With all the free time that the coronavirus shutdown has opened up in your life over the past several weeks, many of you, after bingeing “Tiger King” and all those unwatched seasons of “Breaking Bad,” are finally getting around to activities you’ve always believed will make you the well-rounded person of your dreams. (Paring down your Netflix watch list, while satisfying, is not exactly a model of self-improvement.) That’s where online courses come in. With face-to face learning moving to the Internet, the Web has become the world’s classroom: a place for picking up knowledge and/or training in a way that’s accessible, fun and safe — and just might make you more interesting to hang out with. We checked out several classes that will not only help you keep your mind, body and spirit healthy in the short run but, when the world finally opens up again, could make going out a richer, more fulfilling experience.

Wine classes at Maxwell Park

Grabbing a seat at the bar at Maxwell Park has always felt like attending an informal wine class. The staff are smart as whips — what would you expect from a place opened by three sommeliers? — and have a gift for making even the complex and unusual wines seem approachable, even to absolute beginners. The menu theme changes every month, with lists focused on different grapes or countries of origin, so there’s always something new to try, but Maxwell Park never takes itself too seriously. And with both locations closed, the education, and the fun, have moved online. Every Friday, Maxwell Park’s founders host a free wine seminar on Zoom. The “Quaran-theme” rotates each week, so you might learn about the difference between sparkling wine styles, or what makes a wine light bodied vs. full bodied. But unlike a high-tannin red, these classes are never dry: There are virtual backdrops that reference Riunite wine, sommeliers ribbing each other, and smart-aleck questions in the chat from viewers, so you’ll be laughing almost as much as you sip. Speaking of which: The shop sells discounted bottles of the four wines featured during class, allowing everyone to taste along, though purchasing a bottle isn’t required. How refreshing.

Free. Email
hello@maxwellparkdc.com for the log-in and password.

— Fritz Hahn

Complete Introduction to Astrology

Did your horoscope predict that somewhere around March, you’d rotate out of view of the rest of the world — and spend a long spring starved for human attention? Even before the pandemic upended life, elevating the desire for deeper meaning, astrology was having a moment, thanks in part to apps like Co-Star. Mark Flaherty’s introductory astrology course, which is hosted on the Udemy platform, shows how the stars can provide insight into Life’s Big Questions. The program, which includes seven hours of video lectures in addition to downloadable resources, is comprehensive and easy to digest. There are lessons on how to read astrology charts (which, to the novice, are full of foreign symbols) and what your Zodiac sign reveals about you. One lecture examines the four elements: Fire signs, for example — Aries, Leo and Sagittarius — are great leaders, but not so good at following orders. Air signs — Gemini, Libra and Aquarius — enjoy mental agility and social pursuits. Astrology is a symbolic language, Flaherty says — a map that can help you understand your strengths and weaknesses, and figure out the best path to personal growth. He speaks slowly and is encouraging, and is good at simplifying esoteric topics.

Full price is $199.99. Check udemy.com for discounts that bring it down to $10.99.

— Angela Haupt

Jane Franklin Dance

After the pandemic forced the closure of Jane Franklin Dance’s Arlington studio, company members held a phone conference, discussing options for moving their classes online: They had to be free, daily and live-streamed. Instructors were on Zoom a few days later, dancing in front of webcams, often from their living rooms. “We wanted to make [the classes] something fun for people,” says Franklin, the group’s artistic director. “A part of Zoom is the interaction. It’s a social thing.” But Zoom wasn’t intended for all the movement and sound entailed in dance, and Franklin found some technical challenges. Every day of the week offers a new 30-minute class, with two on Saturdays. Monday’s ballet class “gets you all in line” for the week, according to Franklin. Friday’s Happy Hour Groove — named for a defunct after-work activity — is a languid modern dance lesson. Although a non-dancer, I recently joined the Friday session on impulse, and felt comfortable, welcomed by instructor Rebecca Weiss and, at the end of the session, emotionally lighter. Franklin knows that Zoom can’t replace the connection of an in-person class, but she sees the platform as an opportunity for novices. “There’s a self-conscious fear that other people can see me, but really, you’re pretty anonymous,” says Franklin. “You can also turn off your camera and experiment. These classes leave you that room.”

Free; donations welcome.
janefranklin.com
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— Anying Guo

Backyard Meteorology

From the popular following of our own Capital Weather Gang, we know weather is big in the DMV. And at a time when we are living on the Internet and the world feels increasingly abstract, weather can provide comfort: as Harvard physics professor John Huth puts it, amid the pandemic, “[the weather] is the one physically tangible thing you can get in contact with.” Huth teaches “Backyard Meteorology: The Science of Weather,” which aims to help anyone with a window to understand the weather, no gear required. In one video, Huth licks his forearm and flails his arms, turning himself into a human sling psychrometer to estimate humidity. Inspired by knowledge Huth gained as a sea kayaker, the class teaches you to use cloud formations, humidity changes, wind direction and other indicators to make local forecasts. Huth mixes in stories about historical navigators and the occasional personal anecdote. While he veers into what might seem like granular physics at times, it is not meant to scare away the amateur, but to lay the foundation for concepts that will be useful later on. Huth asks students to keep a weather diary. The hope is that you will develop a meteorological intuition, and maybe even a certain joy in knowing that, while the world seems to have ground to a halt, the weather keeps moving.

