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Globe and Mail

September 2003

By NORA UNDERWOOD
Special to The Globe and Mail
Saturday, September 27, 2003 - Page M8

What's cool after school

Yes, there is extracurricular life beyond soccer, swimming and piano lessons -- this year, why not send your kids to fencing, musical theatre or Ghanaian drumming?

Only two hours after registration had begun, half of all the swimming lessons offered for the 2003-04 school year through the University of Toronto Athletic Centre were gone. For parents who didn't happen to be on the university's Web site, poised at their fax machines or standing in line at the Harbord Street building, applications in hand, by about 8:01 a.m. on Aug. 27, the choices for after-school programs were soon severely limited.

Yes, it's time for that frantic quest for extracurricular balance between what kids need, what they want and what their parents want them to have. Fortunately, once the ubiquitous swimming/skating/soccer/piano lessons are plugged into the schedule, there is an increasing number of cool after-school and Saturday programs to choose from, designed to satisfy everyone from the young fencer and modern dancer to the budding rock climber, magician and mad scientist.

Two years ago, the Soulpepper Theatre Company expanded its youth outreach program to include a twice-weekly after-school workshop at Harbourfront Centre for kids in Grades 10, 11 and 12. No previous theatre experience is required, but participants must be enthusiastic, enjoy working in groups and want to take risks. The course is mainly about the process -- script work and movement -- though it does build up to a performance at the end. Participants also receive a card that gets them a last-minute ticket to any Soulpepper show. The program runs over six or seven weeks in the spring, but it's worth looking into registration as early as possible, particularly as it's -- yes! -- free. Phone: 416-203-6264, ext. 31; or visit the Web site at http://www.soulpepper.ca.

The popular Avenue Road Arts School has expanded its repertoire to include courses for those with a yen for the stage. Musical Theatre I is a popular term-by-term course teaching basic skills, while MT II is a year-long opportunity for kids to apply skills previously learned and create a musical. The 15-member cast of MT II works on two shows, which they ultimately perform in a professional theatre space. The kids, who must be in Grades 5 to 9, create all the costumes, sets, voice work, choreography and script work. Phone: 416-961-1502; Web: http://www.avenueroadartsschool.com. Cost of MT II: $1,050.

A different kind of production is the focus of Never Too Short Productions' video workshops. Each lasts five weeks, during which time groups of 9- to-13-year-olds and 14- to-18-year-olds learn the ropes -- from the script, the pitch and production to postproduction and screening -- as they make their own five-minute movies. Phone: 416-465-9595; Web: http://www.nevertooshort.com. Cost: $200.

The Children's Technology Workshop offers a variety of programs at its own facility as well as at various schools and community centres. The youngest students, Wee Whizards (ages 4 to 6), learn engineering at a hands-on, construction-based workshop, while Whizards (ages 7 to 12) work through three levels of engineering, animation or game-making. In the latter, kids learn how to make their own video games, moving from passive players to active storyboarders. The young engineers model first in Lego and then reconstruct with other materials, learning about gears, pulleys and levers along the way. Phone: 416-425-2289; Web: http://www.ctworkshop.com. Cost: $80 to $145.

Comic Book Masters is "packed with kids who have dedicated their lives basically to Spiderman," said David Bluestein, the program's founder and an award-winning cartoonist and animation-industry veteran. Kids from the age of 6 and up can take different levels of eight-week sessions on everything cartoon-related -- comic-book and cartoon creation, anime, 3-D computer animation, action-figure building, robots, fantasy art and more. Classes are held at Thornhill Community Centre. Phone: 905-787-1060 or 416-873-2676; Web: http://www.comicbookmasters.com. Cost: about $200 a course.

If teenagers' interest in music lessons is starting to wane, a course through the Royal Conservatory's World Music Centre ought to reinvigorate them. In Ghanaian drumming, both beginners and experienced percussionists learn to play the music of West Africa; Taiko drumming teaches students the traditional Japanese form; Steelband (Grade 8 RCM is a prerequisite) lays out the basics of the music that originated in Trinidad and Tobago; and Brazilian and samba music is played on traditional instruments. Phone: 416-408-2824; Web: http://www.rcmusic.ca. Cost: $275 for one term; $525 for two.

If the kids need to just chill for a bit, there's always YogaBuds™. In its seventh year, YogaBuds™ offers classes in Iyengar yoga for kids aged 5 and up. Iyengar focuses on alignment and mental and physical balance. But there is a lot of creative fun involved, using props, movement games, music, storytelling, yoga games and group work. And not surprisingly, according to YogaBuds™ founder Temmi Ungerman Sears, more kids are gravitating to yoga as their parents do. Phone: 416-785-7888; Web: http://www.yogabuds.com. Cost: $209 to $241 for 13- to 15-week sessions.
The Ryerson University Fencing Club has had students as young as 7 in its eight-week-long sessions of fencing basics. Classes for the youngest focus on techniques such as foil and épée, and if kids want to continue after the session is finished, they can join the club. Phone: 416-979-5096. Cost: $57.75.

Aspiring modern dancers from 3 to 16 years old can work on their technique at classes held at the School of the Toronto Dance Theatre. The youngest students focus on creative movement and body awareness, then move on to the fundamentals of technique. Older students work on more intricate dances, jumps and turns. Phone: 416-967-6887; Web: http://www.schooloftdt.org. Cost: $160 a semester.

The 25-year-old Zodiac Swim School has recently expanded its offerings to include programs in things such as magic, groove dance and pottery. Among the most popular are rock climbing and mad science, where kids do laser light shows, create special effects and make bubbling potions and model rocket launches. Phone: 416-789-1989; Web: http://www.zodiacswim.on.ca. Cost: $120 to $240 for a 10- to 14-week session.