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Choosing class-y gifts

From tango lessons to learning to do a spiffy hem, classes offer skill-building opportunities

Don't know what to get your partner, grandparent or close friend this holiday season? Perhaps offering the opportunity to learn a new skill -- whether it's dancing, cooking or tennis -- will fit the bill.

Just in the nick of time, Palo Alto Community Services Department is debuting a pilot program that allows you to let your friends choose classes according to their interests. Gift-givers can "get a gift certificate for any amount, to be used for any class offered by the city of Palo Alto," EJ Taylor, a program supervisor, said.

Gift certificates are available at all class registration sites, and a person who receives them can put the gift toward materials as well as registration fees for a variety of courses.

Among the Community Services Department's offerings for winter quarter is Brazilian dancing, taught by Anita Lusebrink in the Lucie Stern Community Center ballroom. The Thursday evening lessons are not intended for couples, Lusebrink said, but are suitable to a variety of skill levels and give your recipient some active time alone or with a friend.

It's "an hour of upbeat fun exercise to get you in touch with your hot side," Lusebrink said.

Or you could sign your friend up for Kunwar Singh's new Bhangra/Bollywood fusion course.

Both a trained dancer and an attorney-by-day, Singh encourages people of all skill levels to blow off steam by enrolling in the class combining Bhangra, Bollywood, Arabic, Turkish and free-style dances.

In addition to giving your friend some cardiovascular exercise, Singh said, the dance is "high energy and very expressive, so if you combine the two, it makes for a great hour."

Dance classes might seem like an odd gift choice for a friend who is older or less active, but some creative thinking might land your intended recipient a great gift.

Belly-dancing instructor Satareh, who learned the art as a teenager and has studied belly dancing in Egypt, said that her classes suit a wide variety of people.

Satareh teaches basic techniques and isolated movements and said that belly dancing "is one of the more adaptable sorts of dancing: You can be any age, gender or ability and still get a lot out of it. ... The people who probably wouldn't consider themselves prime candidates for being a belly dancer probably get the most benefit."

For those who prefer more traditional exercise, look to Jim Heebner, a ranked tennis professional, who offers courses for adults and children at various levels of ability through Menlo Park Recreation Department.

"It's a great gift for a wife to give to her husband or a husband to give to his wife. It's a way for them to learn tennis or get back into it," Heebner said, adding that spouses could take small group classes as a pair if they have similar skills.

People trying to get "back in the game" in other ways could benefit from computer classes at Palo Alto Adult School, Ellen Engelman suggested. She teaches courses including "Stay Connected Using Email and the Internet" and said that retirees and people looking to rejoin the workforce have learned to use technology to get and stay in touch.

That particular course teaches basic skills such as how to use e-mail and attachments.

"Older people are being given gifts of computers but have never used one before. ... This class is great for people who learn by the seat of their pants and need a more structured way to solidify their skills," she said.

Yanette Fichou Edwards, who also teaches at Palo Alto Adult School, offers lessons in cooking skills, which might make a great gift to share with co-workers, family and friends. She also offers private group lessons, citing mother-daughter gingerbread-making, team-building sushi workshops and a group tutorial in ethnic food.

"The sky's the limit as to what you can learn and the experience you can give to your friends," she said, "and if you aren't creative, we can come up with something together."

Your gift of a class can also teach crafts skills, particularly if your intended recipients enjoy learning greener skills in their spare time. DeAnne Appleton offers public and private classes and has an arsenal of skills to teach students, including alterations and hemming.

"I encourage my students to sew green and repurpose old materials. ... They'll become independent sewers by learning the skills they need to complete their projects," she said.

Sewing skills are not a prerequisite, and past students' projects have included a parent making copies of a 3-year-old's stuffed bunny, as well as a younger student taking private lessons to make a dance costume.

For your friends and family looking to embrace their performing side, you might consider Paul Engel's course, "Sing the Best of Broadway." Held at the Stern Fireside Room through the city of Palo Alto, the sing-along class provides a fun survey of classic show tunes.

Engel said that the class was well suited to show-tunes fans and older men, who learn to express their emotions through music. He noted, though, that with a cappella coming back and music education funding cut, younger people might enjoy the class.

You might consider matching the gift of classes with your friend, relative or coworker in a more creative way, Engel noted.

"My class would give younger people a sense of forgotten music history, and a sense of what great songs they really were."

What: Local classes

Info: City of Palo Alto Community Services Department; Menlo Park Recreation Department; Palo Alto Adult School, 650-329-3752

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