— Kelsey Ables

The Science of Well-Being

Yale’s most popular course uses science to debunk misconceptions about the things we think will make us happy. Considering that many of them — a good job, love, buying stuff — may have been put on hold by the pandemic, now is a good time to learn why they don’t work. According to psychology professor Laurie Santos, we’re biased, misjudging the intensity and duration of a negative (or positive) event, and using unrealistic reference points to assess our happiness. (Don’t compare life now with life six months ago.) Through weekly “rewirement” exercises, Santos guides students in overcoming those biases and adopting habits that actually do increase happiness. If you find yourself appreciating a new recipe or a sunset more often these days, you’re already on your way: “Savoring” is covered in week two. Some exercises might need creativity, given present circumstances. How do you make social connections during a pandemic? Santos says she’s been doing Zoom yoga with friends several times a week, and reaching out to family members she doesn’t see often. She’s also embraced other tips from her own course, bumping up her meditation routine and prioritizing exercise and sleep. “Just as we try to wash our hands to protect our physical health,” she says, “I’ve been trying to really prioritize habits like these to protect my mental health.”

— K.A.

Bluebird Sky Yoga

Doing yoga for the first time in a room full of strangers — especially yogis more advanced than you — can be intimidating. But that’s the beauty of Zoom: You can turn off your camera and be a fly on the wall. Brookland’s Bluebird Sky Yoga offers daily Zoom classes for students of all-levels, and each one generally runs about 60 to 90 minutes. Roughly five minutes before class, you receive a Zoom link, along with a curated playlist of chilled-out music, setting the stage for mindfulness and, if you’re taking the hour-long all-levels Vinyasa class, some serious stretches that you’ll regret not warming for up in advance. The instructor begins with a few breathing exercises before leading the group into a rotation of standing, twisting and strengthening poses. You’ll get a pretty vigorous workout, though if you’re looking for something less intense, Bluebird also offers such relaxed classes as Restorative Yoga. Since the instructor isn’t always doing every single move on camera, make sure to change your Zoom settings to “gallery view” so you can see how the rest of the group is doing their repetitions.

$19 per drop-in class; $35 per week for unlimited classes; $49 per month for unlimited classes (excluding Mysore).
bluebirdskyyoga.com
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— Stephanie Williams

Writing classes at Old Town Books

On March 15, the same day she closed her Alexandria bookstore to the public, Old Town Books owner Ally Fitzpatrick wrote what she calls a “desperate tweet” to authors and their agents: “If I start a series of online classes to help pay our bills and sell books, can you virtually teach a one hour intensive for us?” The response, she says, has been overwhelming and gratifying, but also an amazing opportunity for would-be authors: Pulitzer Prize finalist Susan Choi joined a group to discuss “getting unstuck and the process” of writing; Lily King guided a class through a writing prompt inspired by her acclaimed new novel, “Writers & Lovers”; Jenny µ led a workshop on “erasure poetry,” created by blacking out words from printed text. The list of participants who reached out for virtual Q&As “was literally the stack of books that were on my nightstand,” Fitzpatrick says. Events are different from the casual book club conversations the store also hosts: Guests ask more questions about plotting, and share deeply personal thoughts about their writing. Prompts are designed to be participatory and spark inner reflection, though class size — 55 people registered for May 21’s “Getting Started in Romance” class with novelist Sarah MacLean — means only a few publicly share and receive feedback. Beyond getting creativity flowing, Old Town Books’ classes serve a larger purpose: They’ve allowed Kirkpatrick to keep providing “hazard pay” to the shop’s booksellers, who continue to fill online orders.

Classes are “pay what you can,” though a $20 donation is suggested. oldtownbooks.com.

— F.H.

National Portrait Gallery art classes

The National Portrait Gallery offers weekly art classes on Instagram and Facebook, courtesy of museum educator and artist Jill Galloway. Thursdays at 11 a.m. on Instagram, “Drawn to Figures” shows fledgling artists (age 13 and up) the basics of figure drawing. You don’t need to be a budding Picasso; lessons center on straightforward sketching techniques that you can easily replicate with pencil and paper. In one recent lesson, “Drawing with Values,” Galloway shows shading tricks for copying a charcoal portrait by John Singer Sargent, using a grayscale chart you can print out from the museum’s website. Fridays at 11 a.m. on Facebook, “Open Studio” homes in on a broader range of styles, and is suitable for students of all ages. Galloway is careful to use supplies that are most likely already in your home. During a lesson on “Quilling” — a technique that uses folded colored paper to make whimsical designs — she devises an elegant, three-dimensional art piece in under four minutes, with just construction paper, glue, cardboard and scissors. Both classes are designed to be taken at your own pace, and run from three to seven minutes long.

