Photo: Beth Sacca
Over the last decade, the world of online classes has grown steadily: Platforms like Coursera and MasterClass launched with courses on everything from coding to political campaigning 101, amassing tens of millions of users. But after the pandemic forced most of the world into lockdown, the category ballooned. In a matter of days, instructors locked the doors to their studios, kitchens, and offices and moved their businesses online — to Instagram, Zoom, and beyond. (Meanwhile, it was reported in early May that MasterClass was valued at about $800 million — double its 2018 valuation.) The result is that the internet is flooded with classes. But which meditation lessons and saxophone classes are actually worth your attention? Here, 29 options recommended by dozens of enthusiastic class-takers.
Learn the Choreography From Swan Lake
Turn It Out With Tiler, free at @tilerpeck
➽ A principal dancer with the New York City Ballet, Tiler Peck has been teaching classes daily on Instagram. PR director Peggymarie Merck noticed Peck (whom she already followed) going live and joined on a whim. Two months in, she’s been taking the class weekly and says she feels “longer and leaner.” Fashion marketer Hannah Davis takes it too and says she especially likes that Peck “teaches the choreography from ballets like Swan Lake or Giselle.”
Negotiate With Loved Ones
Chris Voss Teaches the Art of Negotiation, $15 a month (billed annually) at masterclass.com
➽ Former FBI hostage negotiator Chris Voss teaches a MasterClass that two people we spoke to were persuaded to take by a YouTube ad. Entrepreneur Umesh Kumar told us that he assumed the class would be all about business but that it’s really about “how to enhance everyday communication.”
Take 2018’s Most Talked-About College Class
The Science of Well-being, Yale on Coursera, free at coursera.org
➽ Two years ago, a New York Magazine cover story investigated Yale’s Psychology and the Good Life with Professor Laurie Santos. Santos has since adapted the class for Coursera, which is where marketer Erin Thibeau stumbled upon it. The curriculum draws on positive psychology and behavioral science to “debunk myths about what makes us happy and share what actually works.” One of the first assignments is to measure your baseline level of happiness so you’ll have a point of comparison for the end of the course after you’ve practiced happiness-boosting habits. Students are asked to practice strategies, such as exercising, for at least 30 minutes a day.
Get a Green Thumb
Ron Finley Teaches Gardening, $15 a month (billed annually) at masterclass.com
Illustration: Nishant Choksi
➽ In “Gangster Gardener” Ron Finley’s class, students learn how to create planters from household items, grow their own food, and keep everything alive. Photographer (and “notorious plant killer”) Paige Gribb says the course is helpful whether you’re working “with a windowsill or lots of land.”
Consider the Design of Caligula’s Floating Palaces
The Great Courses: The Architecture of Power, $20 a month after free trial
➽ Video-game writer Jessica Price took this course about how palaces in the ancient world were built to meet the political needs and desires of the ruling class. The course, she says, delves deep into how structures — including Nero’s Golden House, Caligula’s Floating Palaces, and the White House — were designed.
Dance With a Broom
Ryan Heffington’s Sweatfest, free at @ryan.heffington
Illustration: Nishant Choksi
➽ Choreographer Ryan Heffington’s near-daily Instagram classes occasionally include guests like Pink and Emma Stone, who dance with him to an audience of thousands. Branding consultant Rebecca Zhou tells us her favorite part is one with moves inspired by chores like “hanging art” and “sweeping.” Says photography director Meg Reinhardt, “I’ve gotten sad thinking about where he’ll go when COVID is over.”
Or … Just Dance
Pony Sweat Aerobics, $5 a class at ponysweataerobics.com
➽ “The ideal angsty bedroom dance party” is how writer-director Aiden Arata describes Pony Sweat Aerobics’ classes. She found them while looking for a dance class with zero empowerment-speak, and says that the instructors regularly encourage participants to let themselves go and “f— the moves.” Those moves, according to Arata, are “a mash-up of ’80s aerobics and riot-grrrl thrashing, set to tracks from bands like Boy Harsher and the Cure.”
Write a Novel at Night
Catapult Writing Classes, from $15 at Catapult.co
Illustration: Nishant Choksi
➽ Catapult markets itself as “by writers, for writers” and hosts a range of classes on everything from finishing a novel to marketing your book to agents. Lane Florsheim, digital staff writer at WSJ. Magazine, was looking for a class that she could fit into her schedule and found it with Mila Jaroniec’s Online Fiction Intensive, which promises you’ll write 40,000 words in 40 days — it, crucially, began at 9:30 p.m. What’s particularly valuable, Florsheim says, is you can go back and look over all the different lessons from your class once it’s finished.
