A Philadelphian’s Guide to Learning … Anything

A class for every skill

Speak Spanish! Make jam! Fly a helicopter!

And why would you want to do that?   

Because boredom is the enemy. Because if you’re not changing, you’re dying. Because it’s New-Year-New-You time, with all the baggage that brings. But mostly, because you’ve always wanted to learn how to tap-dance or sing or build an armoire and just never knew where to start. 

Reader, here’s where you start. We’ve rounded up the people to teach you what
you want to learn and the places around Philly where you can practice without exposing yourself to mockery, then calculated exactly how much time and cold cash it will take you to learn your new skill. 

So what are you waiting­ for? Go learn. Be a better you. Here’s how.

In-Depth Lessons:

Learn to Read Tarot
Learn to Stop Crying in Inappropriate Situations
Learn to Sing
Learn to Box
Learn to Kill a Chicken
Learn to Ride a Bike
Learn to Make Awesome Gravy
Learn to Dance


Want more? Start clicking for things you can learn to do in an hour or less.


In an Hour or Less

Shoot a gun
Because it’s empowering. Because it’s fun. Because you read Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. Whatever your reason, Philadelphia Archery and Gun Club’s NRA-certified instructors will walk you through safety rules; help you with your stance, grip and trigger pull; and finish up with a round or two at the club’s indoor shooting range.
THE TIME: Most beginner lessons take about an hour, but your teacher­ will stick with it until you can shoot.
THE TAB: $65 for one private lesson.

Read tarot
Reading tarot is a bit like being an accountant: You need to know how to deal with anxious people, possess a strong eye for detail, and be able to bullshit your way out when the news is bad. Read the rest of Michael Callahan’s essay about learning to read tarot here. 

Have more time to spare? See what you can learn to do in just a few hours.


In a Few Hours

Take a decent picture (as a subject)
Turns out there aren’t a lot of modeling agencies interested in teaching non-models how to pose for photos­—so Mary Anne Claro (actress, model, owner of Claro Talent) is something of a find. Over the course of your lunch break, she’ll teach you, mere mortal, the secrets (angles, poses, the like) she divulges to models that make for better shots. No more double chins!
THE TIME: One hour.
THE TAB: $100 per one-hour private session.

Make grandma’s gravy
Handing me a baster, Grandma tells me to suck up all the juice that’s run out of the roasting turkey, then transfer it to a separator that will block the fat when I’m pouring it into our cauldron. Read the rest of Carrie Denny’s essay on learning to make her grandmother’s gravy here.

Be smart (or at least sound smart) about wine
After being introduced, via tasting, to the varietal characteristics of the eight major grapes at the Wine School’s Wine 101 class, one Philly Magger begged for a blindfolded taste test: “I’m getting floral barnyard. That’s gotta be a pinot noir. Green pepper and grass? Definitely sauvignon blanc.”
THE TIME: The two-hour intro class gets you the basics; see more advanced programs at vinology.com.
THE TAB: $39.98 for the 101 class.

Do a smoky eye
Own $1,000 worth of makeup and no idea how to apply it? Makeup artist Béke Beau (pronounced “Becky Bo”) offers private lessons in her airy Ardmore studio­—then extends a permanent invite to pop back in for (um) brush-ups should the cat eye/bold lip/apple cheek ever get the best of you again. (Also: Look for bimonthly workshops for ladies 40 and up.)
THE TIME: You’ll get enough know-how in the 90-minute lesson to perfect your technique at home.
THE TAB: The private lessons are $200; three-hour workshops are $75.

Pilot a helicopter
The region’s premier helicopter tour company­, Independence Helicopters, will let you get behind the throttle of its Robinson R22 Betall chopper, should you choose to be so daring. Just remember to duck when de-boarding.­
THE TIME: After 20 minutes of on-the-ground training, you’re ready to take to the skies—with a certified instructor, of course.
THE TAB: $225 for the first lesson. The cost of advanced training varies, and full pilot certification can require more than 60 hours in flight. Not a hobby for the cash-strapped.

