Norris’ Mini Courses: Big Things Come in “Mini” Packages

(This article was featured in our print issue, which was published on Nov. 10, 2012.)

A lively piece of classic swing music plays over speakers as a 56-year-old barefoot man with two hoop earrings and a beard enthusiastically calls out directions: “If you screw up a pretzel, you just gotta bail!”

This scene is the Ballroom Dance Mini-Course that takes place at Norris’s University Center’s Louis Room every Wednesday with couples of all ages under the instruction of Randy Hooker.

Norris has offered its “Mini-Courses” program since the spring of 1973, just after the building’s construction. Each quarter, students and Evanston residents alike pay an average of about $90 to take a 6-8 week course in everything from photography and languages to wine appreciation and self-hypnosis. In total, about 25 courses are offered each quarter on all different days of the week.

Hooker has taught dance classes through the program for 35 years now. If it came down to it, Hooker said, “I would rather teach here than keep my [day] job.”

Participants such as Northwestern graduate student Andrew Radosevich, 26, seem to enjoy Hooker’s class just as much as he enjoys
teaching it.

“Every day after work I’m tired and don’t want to come, but I’m always glad I did it,” said Radosevich.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the “Wine Appreciation” course almost always sells out, but many other courses in topics such as fiction writing and watercolor painting fill to capacity quite frequently as well.

“The general purpose is to give students a chance to grow some skills they might not get a chance to in a typical classroom setting,” said Mini-Courses Director, Shannon Oliver-O’Neil.

She added that the courses provide a great opportunity for Northwestern students to interact with Evanston residents.

Mini-Courses are made up of about 25% each of Northwestern undergraduates and the Evanston public, and 37% Northwestern graduate students. The remaining 13% are Northwestern faculty or staff.

For those who don’t have the time or money to commit to a quarter-long course, Norris also offers a variety of “Mini Workshops,” which are one-day, two-hour sessions that average about $12 per person. Workshops offer a similarly wide range of course topics from sushi making to ornament decorating.

So what are you waiting for? Make that terra cotta pumpkin you’ve been dreaming of, learn to play that harmonica like you’ve always wanted, and yes, learn to “appreciate” that non-Franzia wine. You know you want to.


photo- Jima

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