Go to Equinox for Free
Patrick McGrath IG Live Workouts, free at @patrickmcgrath
➽ Equinox trainer Patrick McGrath has taken his talents to Instagram in lockdown, where he uploads full-length strength and conditioning workouts throughout the week for no cost. Nicolás Lazaro, a community specialist at Grailed, told us he was looking for a “routine that didn’t feel like a routine” and found it with McGrath’s workouts. He adds that McGrath is “really chill and personable, so you don’t feel like you’re being yelled at.” Plus, he has a “cute little French bulldog named Murphy whose snores often interrupt the videos.”
Take Pilates With Ayesha Curry
The Studio (MDR), $15 a class at thestudiomdr.com
➽ L.A.’s the Studio gym holds classes that mix Pilates, cardio, and weights. “They work your abs hard and are worth every penny,” spa owner Gretchen Tiernan says. She adds that you can spot celebrities among the Zoom attendees, including Ayesha Curry.
Cross-Examine a Chef
Home Cooking New York, $40 a group class or $150 a private class at homecookingny.com
➽ Communications executive Drew Kerr would go to in-person classes at Home Cooking often before the pandemic hit and has been taking them online since. “We’ve made risotto and gnocchi, and you can ask the chefs questions like: ‘Is my butter too brown?’ or ‘Should I chop or mince this onion?’ ”
Analyze the Old Testament
The Great Courses: The Old Testament, $20 a month after free trial
➽ Price used to download the Great Courses’ offerings from Napster back when they cost hundreds of dollars each. But after noticing they’ve become more affordable, she took its Old Testament class. “It helps you understand literature that references the Bible better,” she says. The teacher, Amy-Jill Levine, is “a great analyst: funny and irreverent.”
Watch Naomi Campbell Make Pudding
Ghetto Gastro’s Gastronomical Cribs, free at @ghettogastro
➽ Rome-based journalist Erica Firpo also loves classes by Ghetto Gastro, a collective of four friends. The quartet FaceTime into the kitchens of their celebrity guests, who cook a recipe live. “Naomi Campbell made banana pudding recently. I watch it live, then rewatch it when I actually want to cook what they made.”
Make Graham Crackers With Christina Tosi
Christina Tosi Bake Club, free at @christinatosi
➽ Firpo was not looking to take a class in lockdown but noticed Milk Bar founder Christina Tosi advertising a “daily Bake Club” on Instagram. “She has so much energy,” Firpo says, adding that Tosi lets attendees know all the ingredients they’ll need ahead of time to bake pie and nougat alongside her.
Take Cambridge’s Hardest Class
Talking Politics: History of Ideas Podcast, free on Apple or Spotify Podcasts
➽ Cambridge University’s famously difficult History of Political Thought class (which began in the 1950s) has recently been distilled to podcast form by one of its professors. Leo Sands, a BBC producer who took the class itself, recommends starting with the lesson on Hobbes, and he says the professor and host, David Runciman, is “a master.”
Try Skin School
Barbara Sturm Skin School, $10 at eventbrite.com
Illustration: Nishant Choksi
➽ Gwyneth Paltrow’s skin-care guru has been hosting seminars on Zoom. Davis, who stumbled on one while shopping for a serum, tells us everyone from high-schoolers to Hailey Bieber has taken the class and that Sturm gets scientific: “You learn about different skin layers, what produces acne, and more.”
Peek Into a Yoga Instructor’s Portuguese Apartment
Sky Ting TV, $20 a month at skyting.com/tv after free trial
➽ Fans of yoga studio Sky Ting, including musician Phoebe Bridgers, told us it’s mastered the art of fostering connection online. “It feels intimate, even with 2,000 people tuned in live,” says Annie Auchincloss, a home buyer at MoMA. Plus, “it’s fun to see the instructors’ airy apartments, from New York to Portugal.”
Immerse Yourself in Another Epidemic
Open Yale Courses: Epidemics in Western Society Since 1600, free at oyc.yale.edu
➽ In 1911, Italy kept quiet about a cholera epidemic. The fact was discovered by Yale’s Frank Snowden, who teaches a course about how he figured it out. Comedian Jay Welch says, “It doesn’t take your mind off current events, but it’s full of insights that apply to now.” Lecture No. 9, he adds, “which has the very dull title ‘Asiatic Cholera (I),’ ” is where things start to heat up.
