The summer heat doesn’t only make our bodies sluggish: blasting our brains out with AC and becoming sofa-bound zombies buried under a bevy of box sets isn’t good for the mind, either. In fact, if you think about it, summer is the stupidest of all the seasons: we no longer require a plot with our movies, and at music festivals we pay hundreds of dirhams to live in a tent and use toilets no doubt considered primitive by Neanderthal man. Apparently, brain cells start to die at around 41°C, which may explain this strange behaviour. This means now is the time to keep those cells stimulated and learn a new skill. Even better, all the pursuits we’ve found are enjoyed indoors, and you’re unlikely to want to skip a class to go to the beach in this heat...
We try Kitchen Art
Vinny K-Maddage, designer
As a designer, making things look beautiful – albeit on a computer – is how I earn my fils. But when I meet Mark Ranasinghe, an award-winning food artist who has spent the past 18 years crafting everything from ice blocks to mangoes, I realise how much easier it is for me to make art sitting at a desk. Watching Mark carve his way through a 4ft block of ice has me eager to give it a go, but when the time comes the first thing I realise is just how physically demanding it is; you’re fighting a constant battle with time. It’s hard work, but as things take shape towards the end there’s a real sense of reward.
We move on to carving floral patterns into a pair of mangoes, which is more the kind of thing you could realistically do at home. It’s refreshing that someone so talented remains so patient with newbies like me, making the lesson an absolute pleasure. I leave hooked – never before has playing with your food felt so right.
Dhs140 per person. Classes held on the third Monday of the month, 10am-noon. Al Bustan Rotana, Garhoud (04 705 4818)
We try Hip Hop dancing
Becky Lucas, deputy editor
Walking apprehensively into the small studio, I find three people mid-complicated-routine, dancing to Usher’s ‘Yeah’ at full volume. David, the dance leader, eventually wanders over. ‘Have you ever danced before?’ Never. ‘Aerobics?’ Sure! He then decides I can try to keep up.
I try. I fail. I feel a complete fool in front of the overly honest mirror and can’t stop laughing. Fortunately, David soon slows down to show me how to complete a ‘worm’ with my arms. It hurts, pulling on muscles I obviously haven’t used for a while, but I make progress. Then we try a sideways ‘glide’. This seems a little easier.
Several moves later and it’s (thankfully) time for a warm-down, involving some truly brutal stretches, which David pushes me even deeper into. Once the agony is over he tells me I could catch up with this group (they’re already five lessons in), but I’m doubtful. I’d rather start again with other beginners and feel ridiculous together. Then this could start to feel like fun.
Dhs800 for 12 classes per month. First International Dance Studio, Dubai Shopping Centre, opposite Deira City Centre (056 605 5265)
We try Skateboarding
Rebecca Milford, senior sub editor
It doesn’t bode well when the first thing instructor Alex Medvedev teaches me is how to fall properly. Still, he’s adamant that it’s safety first so, after donning some sweaty knee pads and a helmet, I clamber into the bowl to practise sliding down the sides on my knees. He then demonstrates basic skills, such as how to pick up the skateboard with a flick of the foot (I fumble and drop it), before grabbing my hands and pulling me around the bowl. We work up quite a speed – and it’s awesome fun.
After a lesson in basic turns, it’s on to the big stuff: dropping in from the top of the ramp. ‘You have to just go for it and commit,’ explains Alex. ‘If you’re not leaning far enough forwards, the board will slip out from under you and you’ll land on your butt.’ My brain is screaming at me to lean away from the danger, not towards it, but this is all or nothing. I struggle to block out a vision of me smacking my face on the floor.
