As we are well into the third lockdown, staying positive isn't always easy. But one thing guaranteed to keep the spirits up is learning a new skill. And with some impressive NI talent offering to share their expertise online, now is the perfect time for picking up something new. Claire O'Boyle hears from just some of the super tutors out there to find out what you could be learning from the comfort of your own home in 2021.
Artist Aly Harte: 'There's something so beautiful about seeing people progress'
Aly Harte has been running classes for years and launched her own business when the first of her three sons was born more than a decade ago.
And with things as they are at the moment, her work and tutorials online are a huge part of what she does.
"My courses online are ongoing," she says. "I do some free content on YouTube, with tutorials for kids and beginners, but in February I'll be running my online academy where people can join either as beginners or to help them progress in the work they do.
"I specialise in teaching colour theory, which I think is what helps make me stand out from other workshops. There is a lot of mixing colours so it becomes very clear that a beach scene is an awful lot more than just blue water and yellow sand. It's a really lovely process."
And moving her business online, Aly (37), has made contact with people right across the world.
"I did a run of corporate workshops last year which were actually massive," she says. "I don't think anyone actually was in Northern Ireland. There were people in Moscow, Barcelona, all over the place. That's the beauty of it because your reach is massive and you encounter all these people you wouldn't otherwise."
The size of classes can be huge online too, explains Aly. "With the account I have on Zoom I can have up to 100 people joining in," she says. "The biggest I've had at one time was 68, with someone in the mix from Dubai.
"But I think the optimum number for me is around 22. That's my ideal, and it means I can have everyone on the same screen. I had that number for a Christmas party and everyone was drinking Prosecco, and it was really lovely."
As well as the lessons, Aly's online students get a parcel in the post before their course begins to make sure they've got all the materials they need.
"That's one of my favourite parts of it, packing up the parcels," she says.
"It's really fun and people really look forward to opening them. You get the five colours I mix from - red, yellow, blue, black and white, a pencil, a page to do circles on - which is one of my favourite ways to break the ice - and two little soft pastels."
As much as she enjoys working remotely, that's not to say Aly doesn't miss the face-to-face experience of teaching.
"I've been running classes since I was 16," she says. "And I started the business in 2009 after my son was born.
"Teaching in person is very special and you do miss that connection. I'd have run eight-week courses in church halls or community centres in Belfast, and there's something so beautiful about seeing people progress. It's a magical experience.
"But I have a strong faith and I honestly think God wanted me to use this time in this way.
"I've got all this experience with young people and with adults, working with children with learning difficulties, and I've got it down to a fine art at this point.
"I really enjoy it, and I think the people - whatever stage they're at - get a lot out of it too."
Aly's online course were temporarily put on hold when the artist contracted Covid-19 back in October.
Within 48 hours Aly developed extreme fatigue and couldn't get out of bed, however she is recovering slowly but surely.
"I received a letter from A&E following a three-month review to say my chest is now clear of Covid," she says. "I still have very slow days with the unusual tiredness associated with the illness, but I'm feeling positive about the future and I am continuing to stay safe for myself and my family."
For more details about Aly's courses, visit alyharte.com
Mindfulness guru Bridgeen Rea-Kaya: 'With practice you learn to respond rather than react'
Bridgeen Rea-Kaya has been teaching people the art of self-compassion and meditation for years - and is now offering a range of courses online. One of Northern Ireland's pioneers in mindfulness, she is trained in yoga, too - and says the skills she's learned have helped her become a calmer and happier person.
"I work in various aspects of wellbeing, but mindfulness is my specialism," explains Bridgeen. "My interest in it was something that happened over time, and eventually it became the focus of everything I do."
After combining mindfulness with her day job in the civil service for years, Bridgeen went it alone with her mindfulness work in 2014.
"It was a good time to start - although I was one of a tiny number back then," she says. "Now, a lot of people are interested in mindfulness - and in my experience, it's always the nicest people. I find it's usually people who have suffered in some way and who are trying to find peace.