— S.W.

Cooking with chef Ed Hardy

Ed Hardy is as much showman as chef. The executive chef at Harlot in Shaw will crack some eggs — along with cheeky puns — during his live-streamed cooking demos on Cookology Recreational Culinary School’s Facebook page. But aside from the jokes, it’s clear that Hardy knows his stuff. During a recent 90-minute lesson, Hardy guided aspiring chefs through Tuscan chicken, coconut curry and flatbread. (Ingredients are posted to Cookology’s page a day in advance). He tackles each step like clockwork, routinely stopping to explain methodology and answer questions from viewers. “For this, the all-purpose [flour] is fine. Don’t let the flour companies sell you flour that you don’t need,” Hardy says. His off-the-cuff banter feels like quips shared with a close friend, and it’s what makes his live classes feel intimate in an era of isolation. Hardy’s lessons offer a yin-and-yang of recipes (which he says will vary widely and include vegetarian dishes) and basic tips, which he’ll continue to do live periodically on Cookology’s page and through paid “date night” classes offered by the cooking school.

— S.W.

Acting and stagecraft

With live theater on indefinite hold, area companies — including Round House Theatre, the Shakespeare Theatre Company, Signature Theatre and the American Shakespeare Center — are putting their artists to work in the virtual classroom. The Olney Theatre Center has particularly extensive offerings, with more than 20 Zoom classes taught by staff and apprentices, plus members of the theater’s National Players ensemble. Some classes are designed for all ages, while others are more narrowly focused, ranging from prekindergarten to adults. On Friday afternoons, artistic director Jason Loewith leads a discussion of classic plays that carry a modern resonance. The Monday slate includes a seminar-style class on new plays taught by dramaturgy apprentice Sarah Kiker, with “Eurydice” and “The Flick” on the upcoming docket. The lineup also features technical classes set to run through May 22, in which staff members break down the concept and execution of such elements as props, costumes and sets. For Shakespeare aficionados, several classes focused on the Bard are scheduled to continue through the end of May. Those include Shakespeare basics, taught by members of the National Players, and a class on directing Shakespeare, led by senior associate artistic director Jason King Jones.

Free; donations welcome. Advanced registration required at least 24 hours before class.
olneytheatre.org/education
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— Thomas Floyd

American Sign Language

It’s always worthwhile to know a second (or third) language. And what better time than now, when many of us are starved for human connection? If you’ve ever thought of picking up ASL, Gallaudet University offers an array of interactive lessons, including a tutorial that features an intro and three audio-free modules: “Basic Personal Information,” “Making an Encounter” and “People.” Instructors demonstrate signs alongside on-screen directions and translations. (Going a bit too fast? The videos can be played at normal, medium or slow speed.) Each module is further divided into lessons in which you have the option to watch yourself signing — via your computer’s webcam — alongside the instructors. The tutorials also include periodic quizzes to test comprehension. By navigating the three modules, which only take a few hours, you can master basic ASL phrases and sentences. As a separate resource, Gallaudet provides two-dozen ASL vocabulary videos. These clips demonstrate basic signs in such categories as letters and numbers, colors, emotions, pronouns, animals, places, sports and weather. Want to learn even more? Gallaudet’s website also offers eight-week classes for credit, featuring live interaction with fluent signers.

Noncredit tutorials are free. Credit classes are $316 to $950. gallaudet.edu.

— T.F.

Speak Italian With Your Mouth Full

“Speak Italian With Your Mouth Full” is the appetizing promise of a class that’s open to all comers. During each of 13 lessons, Paola Rebusco teaches a bit about the Italian language and culture while tossing in a detailed recipe for a simple Italian dish. Rebusco, a physics lecturer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, makes for an engaging instructor: enthusiastic, but with a clear, measured style. Early classes focus on simple Italian phrases, such as greetings and introductions, numbers and how to express preference. (Plus, of course, “cucinare,” which means “to cook.”) By the end, expect to be able to describe people and places — and talk your way through a trip to the grocery store. The language instruction is interesting and easy to follow, but the food — enticing classics — takes center stage: creamy risotto with peas, zucchini or whatever you have in the fridge; light eggplant parmigiana; spinach crepes; gnocchi; tiramisu; and a fruit tart. Come to class hungry for trivia about each dish, plus background about its place in Italian culture. Before cooking begins, there’s a vocabulary lesson on how to pronounce such ingredients as formaggio (cheese). Then, Rebusco and her MIT students prepare each dish as she dispenses tips.

— A.H.