They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Not only do our intrepid EW team prove this adage wrong, they’ll also inspire you to learn something brand new. You never know, this feature might just change your life…

The DJ: Alexandra Venison

The closest I’ve ever come to DJing was making a playlist on my iTunes or peering over my friends’ shoulders as they spun tunes at an after party. It didn’t look all that hard. So I thought I’d give my DJ friends a run for their money. I freely admit I’m a fan of commercial music, but I know and appreciate the up-and-coming ‘underground’ artists too.

Heading to Cirque Le Soir before 11pm seemed a little strange. The hardest decision: what to wear? I didn’t necessarily feel nervous until I saw the DJ booth, which seemed all the more daunting with the thought of actually getting up there. Hosted by DJ Nick Tohme, their resident DJ in association with Beats by Dr.Dre, we learnt that DJing is a talent that cannot be learnt. Yes, the technical aspect can be mastered, but to become an actual DJ you must have a natural talent. There is also a lot you need to learn and understand before you can get on the decks, as knowledge for the art is as important as the techniques themselves.

Over the course of the lesson my appreciation for the art of DJing and my understanding for the skill became a whole lot clearer. I also came to terms with the fact that I’ll never be a superstar DJ.

Involving a whole lot more than simply playing some ‘serious tunes’, you’ll need to brush up on your mathematics skills in order to mix the different tempos.

The results: I’m told it’s like riding a bicycle –  once you’ve got the skills down and feel a bit more confident. I’m still a long way off though and may just stick to surfing YouTube for the latest beats and leave the mixing to the professionals for the time being.

The details: The DJ Masterclass with DJ Nick Tohme take place the second Tuesday of every month. The interactive session package starts at Dhs3,000 for six people. Contact reservations@cirquelesoirdubai.com.


The Pianist: Alexandria Gouveia


“OK, let’s start again… 1,2,3…” Nothing but awkward silence. “Alexandria that was your cue,” said my exceedingly patient high school music teacher. “Perhaps just stick to one note this time. And 1,2,3…” I did it, but I was out of time.

I’d been demoted from the xylophone to cymbals to the triangle and still couldn’t get the beat. “You’ve got no rhythm,” said a mocking student before my teacher pulled me aside for a quiet word.

“Don’t worry,” she started in a sympathetic tone that meant I should. “I just don’t think music is for you.” I knew she was right, but I felt deflated.

As I’ve got older I’ve tried to revisit things in my life that I previously failed at. Out of sheer frustration and determination I booked in for piano classes at The Music Institute.

“Treat me like a child,” I told my teacher Eugene at our first lesson. It didn’t take him long to realise that I really was a true beginner and the children’s textbooks with the monster drawings were brought out. I swallowed my pride and opened up my mind.

Things made sense. I understood when Eugene talked notes (after he had patiently taught me, of course) and I enjoyed having homework (practising on a keyboard at home). By lesson three I had played six notes and one chord. I was no Liberace but I was feeling excited – thanks to Eugene I played Mary Had A Little Lamb seamlessly. We even ‘jammed’ together.

During the 45-minute classes there’s no pressure, you’re explained a feature and then you try it yourself with levels of intensity increasing gradually so you can understand each step. It’s only at the end of the class that you realise you’ve just learned something new.

The results: The process is so much fun it doesn’t feel like education. Perhaps that was the problem before. I certainly see the much more rapid results of one-on-one classes and highly recommend The Music Institute to anyone who is adept in music and wants to learn more or, like me, a complete novice dreaming of becoming a rock star.

The details: The Music Institute JBR, Murjan 1, JBR Walk, (04) 4243818, Dhs1,380 (including Dhs100 registration fee) for eight lessons.


The Pilates guru: Sarah Garden


A bona fide exercise-phobe, I was one of those pupils who regularly forged notes to get out of PE classes at school.

Walking into the studio for my first class at Real Pilates in JLT, I realised that it had been over a decade since I last exercised, and judging by the enthusiastic expression on the instructor’s face, a sick note wouldn’t cut it.

I learned that Pilates is all about breathing, posture and control. I knew that the latter two needed some work, but it turns out that I’m even bad at breathing. There are lots of different types of Pilates. Core Pilates is all mat work, using your body weight and movements to build strength and definition. I was amazed by how precise each move has to be in order to feel the benefit. I’d think, “This is easy,” and then have the instructor move my leg down a centimetre and feel a burning sensation. Reformer Pilates utilises a special piece of equipment that creates resistance and tones your whole body. There’s also weight loss Pilates and Xtend Barre, which are great calorie burners but were almost the death of me.

You have to focus and adjust your posture precisely. At first, not being used to exercise, nor being very graceful, I found this frustrating. However, a few weeks into my course and it clicked. This focus creates a sort of meditative state, where you don’t think about anything other than your body and breathing. I began leaving classes with a feeling of calm, as well as the obligatory muscle pain.

The results: For the first few weeks I had to forgo heels in the office as my quads would ache. Now I sit up straighter, wear heels, I’ve lost weight and I can see the shape of my body beginning to transform. The biggest change, however, isn’t visible. I have a class after work today and I’m actually looking forward to it. I’m certainly no Adriana Lima, but if six weeks of Pilates can do this for my self-esteem, in six years I may start thinking I am.

