for a total of 360 classes. Those categories include business, arts and crafts, writing, languages, culinary arts and many others.
Registration began on Monday, Aug. 26, and classes begin on Monday, Sept. 16.
About 2,000 students take advantage of them, says Nancy Iannace, supervisor of ASM. About 50 percent of those who go back to school come from Montclair, and take advantage of the half-price discount on tuition.
And though “school” may suggest grades and wistful daydreaming, the Adult School is mindful of the busy schedules grown-ups have.
In fact, many of the most popular offerings are one-night lectures, Iannace says. Those include lectures and also hands-on classes: “The Art of Thai Cooking” is a one-day session, as is “Make the Most of Your iPhone Photography.”
Also popular are language classes, and with the discount, a six-week Spanish course costs only $45. Language classes are some of the few that have levels beyond beginning, since there is a demand for that. Broadway actor Geoffrey Owens will lead a five-week class titled “What Makes the Beatles so ‘FAB?’” Steffanie Block will teach four-week sessions on beginning and intermediate astrology.
Arts and Crafts, which includes pottery, embroidery, candle making, welding and more, are also popular.
All of the fitness classes, and some of the others, are held outside the library, at Congregation Shomrei Emunah, First Lutheran Church, Montclair State University and other partners. ASM also offers trips and outings; to the Whitney and High Line; to Princeton’s Mccarter Theater; to Winterthur.
What ASM really specializes in, Iannace says, is adult beginners, and adults trying something for the first time.
Because the classes are inexpensive, and the time-limited, people can try things without making a huge commitment of time or money, she explains.
“We’ve just started offering glass-blowing classes. You can take it and find out if you’re interested, and if you are, you can go and take some more,” she says.
Every spring, ASM runs a 5k class with Fleet Feet Sports, a program that begins with 1k and moves up to 5k, aimed at encouraging beginners.
Iannace is particularly excited about “400 Years of Inequality,” a library community read and book discussion of “The Coming” by Daniel Black. The read and programs around it commemorates 400 years since the arrival of the first Africans to be sold into bondage to Jamestown in 1619. Copies of the book became available at MPL on Sept. 3.
This program is a partnership with the library, the Montclair History Center, and the Universalist Unitarian Congregation at Montclair. Library events include screenings of “Emancipation Road,” and a children’s workshop on “rubber band banjo craft.”
ASM offers six lectures around the book, beginning Oct. 2 and finishing Nov. 4. “The Civil War Era & Reconstruction” will take place on Oct. 29, led by Onnie Strother, and “Plea Bargaining & the Problem of Innocence” will take place on Nov. 4, led by Eugene Lieber.
The Adult School of Montclair is at the Montclair Public Library, 50 South Fullerton Ave. Schedule and registration at adultschool.org. 973-744-0500, x2224.