NYC's Coolest Classes — Beginners Tell All!

You know what they say about all work and no play. It's tough, it's draining, and after a while, your brain (and your body) start to crave a break from the daily grind. But, instead of making excuses for your busy schedule, we have a solution: Go back to school. Yes, we're being serious. Forget tests and syllabi, because we found three awesome and accessible NYC classes that are the coolest ways to work with your hands, get in shape sans boring boot camps, or learn a rad skill to impress your friends yourself.
Naturally, we wouldn't just lead you blind. We sent in three discerning judges (a.k.a. total newbies) to test-drive the outside-the-box classes — teaching silversmithing, aerial dance, and DJing — and find out what's fun, what's addictive, and what's really going on inside NYC's most unique classrooms. We don't recommend forwarding this email to your boss — y'know, just in case you end up deciding to switch jobs.
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The Beginner: Miguelina Gambaccini

Occupation: Founder and designer, Miguelina

Class: DJ 101 at Scratch DJ Academy
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In the midst of Fashion Month, it would be hard to ignore not only the street-style stars or runway phenoms, but also the super-suave spinsters behind the DJ booths at the hottest after parties around. Therefore we sent our newbie to attend a few classes of the DJ 101 course at Scratch DJ Academy, under the direction of teachers Ellison Robinson (pictured in slides) and Tim Martell.

With a focus on learning the basics of spinning and mixing, this class acts as the launching pad to eventually work and practice your way up to a Solange, Mia Moretti, or Mark Ronson (who happens to be a notable Scratch DJ) level of music-mixing skill, no matter what your genre of choice.

"We have seen many students enroll just for fun only to become serious DJs headlining at the best venues across the country. Yet, alternatively, we also have DJs or producers who have already been successful in their own right, but want to refine their skill set in order to break into the next professional level," Scratch CEO and co-founder Rob Principe told us. "Our unique and exclusive curriculum opportunities really do draw a tremendous mix of people, but they have one thing in common — a passion for music."
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Miguelina's verdict: "My goal going into the DJ classes at Scratch Academy was simply to take a fun class and learn something new this summer. This was my first time doing something like this, and I had no other expectations other than to learn how to play and mix music, like you would expect any other DJ could. My first group class was with Tim Martell. He began with teaching me all about the basic history of house music. I learned about how to use the decks, and was able to understand the meaning and the difference between pitch, timing, the counting of beats, bars, and then, of course, how they all fit together.

Overall, the classes were lots of fun, however it was still challenging. Scratching and mixing were definitely the most difficult — and I'm still working on the 9 o'clock position. After the first week, I took private classes with Ellison Robinson. He continued to teach me the fundamentals of scratch techniques. Ellison had a lot of patience with me, and he helped me finally pick up the technique by making me practice over and over again. But, overall, I liked his teaching style.

My time at Scratch DJ Academy was pretty short, but I had a great time. Everyone there was friendly, happy, and I left each class excited. Maybe I wont be a professional DJ any day soon, but I'm excited to at least get some real practice at my future house parties (spinning a mix of '80s and '90s beats). And, if nothing else, this was the perfect class after a stressful day of work."
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Give It A Spin: DJ 101 at Scratch DJ Academy, $360 for a 6-week program. Or check out all of Scratch DJ Academy's class offerings here.

Scratch DJ Academy, 32 Cooper Square #2 (near East 5th Street); 212-529-1599.
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The Beginner: Adam Sirak

Occupation: Founder and creative director, Sirak

Class: Intro to Jewelry: Silversmithing at 3rd Ward
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This ain't your summer-camp, friendship-bracelet-making jewelry course. Silversmithing at 3rd Ward is an intro to the skills that may help turn you into the next Pamela Love, Dannijo, or Alexis Bittar. From the basic skills, such as cutting metal, using the hand saw, drilling holes, hammering, soldering, as well as an understanding of how metals are manipulated, this course at 3rd Ward — a Brooklyn mecca of cool classes way beyond just silversmithing— walks their students through the process of creating a bona-fide, wearable piece of jewelry.

Adam's teacher, Max Goodman says this four-week class is practically a compressed version of the skills she had learned at the Tyler School of Art, and it leads its way into the natural next step: "We offer a Silversmithing II course, which covers more-advanced techniques like building mechanisms, making interchangeable pieces, and also touches upon business practices for folks who'd like to begin to sell their work."
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Adam's verdict: "As a decade-long Manhattanite the location of 3rd Ward gave me pause but after six stops on the L-train I was surprised to find a converted warehouse bustling with classes of all types — from printmaking to build-your-own-bicycle, the place was packed with creative types pursuing new passions. I arrived to silversmithing class ready with a few designs of a cuff. Since I don't usually wear jewelry I wanted something that felt masculine and low-key. Settling on a lighting bolt design, I made a goal for myself to see how precise I could keep the lines of the piece.