The details: Prices start at Dhs75 for a single session; discounts are available for block bookings. Studios are located at Palm Strip Mall, Jumeirah and Cluster V, JLT, visit real-pilates.com.


The Florist: Carmel Gill


Until I was 26 I had never received flowers, not even a single stem. As all my friends received roses from secret admirers on Valentine’s Day during my school years, I remained the flower-less girl.  But who needs to be given flowers when you can create your own bunch, right?

I can already smell the sweet crisp scent of blooms in the corridor as I arrive at Vintage Bloom headquarters in Jumeirah Lake Towers. Oscar, my cheery teacher, appeared from behind a large desk strewn with tall stems of blossoming flowers with apron and scissors in hand.

He first gets me started on arranging a bouquet, passing me stem after stem of vintage dusky pink roses (my favourite) and leafy greens while directing me to place them across each other turning diagonally. We continued this method until I couldn’t possibly hold anymore and then secured with a straw tie. I was impressed with my creation and even felt a rush of excitement – that same fuzzy feeling you get when you receive them – as I stepped back to admire my work. I was definitely making up for lost years with this huge bunch.

Next we created a table arrangement, pushing pretty white peonies, miniature roses and sprigs of leaves into the green floristry foam. This I struggled with, snapping almost every stem, which probably had something to do with my heavy handedness. Ordered to “hold the top of the stem, and be gentle”, many broken stems later the table arrangement started to take shape.

The results: I loved the floristry workshop and it really got my creative juices flowing: a feel-good hobby, which I also found to be therapeutic.

The details: Floristry workshops are available for groups of five, Dhs500 per person. Vintage Bloom, Indigo Icon, Jumeirah Lake Towers, Dubai,
(04) 4515755.


The Linguist: Alexandra Bull


Growing up in South Africa I had to learn the two official languages at the time – English and Afrikaans – as well as isiZulu, a widely spoken language. I went to a Greek high school and added that to the list, but longed to speak a more useful language. After a disastrous two months in French class, with a scary and slightly unhinged teacher, I gave up and joined the art class.

Meeting people from across the world in Dubai I was suddenly struck with a sense of regret and curiosity – could I learn a new language? Looking into options that wouldn’t involve classrooms and teachers, I decided on an app. I could do it in my own time and avoid homework and being shouted at. I imagined I’d get bored quickly, but soon discovered the app was anything but predictable.

I decided on German as I was planning a trip to Berlin. I didn’t have to start learning numbers or vegetable names but went straight onto short sentences and phrases using various exercises – translating sentences from a selection of words or from memory. It slowly explains the boring stuff, like tenses, pronunciation, possession and verbs, while still making it feel like a game. In essence, I love the app because I love games and I’m very competitive. You start with several health bars and to complete the lesson you have to get to the end with at least one bar intact. If you don’t, you start again. This clever mix of gaming and learning keeps me glued to the screen for at least an hour a day, plus it’s friendly little pop-up reminders give me that little nudge I need.

The results: Could I speak fluent German? No. But I was able to pick out words and order kaffee and wurst. I’m confident I’ll be speaking it competently by my next visit.

The details: Duolingo is free and is currently available in German, French, Spanish, Italian and Portuguese. There are no hidden costs and you can compete with friends or make new ones.


The swimmer: Cecilia D’Souza


When asked what skill I’d like to learn, I blurted out, ‘swimming!’ I wanted to take back the words as soon as they were out, but there was no escape.

For 47 years I’ve never tried it. I love water. I’ve been to many pool parties where I’ve dangled my legs in the water and have stood chest-high holding onto the side rails, but I’m scared of heights and my basic rule is that I should have my feet touching the ground at all times.

I’m not exactly svelte, so finding appropriate swimwear proved a challenge. Incredibly nervous, I climbed down the dreaded stairs into the pool for my first lesson. My feet touched the bottom and I felt safe. Then Dawn, my instructor, came up to me and could feel me shaking without even touching me.

With plenty of encouraging words, she handed me a float and then guided me along. So far, so good. But as soon as she left me by myself it was another story. Swallowing a lot of water, holding on to the side railings and struggling to hold myself up, I was ready to give it up.

Dawn explained the basics of sitting up and floating in the water, but each time I tried to dip my head in the water – necessary to bring your legs up – I panicked. As the lesson progressed, however, I started to feel calmer. I made up my mind to persevere, to conquer my fears and to smash     this challenge.

By lesson two I managed to put my head under the water and was focused on keeping my legs together when I kicked. Dawn kept stressing that as soon as I get my balance, swimming would be easy. Moving my ankles is a task. So too is relaxing – that inherent fear makes me hold on to the board for dear life, thus unhelpfully tightening my arms.

The results: By the end of lesson two, I could put my head under the water and see the bottom of the pool while my legs, not exactly horizontal, were a long way up from the bottom. The rush of pure pleasure and the sense of accomplishment that enveloped me can’t be put in words. I’ve bought a float and am meeting a friend to practise before my next lesson. I want to be able to swim. And I want to gloat while I float…

The details: Speedo Swimming Squads is at various locations including Dubai College, Dubai International Academy and the Hamdan Sports Complex. Prices for learner groups of four to five5 people are Dhs375 for five sessions of 45 minutes each, (04) 354 9525.


Images & Video: Farooq Salik

Video editing: Surajit Dutta