Do your own blowout
Blowout 101 at Laurentius Salon: For those who’ve watched countless YouTube videos and still haven’t mastered the round-brush technique and/or those considering a second job to keep them in straight hair.
THE TIME: 90 minutes.
THE TAB: $150.

Can stuff
Pickles, fruit butters, marmalades, chutneys, jellies and, honest to God, the best plum jam you’ve ever eaten: Marisa McClellan has made a career out of putting food in jars. (That’s actually the name of her charming blog: Food in Jars.) Catch her classes all over the place (Greensgrow, Indy Hall, Linvilla), or—even better—have her come to you for a pickle or jam class.
Two to three hours.
THE TAB: Public classes run from about $35 to $60; private lessons/parties are $350.

Kill a chicken
“You’re aiming for right in front of the backbone, at the back of the neck, and then it’s just a small cut forward,” John Hopkins tells me, gesturing with deft hands coated in chicken blood. Such is life (and death) on Orangeville’s Forks Farm, where Hopkins and his wife, Todd, raise about 3,000 chickens a year—one of which I’m clumsily knifing in the neck. Read the rest of Jessica Goldschmidt’s essay about learning to kill a chicken. 

Bake a signature pie
Chef Christina Dimacali of NoLibs’s Clean Your Plate teaches regular group classes, but in order to perfect a specific dish—she’s fielded­ many requests for pies—book her one-on-one. “I teach not just the how but also the why, so that when you’re cooking later on, you’ll know what went wrong—and how to fix it,” she promises.
THE TIME: Unless you’re really a disaster, one three-hour class will do it.
THE TAB: $385 per private lesson.

Read faster
Speed-reading classes­ are surprisingly hard to find these days, but if you’re dying to burn through your emails/novels/newspapers a little (a lot?) faster, you’re in luck: Iris Reading—the country’s largest speed-reading organization—hosts a workshop this month at Center City’s Warwick Hotel, on January 29th.
THE TIME: Five hours, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
THE TAB: $199.

Even the least artful among us can walk out of Candy Depew’s colorful studio/­showroom with the wherewithal to design and screen-print on both paper (greeting cards! Art prints!) and fabric (t-shirts! Upholstery!). “Fifty percent of my students have set up studios in their homes so they can keep printing,” Depew says. She’ll teach you how to do that, too.
THE TIME: Three two-hour courses.
THE TAB: $225 to $250, including materials.

Drive stick
Ready to (finally) master the art of the clutch? (You never know when it will save the day—or give you a reason to buy a Porsche Boxster.) Do it at Bala Cynwyd’s A Confident Driving School, one of the only area holdouts still teaching manual driving.
THE TIME: Just one two-hour lesson, believe it or not.
THE TAB: $210 per lesson.

Arrange flowers
Sullivan Owen, proprietor of the eponymous Queen Village flower shop, shares her covetable skills in monthly floral-arranging classes based on themes—the season, upcoming holidays, certain flowers or colors—and teaches a simple technique that can be used with lots of different kinds of blooms and vessels.
THE TIME: One three-hour class.
THE TAB: $150 includes all materials and supplies, plus snacks and champagne. Sign up with a friend for 15 percent off.

Have more time to spare? See what you can learn to do in just a few days.

In a Few Days

There are lots of not-too-terrifying mountains within two hours of Philly. Matt Yorgley of KOP’s Buckman’s Ski and Snowboard Shop likes Spring Mountain, Blue Mountain and especially Bear Creek Mountain, which has an easy-to-use standing carpet lift.
THE TIME: In five days, you’ll be able to get down the mountain without falling, says Yorgley—just take a lesson “so someone can correct your form.”
THE TAB: Group-lesson packages start at $50, and usually include an all-day lift ticket and rental gear. Private lessons start at $65. Spring Mountain, Spring Mount, springmountainadventures.com; Blue Mountain, Palmerton, skibluemt.com; Bear Creek Mountain Resort, Macungie, bcmountain- resort.com.

