F.C. Rec & Parks Hopes for Boost from ‘Taste’ Event

After a slump in fall enrollment numbers in City of Falls Church Recreation and Parks Department classes, and with the long winter/spring session on the horizon, Program Supervisor Debbie Woodbury wanted to make sure that prospective class-takers knew about the education and entertainment that awaited them within The Little City’s community center.

With that goal in mind, Woodbury launched plans for the first-ever “Taste of Class,” a free class fair designed to let any member of the public learn more about some of the classes the department offers.

“I’d say overall, it was successful,” Woodbury said of the event, held last Monday at the Falls Church Community Center, though she added that it was too early in the registration process to see the event’s full impact.

The few hundred people attending the class fair were able to stop by several booths staffed by Rec and Parks educators who teach classes in a variety of topics including arts and crafts, music, dance, fitness, and martial arts. Stations provided brochures, promotional materials, and often activities and demonstrations, but also allowed curious attendees to ask questions of instructors and learn more about what the classes are like.

Those who attended the event could also take advantage of early registration, which Woodbury said allowed 33 people to reserve a place in classes before the registration opened up on Jan. 3 to City residents, and before it will open on Jan. 10 to non-residents.

“I thought, ‘what a wonderful concept,’ Tanya Nickson, a belly dance and senior fitness instructor, said of the class fair. Nickson, while teaching elsewhere in the Northern Virginia area for the past 11 years, will be teaching her first classes this month at the Falls Church Community Center. “I’ve never seen this anyplace else,” she added.

The class fair gave newcomers to the class catalog like Nickson some exposure in the community, but even longtime Rec and Parks instructors like Maddy O’Neill-Dean and Genie O’Hara took part.

O’Neill-Dean, who has taught Music Together classes for young children and their parents for the past 11 years, kept children entertained throughout the event in the community center’s teen center with an assortment of musical instruments like drums and maracas for them to play.

“I think people in this economy want to make sure [the class is] a good fit for their family and themselves,” O’Neill-Dean said. Rec and Parks classes range from a few dollars for a one-night affair to several hundred dollars for multi-class courses.

O’Hara, the owner of Every Body Dance, grew up in dance classes at the community center, teaching them with her mother, Mary Wilcox. O’Hara’s program teaches nearly 700 students each session in about 50 classes a week, and spots in the program fill up quickly. O’Hara attended the class marketing fair to give her students a chance to take the stage, as Every Body Dance was one of about 20 classes that performed demonstrations for the event.

“They love a chance to perform,” she said as her dancers tapped through a routine on stage for a crowd in the community center’s gymnasium.

Woodbury said the event “opened up some new households,” sparking interest in people who hadn’t before taken Rec and Parks classes, but even longtime students came to learn more about new and different offerings.

Elizabeth Meade, whose children have taken several Rec and Parks classes, attended with her daughters Louise, 3, and Constance, 8, and said the event would give Constance the chance to see if an acting class would suit her interests.

“It’s good to see what’s offered before we sign up,” Meade said.

While the class fair only debuted this week, Woodbury said she hopes to make it an annual event, and continue to let people in the City of Falls Church and beyond know what opportunities for enrichment the Rec and Parks Department and its instructors provide.

“We want to let people know about this little community center and the City,” Woodbury said. “The Little City has a lot to offer.”