John McDonough has spent his life rising to meet outdoor challenges. Years ago he began traveling the globe as a skier and rock climber, finding adventure and challenges on faraway mountains and snowy cliffs. After more than two decades on skis and 15 years scaling rocks, the AMGA Certified Single-Pitch Instructor??who once accompanied an inspiring group of blind climbers on a trip??now operates First Ascent Mountain School. The gig comes with the daily pleasure of watching beginners submit to the powerful sense of awe and accomplishment that comes with mountaineering. As First Ascent's founding director, John has assembled a small band of professional mountain guides who shared his zeal for nature and teaching. The crew touts a penchant for making the sometimes-intimidating activities of rock-terrain climbing and snowshoeing accessible to anyone who is interested.
Tami Taggart—teacher, choreographer, and proprietor of the award-winning Artistry in Motion Dance Studio (AIM)—has a passion for movement that can't be bottled. Having studied under royal figures of dance such as Roni Mahler, Frank Hatchett, and Roberta Thornsberry and performed in musicals such as South Pacific and Oklahoma, she's mastered a myriad of movement in her decades as a dancer and instructor, and has led many students to victory in competitions. With her experienced faculty of teachers, fledgling dancers release their inner swan in classes including ballet, tap, jazz, contemporary, modern, and even hip-hop and break dancing. Music appreciation, choreography skills, the history of dance history, and all of its terminology are also instilled in students of all skill levels and for ages as young as 3.
Operating at 13 tracks coast to coast, FAASST Performance Driving School gives novice racetrack drivers a chance to tear up professional-grade pavement in their own car or in a rental. As an SCCA-accredited program, the school’s daylong racing classes help earn a Novice Racing license and the right to unlimited high-fives from pro stock-car drivers. In most cases, students drive on their own outside of classroom sessions—unless the need for up-close-instructor help is required—and the car is safe for a passenger.
Sportz Skillz Golf & Tennis Center encompasses modern golf and tennis training facilities into its 7,500-square-foot, indoor training facility. The center's aboutGolf golf simulator vividly replicates 40 world-famous golf courses, letting golfers play simulated rounds amid the windswept heathers of the Old Course at St. Andrews or alongside the gallery of trash-talking pelicans that surround Pebble Beach Golf Links. Sportz Skillz's PGA-certified instructors conduct lessons on all aspects of the game at the indoor driving range, two-tiered practice green, and simulator practice modules.
Tennis players aged 3–10 can get an early start to their serve-smashing careers with lessons conducted by USPTA-certified instructors. The center's facilities use smaller, kid-friendly rackets, foam balls, and pared-down courts specified by the USTA's QuickStart Tennis Program, which facilitate the development of tennis skills in youngsters more effectively than playing with conventional equipment or having John McEnroe read them bedtime stories.
Kickboxing classes deliver a knee to the face of fat, burning up to 860 calories an hour with the high-energy striking moves of martial arts and boxing. All four limbs get in on the bag-bludgeoning action with iLoveKickboxing, as each class (a $15 value per class) provides a full-body workout that tones arm, leg, and tentacle muscles while tightening the body’s core and improving balance. Hitting the heavy bags won't skin your knuckles once you don the included boxing gloves, which also double as excellent spring-loaded props for re-creating Three Stooges gags. At the Houston location, classes take place Mondays at 7 p.m. and 8:15 p.m., Tuesdays and Thursdays at 11 a.m. and 7 p.m., Wednesdays at 7 p.m., Fridays at 6:30 p.m, and Saturdays at 10:45 a.m. The Pasadena location has classes on Mondays and Wednesdays at 8:30 a.m. and 6:30 p.m., Tuesdays and Thursdays at 6:30 p.m., and Saturdays at 10 a.m, and the Baytown location has classes on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays at 6 p.m., and on Saturdays at 2 p.m.
Patrolled by mermaids and people walking atop the water in huge, transparent bubbles, the pool inside Donna's Dolphins Swim School seems to be more of a wonderland than an academy. Employees oversee games at birthday parties or outfit guests in a fitted mermaid tail for whimsical dives and gliding choreography. Poolside carousers can even move across the surface of the pool at a walk or trot with the help of W.O.W.—Walk On Water—bubbles.
At the heart of all the fun and games, however, the highly trained staff’s main focus is to ensure that safety always comes before each splash. In swim classes, staffers employ the swim-float-swim approach—a method condoned by the United States Swim School Association—when teaching students in their group and private lessons. The lessons emphasize muscle memory so that children as young as 6 months can absorb techniques such as the starfish float for use in aquatic emergencies. They also assign seasoned mentors to coach special-needs students, making sure every kid gets a chance to embark on aquatic adventures.
Throughout each class, instructors motivate pupils with encouragement and prizes, awarding them a different colored bracelet on a traffic-light system to denote their skill level. Students graduate from red to yellow to green, and finally to blue, which signals that they can demonstrate all four strokes, execute flip turns, and remain safe in potentially dangerous situations by drinking all of the pool water.