Ride a bike
It’s not true what they say about riding a bike. You can forget. My dad taught me to ride when I was a kid, but after a particularly nasty tumble, I wheeled my hand-me-down pink banana-seat into the garage and became a permanent pedestrian. Read the rest of Erica Palan’s essay on learning to ride a bike here.

Hang wallpaper
Big-name wallpaper companies like Cole & Son and Phillip Jeffries call wallpaper-­whisperer Tim Hampshire of Custom Wall Finishes with all their hanging questions, and so should you, intrepid paper-plasterers­—or face a lifetime of mismatched seams and unsightly wrinkles. Hampshire will tell you how much paper and which primer to buy during a free estimate­—and then give you a hanging lesson and teach you all his tricks.
THE TIME: Two days.
THE TAB: $400 per day, not including materials.

Win more than you lose at poker
At WPT Boot Camp, professional players lead an intensive workshop for amateurs of all levels, imparting the strategies that win tournaments. (Think of it as Basic Training, with slow-playing and check-raising instead of floor-scrubbing and wall-scaling.) WPT weekend workshops are periodically offered in Atlantic City (usually at the Trump Taj Mahal or Golden Nugget)—and in Vegas, should you have a travel budget.
THE TIME: Two days.
THE TAB: $1,895 per workshop.

Mosaic like Isaiah Zagar
Really, you can—because Zagar himself teaches two-day workshops at South Street’s Magic Gardens. (The class moves inside for winter.) The renowned and revered Philly artist hosts his so-cool instruction sessions once a month. Why haven’t we all done this?
THE TIME: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
THE TAB: $350 for a workshop, materials included.

For people who really (really, really) love Antiques Roadshow: The week-long “Antiques Vacation” cruises to the Caribbean or the Mediterranean with Doylestown-based expert appraiser/TV personality Lori Verderame. After a week of shipboard seminars and on-shore antiquing, plus all the normal all-aboard activities (badminton, anyone?), you’ll navigate flea markets and antiques shows with enviable trash-or-treasure radar.
THE TIME: One week.
THE TAB: From $599.

Have more time to spare? See what you can learn to do in a month or so.

In a Month or So 

Spool co-owner Laura Singewald swears the fabrics you work with in this modern-day quilting bee of a class are so “colorful and fun, they really do the work for you.” Though if you don’t already know how to sew a straight line, you’ll have to practice a little before you set to work on your lap quilt.
THE TIME: The piecing­-to-binding five-week course meets Tuesdays from 6 to 8 p.m.
THE TAB: $175, including materials.

Ice-skate (somewhat) gracefully
You won’t believe skating director Amber Hartman of the Flyers Skate Zone when she tells you that adults pick up ice-skating faster than kids. But after just six classes, you’ll skate forward and backward and be able to stop without crashing into the guardrail.
THE TIME: A 30-minute lesson followed by a 30-minute instructor-guided free skate every Friday night for six weeks.
THE TAB: $120 for the six-week session.

I jab and cross—bad left and a strong right—straight into the training mitts worn by Phil Lopez, an instructor at Nak Muay Gym, the second-floor Mixed Martial Arts training center in King of Prussia where everyone from complete amateurs (like me) to professional MMA fighters (like Tim Carpenter, Sam Oropeza and Aaron Meisner) comes to work out. Read the rest of Jason Sheehan’s essay on taking boxing lessons here.

Be funny
Take the stand-up course at the Philadelphia Comedy Academy, and you’ll get: ideas about funny­ stuff, joke delivery tips, mic technique, even (dare to dream) info on how to get an agent and break into NYC clubs. At the very least, you’ll end up with a great party trick: the five-minute stand-up routine.
THE TIME: Three Sunday classes, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
THE TAB: Tuition is $400.