Start Up With Sign Language
Santa Monica Language Academy, from $50
➽ Author Maile Meloy was learning sign on the set of a TV show she was writing for and has continued in lockdown with this SMLA class led by “great” teacher Lan Ngo. For a cheaper option, author Mary Laura Philpott likes the free courses on signlanguage101.com.
Go to Grad School–Lite
Brooklyn Institute for Social Research, $315 at thebrooklyninstitute.com
➽ The nonprofit Brooklyn Institute for Social Research was created to offer university-style seminars taught by scholar-pedagogues to working adults. The classes, according to Vox film critic Alissa Wilkinson, are “as intensive as grad school.” Wilkinson liked her class on Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism so much that she enrolled in a second Arendt course, based on her book The Human Condition, which scrutinizes Arendt’s opinions on technology.
Illustration: Nishant Choksi
Barbecue With the “Seth MacFarlane of Cooking”
Aaron Franklin Teaches Texas Barbecue, $15 a month (billed annually) at masterclass.com
➽ While tech strategist James Matthews enjoyed learning how to prepare a 12-hour brisket, he says Franklin himself is the highlight: “He’s like the Seth MacFarlane of cooking.”
Ten Percent Happier Mindfulness, free at Apple Podcasts
Illustration: Nishant Choksi
➽ Last winter, meditation helped Kathleen Sorbara, the owner of Chickee’s Vintage, overcome a “really tough, dark time.” But she worried about travel, knowing she couldn’t attend in-person classes. When a friend introduced her to Ten Percent Happier, it was “a turning point.” Unlike Headspace, it has more than one instructor and offers courses alongside single classes on stress, happiness, focus, and sleep.
Master Magic Tricks
Baltimore Academy of Magic: The Encounter, $50 a class at encountermagic.com/bam
➽ Writer R. Eric Thomas says his hope, after quarantine, is to be able to “dazzle” his friends with some magic. To do so, he took this class, which was advertised on Instagram. “Their instructions are clear — I quickly mastered a simple trick where you make a rubber band jump between your fingers. Even though I knew how it was done, I still shrieked and applauded when I first saw it!”
Try Peloton (Without the Pricey Equipment)
Peloton mobile app, free on the App Store and Google Play
➽ While Peloton is known for its high-tech stationary bikes that allow instructors to coach you through a screen, you don’t need one to take advantage of the company’s workouts. Brand strategist Zoe Tesar told us she loves the Peloton app’s quick workouts, which can be as short as five minutes and require none of the brand’s gear. “I love the ten-minute arm-strength, arm-toning, and ab classes, and the ten-minute HIIT class is actually really difficult,” she says.
SoulCycle – Hold the Cycle
Housework exercise class, $13 at sydneyamiller.com
➽ SoulCycle instructor Sydney Millar recently started her own online class, a mix of Pilates and HIIT that marketing manager Laura Naparstek told us she’s been taking (Strategist staff writer Hilary Reid has also attended). Just like in her SoulClasses, the instructor calls out participants who aren’t giving their all. But unlike her SoulCycle classes, which end with everyone hitting the showers, Millar’s online classes conclude with a happy hour, which Naparstek says offers a rare feeling of community in isolation.
Learn “Wash Your Hands” in Norwegian
Babbel Language Classes, from $6.95 a month at babbel.com
➽ While people may be more familiar with Duolingo’s language-learning app, three folks we talked to say it can be a little glitchy, and that the company’s website isn’t great. Those three found a far superior service in Babbel, which offers lessons in 14 languages including Norwegian, Portuguese, and Russian. The lessons can be learned on your computer as well as on your phone. Stylist Mohammad Diallo, who needed to learn French to communicate with clients in Paris, says his skills have “hugely improved” since enrolling, and that “I have far better memory retention than with other apps I’ve tried.”
Or Take a Language Class That Doubles As Therapy
1-on-1 Language Lessons, from $6 at italki.com
➽ Another novel language service we learned about is iTalki, which pairs you with a native speaker in a country that speaks the language you’re trying to learn. Once paired, you pay them to practice over Skype. Writer Anna Fitzpatrick, who is using the service to maintain her Italian, tells us: “I get along really well with my Italian woman, we’re friends on social media now.” Plus, there’s also a therapeutic element. “You talk about your life and stuff because you’re trying to come up with things to talk about,” she adds.
*A version of this article appears in the May 25, 2020, issue of New York Magazine. Subscribe Now!
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