I didn't realize how labor intensive jewelry making is and it got me wondering about the industrialization process of actual production, so I set my second goal to work with speed. I wanted to know how many hours it would take to complete this simple design and how that would factor into the pricing of the piece considering a hypothetical sale. There are a lot of tedious steps, like the filing of the metal with various grades of abrasion, that must be done by hand. My impression is that it's best for designers or artisans that like to work on a small, intimate scale. I was also surprised to find how technical the chemical and heating aspects of the process was.

All of the detailed steps were thoroughly explained by an incredibly knowledgable instructor who made the class fun but focused. The tools and materials were supplied to do anything the class wanted to do with their pieces, and we were even taught some techniques that I considered more advanced than a beginners' class. I'll be exploring some of their other classes this fall and would definitely recommend 3rd Ward to anyone."
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The finished product. Would you buy it?
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Polish Your Skills: Intro to Jewelry: Silversmithing at 3rd Ward, $349 + $75 materials fee for a 4-week program. Or check out all of 3rd Ward's class offerings here.

3rd Ward, 195 Morgan Avenue (near Stagg Street), Brooklyn; 718-715-4961.
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The Beginner: Alison Matheny

Occupation: Freelance Designer

Class: Absolute Beginner and Open Level classes at Helium Aerial Dance
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With endless options around the city for ways to squeeze in a workout — beyond just going to the gym and bee-lining it to the elliptical — we sent Alison to a class that would not only challenge her whole body, but require much more grace than any spinning session. Aerial dance (think: Cirque du Soleil-style) asks to students to not only call upon their physical strength but test their ability to do it all while suspended from silk ribbons, secured to the ceiling.

Heather Hammond, Helium's main instructor and co-founder, recommends twice-a-week, consistent classes to really take your practice to new heights (pun intended), but at least once-weekly commitments can help students gain a "sense of accomplishment, [overcome] fears," and improve your upper-body strength. We're talking toned arms that could even impress MObama.
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Alison's Verdict: "I haven't done a pull up since 1990 — or a push up. Eating healthy-ish, lite meditation, and running a couple times a week has kept me comfortable in my high-waisted jeans. I like my basic workout routine, but I've always been curious about trendy feel-good fitness classes that have gained a cult following around New York, resulting in Fire Island-worthy abdominals, upper body strength, and — most attractive — unwavering self confidence.

I consider myself a cautionary risk-taker, so I immediately imagined myself flipping through the air with ease in an impossibly chic unitard. Reality set in before my first silks class at Hype Gym, as the blood from my toes rushed to my head during our strengthening mat warmup. Silks hung from the ceiling of the studio space, ready for my classmates and me to shimmy up, wrap around our feet and rolling ourselves into mid-air splits.

The hour would begin with a thorough stretching sesh to warm up muscles you never knew you had. From the floor we'd move to to the silks themselves, using core muscles — or in my case, the help of my spotter — to reach the ceiling of the studio. Tricks would progress throughout the class, each one easily adaptable to the performer's skill level, ending with a cool down and a lot of water intake. I was continually awestruck at the open class's aerialists' ability to commit intricate moves to memory, reciting them back with what seemed like no effort.

My assent was a bit more novice. Luckily, I was in the angelic hands of Heather Hammond, a trained dancer and performer, who appreciated my wide-eyed willingness to learn despite the noodley state of my biceps. Part focus, part developing muscle mass, part Heather's individual guidance and encouragement, I was soon able to fling myself upside down into multiple graceful-esque poses. I left feeling the kind of proud I only get from 6+ mile runs in the rain.

The days between classes were spent popping Advil and toasting my newfound sport (and bruises). With each class — though sore — I gained more height in climbs and resolution in myself. Instead of envisioning my debut on the Brooklyn acrobatic scene, my aspirations had shifted to developing a stronger body and nurtured, hungry spirit. I wasn't ashamed of my flushed face, but happy with my progress in such a short time. I doubt I will be mastering the 'kidney crusher' [Ed note: It's a trick in which the silks wrap tightly around your back, crushing your kidneys in 'a good way,' Heather says.] anytime soon, but would definitely recommend Heather's classes to anyone looking to exercise their muscles or self esteem."
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Flip Out: Helium Aerial Dance classes, $150-187.50 for a 5-class card or $280-350 for a 10-class card. Or check out all of Helium's class offerings here.

Helium Aerial Dance, Hype Gym; 480 2nd Avenue (near 27th Street); or 241 Bedford Ave #7 (between North 3 and North 4th streets), Brooklyn; 917-280-2611.
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