Swim without drowning
Holly Waters (yeah, she knows—hah!) at Sweat Fitness teaches adult one-on-one lessons, so you get individual attention and the chance to learn the breaststroke at your own pace—minus the indignity of an audience.
THE TIME: Expect to take at least six half-hour lessons before you tackle the deep end solo. (If technique’s your bag, plan eight months to get all the strokes down.)
THE TAB: A package of six lessons is $275. Invest in some good goggles, too.

Fix bikes
The Adult Bike Repair classes offered by West Philly-based nonprofit Neighborhood Bike Works make you look like a badass: You’ll be able to fix your own flat, diagnose and repair misbehaving parts, overhaul bearings, and tinker in all sorts of productive ways.
THE TIME: One two-and-a-half-hour class a week for a month.
THE TAB: $80, and you don’t even need your own tools (or bike, though you’re welcome to bring one).

Have more time to spare? See what you can learn to do in a few months.

In a Few Months

Play the piano
Chubby Checker, Kevin Eubanks and renowned jazzman Joey DeFrancesco all learned to tickle the ivories at the century-­old Settlement Music School, so you should be able to get beyond “Chopsticks.”
THE TIME: You’ll be plinking something tuneful in a matter of months, and a simple Mozart étude within a year.
THE TAB: Weekly lessons start at $30.50 for a half-hour. Of course, you’ll need a piano…

It doesn’t matter how much you love belting out Adele while driving down the Schuylkill, or chorus-grouping “Bohemian Rhapsody” at the Black Sheep with your friends—you still might sound really bad. But can anyone learn to sing with proper instruction? I’m beginning to believe it’s possible after just four lessons with South Jersey teacher Ken Querns. Read the rest of Janine White’s essay on taking singing lessons (via Skype!) here.

Make things out of wood
Total beginners start with a seven-week session at Philadelphia Furniture Workshop: In the course of learning to make a bookshelf, you’re learning the secrets of the craft from guys like founder Alan Turner, who’s been woodworking for 50 years. (Beyond the intro session, his special skills classes and specialty furniture courses are nothing short of inspirational.)
THE TIME: Seven weeks for the first of three beginner classes.
THE TAB: $550 for the course, including materials.

Golf better
Spring Mill Country Club assistant golf pro Matt Davis wants to get in your head: “A lot of what I’m counseling people on is not getting too frustrated when they hit bad shots. Golf is 75 percent mental.” He’ll retrain your brain so a bad drive doesn’t trigger a second mistake.
THE TIME: Davis will get your ball airborne in an hour; the Zen thing comes after a few months of twice-weekly rounds.
THE TAB: $60 for five one-hour group clinics; $100 an hour for private lessons.

The Walnut Street Theatre School for Adults, swears one Philly Mag editor who moonlights as a thespian, is a no-brainer: “Whether you’re Broadway-bound or just want to audition for your local production of Annie, you’ll get professional, low-key teachers who know how to tease out your flair for drama.” Go for Improv, Musical Theater, Acting for the Camera and more.
THE TIME: Most classes run two hours a week in 10-week sessions.
THE TAB: Courses are generally $250.

Paint for pleasure
Where better to whet your painter’s knife than at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the nation’s first and oldest art school? PAFA offers a palette-ful of continuing-education daytime, weekend and evening courses, from basics to portraiture, still life and Abstract Expressionism.
THE TIME: Most courses are once a week for 14 weeks, but some last seven to 10 weeks.
THE TAB: Regular courses cost $465; seven-to-10-week courses vary. Paints and canvas not included.

Write that novel/screenplay/TV pilot
The best continuing-ed program in the city belongs to the University of the Arts, which always has a spate of classes for hobbyists or pros looking to elevate their writing to the next level. Nobody else in your life will be this indulgent (or constructive) when it comes time to listen to your 11th revise.
THE TIME: A semester runs three months, and classes meet once weekly.
THE TAB: Tuition varies, but starts at $160.