‘Three, two, one…’ I grab Alex’s hands and plunge over the edge. Before I know it, we’ve reached the opposite side of the bowl and I’m still upright – I even manage to pull off a ramshackle turn before landing in a heap at Alex’s feet. I have a huge grin plastered over my face. Maybe this skateboarding malarkey isn’t just for kids…
Dhs100 per person, per hour (minimum two, maximum three people per class). Classes held Sun-Thu 4pm-6pm. Reservations essential. Rage Skate Shop, The Dubai Mall (04 434 1549)
We try Stand-up comedy
Daisy Carrington, Food editor
I’ve often fantasised about performing a stand-up routine. I have a rubbery face and I seem to make people laugh (with me, at me… is there really a difference?). So I figured I’d drop into Dubai’s only comedy class, run by stand-up veteran Mina Liccione. She offers three nine-week sessions each year: stand-up, improv and sketch comedy. Each culminates in a free-to-the-public performance at Ductac at Mall of the Emirates.
‘I spend the first four weeks of every course working on improv skill, because you can’t do stand-up without being able to improvise,’ explains Liccione. We start our session with the kind of games you might see on TV improv show Whose Line Is it Anyway? – in one, we take turns using props and pretending they’re something else. As it happens, the mask I’m wearing to protect my identity is a brilliant tool. A towel turns into Jay Leno’s nose wipe, his bib and even his veil. It’s freeing and fun.
In later lessons, once students have mastered improv, Mina teaches them to observe things about their lives and write them into a stand-up routine. I think I might have to sign up.
Dhs1,100 for a nine-week course, including nine group classes, one private coaching session, ‘Stand-up Writing: Proof Reading and Editing’, rehearsals and final show. Private coaching also available. (050 927 3621)
We try DJing
Nyree Barrett, Art editor
DJing is one of those things most people think they could easily pull off. Many a time I’ve looked at the person on the decks fiddling with his headphones and slotting a CD into his new-age turntables and thought, ‘I could totally do that – and how cool I’d look.’
Alas, one hour with DJ Mo Tiger (roar!) teaches me a) how hard it is to make all the noises – my scratches sound like sick puppies barking; and b) how hard it is to look cool – try holding headphones, watching a computer screen, scratching a record and controlling volume levels and tempos at the same time.
The lesson involves learning all about the equipment: traditional turntables with records; CD turntables with scratching abilities (so they don’t just pop a CD in, then); and the computer and digital software now more commonly used. I learn how tricky it is to move seamlessly from one song to the next, and how it’s all about fine-tuning the beat and queuing up the various songs perfectly.I’m not serious enough about my DJ fantasies to take the whole course, but sign up for this if you’re interested in the technicalities behind the beats and want to learn from a maestro (DJ Mo Tiger is now pioneering video DJing in the Middle East).
Dhs3,500 for an eight-week Digital DJ course. Next course begins September 19, Sundays and Tuesdays 6pm-9pm. See www.dubai.sae.edu
We try Public speaking
Laura Chubb, Film editor
‘People would rather get knocked down by a truck and die than go up on stage and deliver a speech,’ reads the first line of the Orator’s Forum Institute brochure. That’s a touch hyperbolic – I’m not convinced I’d choose throwing myself under a bus over giving a speech – but it’s true that not many people can talk to a crowd without getting a bit sweaty and feeling their pulse ‘chug-chug’ in their ears. Learning to step on stage and hold forth with confidence is an appealing idea, not least because it’s always going to be useful – imagine going into the next office meeting or a job interview and blowing everyone away with your public speaking prowess.
However, for the most part it’s me that’s being talked to, as husband-and-wife team MR and Safiya Hussain bombard me with motivational platitudes, promising to ‘polish’ my personality. I’m told to ‘hypnotise’ my audience by making what I’m saying sound like fun and looking excited about it, which isn’t exactly revelatory. At the end of the course, everyone receives hypnotherapy to remove stage fright. I’m unconvinced that holding a cushion and talking to it as though it’s my six-year-old self has done that, although perhaps the biggest problem is the course doesn’t give me a chance to test it – there’s an Orator’s Forum Club where you practise public speaking with each other, but it’s not included on the basic course.
In the end, I’m not persuaded the ‘chug chug’ will disappear. But if you’re the type to read self-help books, no doubt there’s plenty you’ll find of use here.
From Dhs1,950; half-day to two-day courses and private coaching available. Knowledge Village, Block 18 (050 655 6209)
10 more lessons we like
1 Bollywood dancing: Learn to Bollywood with the best of them at these weekly classes in Jumeirah. Combining Indian classical dance, folk dances such as bhangra and even Latino moves, the classes are also a great workout.
