|Students watch their steps in a ballroom dancing class.|
Lynde Hobbs twirls on her toes as her partner spins her out to catch the end of a beat. A familiar pop tune guides her and fellow dancers across the floor. Some execute turns expertly while others stumble. Most wind up with a smile on their faces.
Hobbs was one of 30 students doing the two-step in a ballroom dancing class, a Lifetime Leisure Skills (LLS) class offered by The University of Iowa’s Touch the Earth (TTE) program. About 2,500 students a year sign up for these classes, which range from basic self-defense and scuba diving to snowshoeing and sea kayaking, and they pick up an hour of academic credit.
A nursing major from Clinton, Iowa, Hobbs says she likes trying out different types of dances and meeting new people in the classes. She got hooked on ballroom dancing after her first class last fall.
“Ballroom dancing is a lifetime skill. I can enjoy it as I get older, and I could teach it to my friends, too,” she says.
|Scuba diving in the Field House pool|
There are a variety of classes housed under TTE, which is part of the UI Division of Recreational Services. Students can learn how to scale a rock face, work as a team, or train for a marathon. Although some students enroll to round out their credit hours, all will likely come away with more than they expected.
Aside from gaining insights about themselves, students also become more self-assured from their experience of tangling with the tango or clambering up a cliff, say class instructors.
“What you get more than anything else out of rock-climbing is confidence,” says instructor Ben Caskey. “When you walk up to a wall, it can be pretty intimidating, but at the end of the semester, you’re climbing things that you thought you couldn’t.”
Many students also develop skills in these classes that will help them in their careers, says Rob DuBay, assistant director of outdoor programs at TTE.
“Employers are looking for leadership qualities, which can be refined through recreational learning,” DuBay explains. “People learn from doing things correctly and incorrectly. They can learn from their achievements and mistakes as long as there’s processing. You don’t always get that experience in a classroom.”
Dance class wasn’t a place where Hobbs thought she’d get a lesson in leadership, but by having someone else lead her on the dance floor, she learned that she doesn’t need to be a trailblazer all the time.
“Being a leader is sometimes being a follower. People tend to fight to be in charge, instead of saying, ‘I’ll follow,’” she says. “Not everyone can be chief.”
Becki Levad, a UI graduate student in student development in postsecondary education, has helped with one of the out-of-state programs, the Leadership in the Outdoors course at Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park in Utah. After the first few days of class, students are handed the responsibility of running the camp and therefore quickly have to determine the group dynamics as well as figure out their personal leadership styles.
“Most undergrads have not spent a lot of time thinking about who they are or what their values are,” she says. “In these classes, they start to think critically about life after college.”
Rec classes at Iowa run the gamut
The UI Division of Recreational Services offers several dozen classes each semester through its Lifetime Leisure Skills program. Students pick up valuable job skills, earn academic credit, and have fun.
Courses offered this spring, which range in duration from a few days to a few weeks, include:
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Learning how to balance risks and benefits and how to facilitate group consensus are skills that can serve them well in a work environment, Levad says.
TTE also keeps students busy when school’s not in session. This year, the program organized for the first time weeklong spring break trips where students could scuba dive in Florida, mountain bike in Utah, or backpack through the Grand Canyon.
“This is our attempt to offer a healthy alternative to what takes place on a lot of spring break trips,” says Doug Lee, associate dean of the Division of Continuing Education, which provides administrative and financial support to TTE.
Students don’t have to travel to faraway places, however, to get an adrenaline rush from the outdoors: rock-climbers can appreciate the cliffs at Pictured Rocks Park in Monticello, while mountain-bikers can zoom the trails at Sugar Bottom Recreation Area in Solon. Such recreational attractions were among the reasons Iowa City was included in Outside magazine’s Best Towns 2007, a list of 30 American towns that are progressive and have great outdoor opportunities.
The University of Iowa is one of few universities in the country to award academic credit for recreational classes to students of all majors, says Wayne Fett, senior associate director for recreational services.
“We’re one of the biggest outdoor recreational programs in the country,” Fett says. “Most students don’t come here for the outdoor program so they are often pleasantly surprised to find such a big one here.”
Rock Climbing photo courtesy of UI Recreational Services.
by Po Li Loo