Take a decent picture (as a photographer)
Put that fancy camera you got for Christmas to use at Kensington’s Project Basho, where a professional faculty teaches courses on digital and film techniques. (Look into specialty courses, too: When else will you ever learn vintage daguerreotype processes?) The darkroom is also a membership cooperative for local photogs, so expert advice abounds.
THE TIME: Choose from three-hour tutorials, weekend workshops or 10-week courses.­
THE TAB: From $150 for a tutorial to $625 for a 10-week workshop.

Have more time to spare? See what you can learn to do in a year or so.

In a Year or So

The Deaf-Hearing Communication Centre’s non-credit ASL class instructors are seriously qualified (all are fluent signers) and seriously serious about creating­ a relaxed learning environment (light homework, no tests) for signing newbies.
THE TIME: By the end of DHCC’s four levels (each level meets once a week for 10 weeks), you should be able to hold an informal conversation.
THE TAB: $135 per level, plus the cost of books.

Dance to anything
The thing about tap is that from the first lesson, rhythms get stuck in your brain, and suddenly you’re fuh-lap-stepping your way through the Starbucks line, in every empty elevator, while standing at the stove in your kitchen. I tap constantly between my twice-weekly lessons at Society Hill Dance Academy, where owner Shana Vitoff is teaching me a gentle little routine to “Moon River.” Read the rest of Christine Speer Lejeune’s essay on taking tap-dancing lessons here.

Speak French. Or Italian. Or Spanish. Or Japanese. Or …
Center City’s Lingual Institute will get you started—or refreshed—in most languages with a series of startlingly affordable group classes. And if that prospect triggers visions (flashbacks?) of classmates sniggering at your verb conjugation, L.I. also offers private tutors.
THE TIME: Group classes meet once a week for five weeks. Conventional wisdom holds that it takes about a year to master very basic conversation.
THE TAB: Starts at $120 for five group classes; $45 an hour for private instruction in Romance languages, $50 for others.

Look good on a horse
It’s never too late: Instructors at Malvern’s Thorncroft Equestrian Center once taught a 90-year-old beginner to trot.
THE TIME: After 30 minutes spent learning how to tack and lead your horse, you’ll be up in the saddle on day one—though many equestrians take up to a year to gain the confidence and skills required for more serious riding.
THE TAB: $50 for a half-hour lesson. Beginners start with private lessons and work their way up to group sessions.

Still have more time to spare? See what you can learn to do sometime in the foreseeable future.

Sometime in the Foreseeable Future

Do Japanese rope bondage
Leave it to the Japanese to make sex a complicated practice. In kinbaku (literally “tight binding”), one partner ties the other up using rope and complex patterns. Sexploratorium offers regular courses in the kinky art.
THE TIME: They’ll show you the basics in one two-hour session, but like Japanese calligraphy, kinbaku can take a lifetime to master. At least you’ll have fun, er, doing it.
THE TAB: $60 per couple the day of the class; $40 in advance. Plus lots of rope.

Control yourself
I’m sitting in the office of Brian Gallagher, a psychologist with Einstein Healthcare Network, because I have a problem. I cry too much—at sad movies, at maudlin TV commercials, but most infuriatingly during my annual reviews at work. Read the rest of Sandy Hingston’s essay on learning to stop crying here.

Instructors at Go Vertical are rock-scaling Mr. Miyagis, dispensing sage advice like “Trust your feet” and, more obliquely, “Use your skeleton—not your muscles.” Such adages actually make sense once you’re on the rock: You don’t understand these lessons with your brain so much as feel them with your body.
THE TIME: Two hours for an intro lesson, but that’s mostly just to learn the ropes (literally). Serious climbing skills take longer to build.
THE TAB: Day passes are $18; $153 covers 10 days.

Because the path to peace ain’t easy: You can ease yourself into (secularized) mindfulness with the help of Jen McGown’s introductory classes at One Yoga PhillyShambhala Meditation Center.
THE TIME: There’s no timetable for transcendence.
THE TAB: McGown’s “21 Minutes for 21 Days” program is $121; Shambhala’s introductory weekend workshop is $100. (BYO cushion), or take the Buddhist route at one of the welcoming workshops at the

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