Dhs65 for a one-off trial class, Dhs650 for 11 lessons over five and a half weeks. (050 840 7679
2 Cooking at Rhodes Mezzanine: Learn the secrets of simple but impressive fine-dining fare at this masterclass. Best of all, you get to eat the food afterwards, together with beverage pairings. There’s even a goodie bag to take home.
Dhs1,100, including breakfast, three-course lunch and beverage pairings. Tuesdays 10am-2pm, Grosvenor House, Dubai Marina (04 399 8888)
3 Cupcake baking: Not only does cupcake fanatic Denise de Jesus keep a blog about her cake-baking escapades
(www.bakedindubai.blogspot.com), she’s also offering classes in making four varieties of cupcake and four types of frosting. Dhs250 for a three- to four-hour lesson in Emirates Hills. Email email@example.com
4 Creative writing: Take an online creative writing course and unleash the bestseller within. Tutors are all published writers (one even lives in Dubai). You also discuss your work with a group of cyber classmates.
Dhs830 for 10 weeks. www.writing classes.co.uk
5 Fashion design: If you have a flair for fashion and are serious about becoming the next Valentino, the French Fashion University in Dubai offers short courses in design and launching your very own brand.
Dhs2,200 for a three-day course in establishing a brand, July 18-20, 10am-4pm. Dhs8,500 for a six-week course, August 1-September 6, day or evening. Design short courses from September. (04 429 1228)
6 Flower arranging: Japanese art form ‘ikebana’ has strict rules guiding flower arrangements, and is intended as a silent, spiritual pursuit.
Dhs60 for one lesson, including flowers. Tuesdays and Thursdays in Deira. Women only. (04 262 0282)
7 Make-up lessons: The French Fashion University in Dubai also offers short courses in self make-up and fashion make-up. A sure way to look your best in the summer heat – and learn a sellable skill.
Dhs2,500 for a two-day self make-up course; Dhs10,000 for a two-month professional course. (04 429 1228)
8 Oud tuition: So you’ve mastered the guitar, but what about its great-grandfather, the oud? Kick out atmospheric Arabian tunes on 11 strings and no frets.
From Dhs160 per one-hour lesson. The Music Chamber, Crowne Plaza, Sheikh Zayed Road (04 331 6416)
9 Sign language: Eton Institute in Knowledge Village teaches more than 100 languages, including American sign language.
Dhs1,650 for 13 weeks, three two-hour lessons per week. Part of the fee is donated to Dubai Centre for Special Needs. Knowledge Village, Block 3 (800 3866)
10 Singing: If you think you sound good in the shower but receive less-than-positive reviews from your flatmates, this is your chance to fine-tune your talent. Teachers at Orpheus offer lessons in classical opera, jazz, soul and pop singing styles.
Dhs250-300 per one-hour lesson, depending on tutor. Knowledge Village, Block 13, Office G-23 (050 699 6595)
Learn something... Odd
We’re all for expanding your skill set, but we’re not completely convinced about the educational value of some of these US college courses. Gotta love those Americans...
Underwater basket weaving
The art of making wicker baskets by dipping reeds into water, apparently.
University of California, San Diego
Daytime serials: family and social roles
We’re sure we could easily score an A+ watching The Bold and the Beautiful all day.
University of Wisconsin
Philosophy and Star Trek
Or ‘Nerd 101’, where social untouchables ponder the possibility of time travel and the existence of Klingons.
Joy of garbage
A more scientific course than you might expect, students study decomposition, the chemicals that make garbage smell, and sustainability. They even get field trips to landfill sites.
Santa Clara University
Art of walking
We’re assured this class doesn’t teach university students how to walk (though they may need a refresher after the latest frat party), but rather how walking has become a lost mode of transportation.
Centre College, Danville, Kentucky
Arguing with Judge Judy: popular ‘logic’ on TV judge shows
Credit to the faculty for not attempting to pretend this has anything to do with legal studies; instead, it’s an exploration of logical fallacies.
University of California, Berkeley