Minicourses offer fun by design

by Jenna Ross

For his salsa dancing mini-course last semester, instructor Bruce Abas took his students on a field trip.

The group took the floor at The Quest nightclub’s “Noche de Salsa” and demonstrated all the shimmying and shaking they had learned in the four-week course.

“They put to use their new skills,” said Abas, instructor and owner of Four Seasons Dance Studio. “And they had fun, which is the point, right?”

Minicourses, organized by the Minnesota Programs and Activities Council, offer students a taste of tango, a feel for photography or the basics of bowling.

Each semester, the council’s minicourse committee and its two co-chairs arrange courses in more than 15 areas. Some courses, such as photography, are staples of the program. Others, such as this spring’s basket-weaving class, are first-time experiments in new art areas.

Because the courses commit to their miniature length, they cover the basics of the crafts and meet only one to four times.

“A lot of the photography course is about getting control of the camera,” said Sarah Whiting, freelance photographer and instructor for the photography minicourse. “Most everybody has shot some pictures, but most haven’t done so with a manual camera.”

Whiting is one of 17 instructors for the spring’s 20 courses. The minicourse committee asks artists around the Twin Cities to teach courses.

Although instructors are paid, most said they teach because they want to introduce their craft to students and encourage them to study it further with their studios.

“Students have a real curiosity, an enthusiasm and an energy,” Abas said. “With luck, they will love it and end up coming to my studio to take more advanced courses.”

Photography, mosaic art and knitting are the three most popular courses, said Amanda Hollis, University senior and co-chairwoman for the minicourse committee.

The committee has offered minicourses since fall 2002, but the program continues a long tradition.

It began with an art studio. Before Coffman Union was renovated, it housed “the studio,” where students could take mini art courses on pottery, framing and printmaking.

Coffman Union was revamped and the studio lost, but the Minnesota Programs and Activities Council decided to continue the minicourse institution, dropping the “art” in the title but not in the inspiration.

“We focus on different aspects of art, but now the courses could encompass anything under the sun,” said Tricia Schweitzer, arts program coordinator for the Student Activities Office.

The minicourse committee encourages students to propose new course subjects and instructors.

“The interesting thing about our program is that it’s completely run by students,” Schweitzer said. “It begins with their ideas and ends with their creations.”