Cool moves

Now that we've been sprung from our seemingly endless winter, it's somehow easier to focus on fitness — both physical and mental — when we don't have to try so hard just to stay warm. The same goes for our kids — who, in their off time, can use a bit of inspiration to keep those bodies going and brains immersed in something more edifying than the Cartoon Network.

Pretzel kids: Local groups and organizations are getting creative with their activity options for children. Photo by Jonathan Welch.

And so, a slightly offbeat collection of local classes and activities for the younger set:

Treble leaps instead of tutus

Asheville has more ballet and tap classes than you can shake a perfectly pointed foot at. But for some good old-fashioned jumping, hopping and stomping — Riverdance style — there's the Gallagher School of Irish Dance at the Asheville Arts Center (308 Merrimon Ave. and 10 Miller Ave., across from the Skyland Fire Department; 253-4000). "It's very athletic," notes school director Heather Taft. Classes are divided by age and skill level, starting with 4-year-olds (and the occasional 3-year-old) all the way up to adults (ashevilleartscenter.com).   

A kinder, gentler karate?

Asheville's martial-arts classes for kids run the gamut. But the Tao Institute (9 Walnut St. on the second floor, downtown Asheville; 258-1533) is a bit different: It offers nonviolent, noncompetitive Kids Kung Fu (no belts or ranking system) for ages 5-12. The Wednesday-afternoon class includes qigong, kicking and hand techniques, form training and a short meditation, says the institute's Laura Paolillo (taoinstitute.org).

On 160 rolling acres in Swannanoa, the Kasumi Yama Dojo (95 Old Coggins Place; 398-8017) is launching BudoKids, a six-week program for children ages 7-10 aimed at "reconnecting youth with the vibrant health children are supposed to have," says instructor Nesta Korine Ainspan. Starting May 16, the Sunday-afternoon sessions will combine nature discovery, ninja games and the BudoFit program for fitness, balance and coordination (ashevilleninjas.com).

Kids are more flexible, anyway

Why should adults have the corner on yoga in this yoga-happy town? JaneAnne Tager teaches "Pretzel Kids" yoga at the Asheville Yoga Center (239 S. Liberty St., Asheville; 254-0380) for children ages 6 to 12 (youryoga.com) as well as at the downtown YMCA (for YMCA members) and the Woodfin YMCA (for non-YMCA members). The benefits? "It offers kids strength, balance, flexibility and heightened awareness for young minds and bodies," says Tager. "Plus, it's just plain fun."

West Asheville Yoga (602 Haywood Road; 350-1167) hosts an ongoing Baby and Beloved class for newborns up to crawlers (accompanied by an adult), while the Growing Together class for crawlers and toddlers will resume in April, says studio owner/director Cat Matlock. Fun Yoga for Little Yogis, a four-week session for the 4-to 11-year-old set, begins a new series of classes starting April 13, where kids pretend to be animals, stretch and play with partners (westashevilleyoga.com).

Because fast-food play areas should only be for road trips

Asheville's Fun Depot (7 Roberts Road, just off Interstate 40 at Exit 51, Asheville; 277-2386) has the local market cornered on indoor fun. The highlight is a vast, clean "soft play" area where little kids (50 inches tall or shorter) can slide, crawl through tunnels and bounce for only $3. In the main part, a climbing wall, batting cages and laser tag offer physical fun amid the arcade games, bumper cars and the like (ashevillefamilyentertainment.com).

If you want to get those kids rolling, then Tarwheels Skateway (2134 Hwy. 70, Swannanoa; 298-6606) — billed as Asheville's only roller-skating rink – may be your ticket. The rink is open weekend afternoons, with a varied evening schedule throughout the week (tarwheelsskateway.com).

Way more fun than flash cards

Who knew that arts education could strengthen critical-thinking skills? Yet it does that and more, according to Americans for the Arts, a nonprofit arts-advocacy group. Asheville artist Ginger Huebner takes that to heart with her Roots + Wings School of Art (Cathedral of All Souls, 3 Angle St. in Biltmore Village, Asheville; 545-4827), which offers four-week-long art sessions for kids ages 3-6 and 7-10 (rootsandwingsarts.com). Classes include painting and printmaking, plus sculpting with clay.

In the River Arts District, kids ages 6-12 can "play with clay" at Odyssey Center for Ceramic Arts (236 Clingman Ave., Asheville; 285-0210), while teens can learn to use a pottery wheel and hand build with clay during a series of after-school classes (highwaterclays.com). There's a Saturday class for ages 6 to 12, too.

Music, meanwhile, helps foster language development, encourage creativity and build coordination in young children, according to the nonprofit early-childhood educational organization Zero to Three. Beyond that, it's fun! My 4-year-old son and I dig Asheville Area Music Together classes, which are filled with singing, dancing and general merriment (545-0990; ashevilleareamt.com). Kindermusik (kindermusik.com) also boasts a devoted local following with classes at Asheville Arts Center (253-4000) and other locations.

Last, but not least, the traveling Mindbender Mansion exhibit at The Health Adventure (2 S. Pack Square, Asheville; 254-6373) challenges kids' problem-solving skills with fun brainteasers and group challenges that incorporate math, science and technology. Visitors are invited to join the Mindbender Society by collecting clues and secret passwords as they move through various rooms of the mansion, which naturally includes a parlor, map room and disco room. Disco hopscotch spelling, anyone? The exhibit runs through May 5 (thehealthadventure.org).

[Tracy Rose is a freelance writer and editor.]

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