Don’t let the kids have all the fun, writes Sarah Ell. Join a class of like-minded grown-ups and gain new skills of your own.

The school year is under way and kids are getting busy with after-school activities, from music and dance to sport and creative endeavours. But why should they have all the fun? Adults have plenty of opportunities to pursue an interest, gain a new skill or polish up an old one, meet new people and have a good time. Make this the year you sign up for a few of your own extra-curricular activities.

Put on your dancing shoes

There's nothing like a good boogie around the house to get the endorphins flowing. Tapac (the Auckland Performing Arts Centre) at Western Springs offers contemporary dance, ballet, tap and hip-hop lessons for adults, even if you have never donned dance shoes before.

Nikki Macintosh, who runs front of house for Tapac, says many of its adult students used to take dance lessons as children and have always wanted to return to it. Ballet for adults is experiencing a surge in popularity, and Limbs co-founder Mary Jane O'Reilly's beginner and intermediate classes are fully subscribed.

"Our contemporary [dance] classes are also very popular," says Macintosh. "It attracts more of the older students, from 40 to 60, as it's a slow-moving and more graceful dance form, whereas hip-hop seems to appeal more to people in their 20s."

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Tap-dancing classes at Tapac are for all ages, so you might find yourself dancing next to a 5-year-old in shiny shoes.

"Tap isn't seen that often, but we find people come along just because they have always been interested in it. It's a good one for people who are not quite as fit, as there's not as much movement as something like hip-hop."

Macintosh says no experience is necessary - just the right shoes and the right attitude. "A lot of people do it for fitness, but it's also a way of meeting new people."
And if dancing isn't your thing, Tapac also runs adult classes in acting, circus performance and musical theatre.

Get artistic

Give any kids a piece of paper and some felt pens and they will draw you a masterpiece - or at least a unique original. Try the same with an adult and you might end up with a bit of a doodle. If you want to get back in touch with your inner artist, Auckland's Whitecliffe College of Art and Design offers a range of short courses - weekly or weekend workshops - in painting and drawing, digital and web design, fashion design, photography and sculpture, all taught by professional artists and designers.

Marketing manager Lianne Saunders says the short courses, which complement the college's undergraduate and postgraduate fine arts and design programmes, offer adult students the opportunity to learn a new skill in a supportive environment from a tertiary-level provider, up to date with the latest thinking and teaching techniques. Its photography, digital design - using Photoshop or Dreamweaver to create websites - and fashion design courses are particularly popular.

"The courses we offer are very genre-specific, so people can choose to do something they are particularly interested in," says Saunders. "Students who start here after school notice a difference between the way they were taught and how we teach here - there is a lot more creative analysis of what they are doing, and a lot more freedom of expression."

Prospective students shouldn't feel intimidated, however: short-course classes are tailored for beginners.

Students at a Whitecliffe College photography session.
Students at a Whitecliffe College photography session.

Blow your own trumpet

Wish you could pick up a guitar and lead a singalong at a party? Want to get back to those piano lessons you loathed as a child but wished you kept up? Have a secret yearning to play the saxophone? All these desires - and urges to play a range of other instruments - can be satisfied at the Lewis Eady Music School in Remuera. The school also takes many junior pupils and offers one-on-one lessons for adults on a range of instruments.

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"We do have quite a few adults picking up instruments for the first time, or going back to them having learned in childhood," says music school manager Miranda Rocca.

She says adult students come to the school for a variety of reasons, "not necessarily to become a professional performer, it can just be to stimulate the creative juices. A lot of people really enjoy working with the young musicians who are teaching them."

Thirty-minute lessons are scheduled once a week - and adults, unlike children, seem to recognise the importance of practising in between. Adult students can also express what they would like to learn and genres of music that interest them, and explore writing music.

"That can be very exciting - when people realise they can create their own music as well as reading music and playing something that has been composed. As an adult there are all sorts of avenues you can follow - it is up to you what your journey is going to be."

Edward Castelow and Jeremy Cooper at Lewis Eady Music School.
Edward Castelow and Jeremy Cooper at Lewis Eady Music School.

Get on your bike

Bike riding is supposed to be something we learn as kids, and never forget - but for many adults, it's a skill that was tenuous to begin with and has grown rusty with age. Auckland Transport, as part of its cycling promotion programme, offers free beginner bike training for adults who want to get back into the saddle.

Sessions are held at venues around the city on Tuesday evenings and Saturday mornings, with bikes provided if necessary. Those who are not absolute beginners can try weekend sessions on riding on the road, or take a workshop on cycle care and maintenance.

The courses have proved popular, in tandem with improved recreational biking facilities around the city. Debbie Lang, leader of Auckland Transport's regional walking and cycling co-ordination team, says they attract a wide range of potential riders, from those who never learned and have it "on their bucket list", through to those who rode as a child but haven't been on a bike for decades, to parents and grandparents keen to keep up with the younger generation.

"Some people don't even know how to get on," says Lang. "Then there are people who want to do something like the Otago Rail Trail with their friends, and parents or grandparents who want to be able to cycle with the kids and need to get more confidence."

Lang says everyone learns at a different rate, and the hardest thing for adults learning to ride seems to be "fear - something kids don't seem to have".

"Some of the adults worry about what other people will think, or what if people see them. But everyone who has come along has found they can just relax and feel comfortable, and get enjoyment out of learning."

Join a choir

Many of us have happy memories of being in a school choir, but as adults feel self-conscious about our singing ability in a world of the The X Factor and stars using auto-tune. And isn't it a bit weird to go around singing in public?

Max Maxwell would beg to differ. His Sing for Joy choir, based in Auckland's Mt Eden, is open to all comers - whether you think you can sing or not. It has about 70 members, with new singers coming along most weeks to join the chorus.

A typical Wednesday night session might start with a physical and vocal warm-up, then on with the singing, in four-part harmony. The choir has a wide repertoire, from gospel and Maori songs to the Beatles and the Bee Gees.

"It has been scientifically proven that singing is good for you, making your body release endorphins and raising your spirits," says Maxwell. "A lot of the songs we do are upbeat - there's a bit of hand-clapping - and the joy is a sheer physical thing."

Maxwell also runs vocal workshops and teaches the ukulele - another opportunity to get in touch with your inner child.

Sing for Joy is always open to new members, and Maxwell says if you bring along a copy of this article, your first singalong is free.

Sharpen up your swimming

Every Kiwi kid used to have lessons, but many of us are average swimmers at best. Hilton Brown Swimming schools in Auckland, Hamilton and Havelock North run not only beginner lessons for adults but also its "swim sharpener" - individualised coaching for those less confident in the water who want to improve their skills.

"A lot of adults aren't comfortable in group classes, so this is the opportunity to do a block of one-on-one teaching," says manager Andrew Brown. Interestingly, the split is around 60:40 men to women, with men often encouraged to go along by friends who are more confident and are taking part in ocean swims and similar events.

Swim sharpener sessions can be used for working on a particular stroke, or to improve basic skills like kicking and breathing. Hilton Brown also teaches group beginner lessons, and runs swimming for fitness squads.

"We are under no illusions that most people are not going to go on and be Olympic swimmers - maybe you just want be able to sit on a boat and feel safe, or go snorkelling or surfing and feel confident," says Brown. "It's not just about the swimming, but having the confidence to open up other opportunities out there, given the environment we live in, surrounded by water."