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Stepping up

Anthony Manuel leads local youngsters in a dance/movement class at Orcas Center. - Ted Grossman / Staff photo
Anthony Manuel leads local youngsters in a dance/movement class at Orcas Center.
— image credit: Ted Grossman / Staff photo

One year ago, just five classes were offered at what the Orcas Senior Center refers to as its "affordable small college." Today, there are 15 such classes.

One year ago, there were few theater and dance classes at Orcas Center. Today, there are a whole bunch, all offered by top professionals in the field, and available to both youth and adults.

Back when Victoria Parker was director of the Orcas Island Library, it was rare for the San Juan Nature Institute to offer lectures on Orcas Island. Today, under Parker's direction, the Nature Institute schedules three or four per quarter. Its Sept. 24 lecture, "Farming Land and Sea: Coast Salish Peoples and the Northshore," filled the local library's meeting room to capacity.

Local people are also quenching their thirst for learning at The Funhouse, where the fall schedule of classes provides something for virtually everyone. Andrew Youngren's Digital Film Editing class, which took place Sept. 24, filled The Funhouse's video production room to capacity with a mix of youth and adults.

As for the Orcas Island Library, it continues to maintain its long-standing commitment to lifelong learning.

Still other classes are being offered at the Orcas Grange and in people's private homes.

How does one explain this explosion of learning opportunities on Orcas Island? Jan Koltun-Titus, director of the Senior Center, offers two explanations as to why learners are flocking to that facility. "I think it's prompted by the fact that there are so many talented teachers around, and because the senior community is ready for them. We are getting a good response to most of them," she said. The slate of classes there are in fields such as computers, tai chi, arts and crafts, music, literature, and film.

Orcas Center officials admit that they weren't sure what to expect when they announced an ambitious schedule of offerings in theater, improv and dance, all of them taught by renowned professionals. Last week they got a pleasant surprise when large numbers of youngsters turned up to attend the classes. Executive Director Barbara Courtney was thrilled. "The first two classes with (Broadway star) Noah Racey and (professional dancer) Anthony Manuel are very popular," she said. "There were a number of people who just showed up. That was a surprise." Improv classes for both youth and adults begin tomorrow, Sept. 29.

The Orcas Island Library has had a long history of offering Lifelong Learning classes that have attracted large numbers of islanders. Library Director Phil Heikkinen is expecting more of the same this fall, and is glad to see that they're now sprouting up all over Orcas Island. "They're almost like a fixture," Heikkinen said. "I just think it's great to have opportunities like that anywhere. It's a great Orcas tradition." Last year almost 3,700 people attended classes at the Orcas Island Library. This year's classes are in the following subjects: Biology, Literature, Poetry, Writing and Connections between the Land and Sea.

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