"People who come to me have often been off work with stress or with some kind of illness, people who have had hard times in life.
"I find there are a lot of women too because for it's not always easy if you have a job and kids and a household to maintain - all the while trying to be perfect. None of us is superwoman or superman, so taking a bit of time out with meditation and mindfulness can be a wonderful help."
And with more of us under pressure than ever, what are the benefits of the things Bridgeen teaches?
"Because of the surge in popularity of mindfulness over the years, there have been lots of studies," she says. "Many of them have shown how it can reduce stress and anxiety. I wasn't born this easy going, calm person, but through the practice you can learn to respond rather than react.
"So many of us are tossed about so much by the whims of fortune in our lives and we just react to what's going on, rather than take a breath or a pause to respond calmly to what's going on.
"I'm sure I'm calmer now than I was when I started all this at 29 - but I'm 46 now, so perhaps I would have mellowed by now anyway!"
Having worked for years with face-to-face classes, Bridgeen now offers online courses from her home in Jordanstown.
"As soon as the pandemic hit, getting organised for online was the first thing I did," she says. "You build up a really nice online community and people get to know each other."
Extending her monthly workshops by half an hour and weekly one-hour sessions by 15 minutes, Bridgeen says people need more time to connect online.
"Taking time to listen to each participant has become a big part of the online classes," she says. "When classes are in person, there is time to connect before and after the class but online to feel safe, I find it's good to take extra time to connect and check in with people.
"I find my clients really enjoy that aspect of the classes, and especially if it's over several weeks they get to know and bond with each other. Some have even become good friends only meeting online through my classes.
"Mindfulness is so popular now, so it can be a packed market online with offerings from around the world. I've had people from all over getting involved, but I still really like the local thing."
Find out more at www.immeasurableminds.co.uk
Dance instructor Dylan Quinn: ‘It’s looking at wellbeing in a broader way’
DAD-OF-FOUR dance instructor, Dylan Quinn has pivoted his dance business online since the pandemic hit Northern Ireland last March.
Now offering Zumba and Strong Nation courses online he is now working along with nutritionist wife Hannah – and says the new format is exciting.
“We moved a lot of the work we were doing over to online right away back in March,” says Dylan.
“Now we’re focusing on Zumba and Strong Nation classes, as well as nutrition, which we think will work really well for people.”
In addition to Zumba classes via Zoom, the couple have devised streamable classes for people to buy and download.
“It means they can learn the steps and practice until they feel comfortable with it,” says Dylan, 46. “Which is really helpful, especially for beginners who might not be sure of things to start with.
“Zumba is a great thing to learn and get confident with. What’s really good is that it works both the physical and the cognitive. It keeps the brain ticking as it challenges the left and the right.”
“They can stream the classes until they’re happy they can do the moves, they’ve got as much time as they need to learn a new routine.”
“Strong Nation is a higher intensity class, pushing the physical limits more.”
Tying in with Hannah, Dylan says people can also sign up to a nutrition and well-being programme to learn a holistic approach to well-being in 2021.
“It’s that holistic thing we’re looking at,” he says. “It’s about looking at what you’re eating, finding a way to exercise that you enjoy and looking at your wellbeing in a broader way.”
Find out more on Facebook @DylanandHannahDanceWellbeing or at danceandwellbeing.com
Makeup artist Olivia Muldoon: 'It's looking at wellbeing in a broader way'
SHE'S a huge success in the bridal world, and now Olivia Muldoon is turning her attention to sharing everything she's learned with up and coming hair and make-up artists.
The Dungannon-based businesswoman has run courses for more than a decade, but since Covid hit in 2020 her teaching has taken off in a big way - online.
"I've done these classes and workshops for a long time, teaching beginners, make-up artists and hair stylists how to start up in the business of bridal hair and beauty," says Olivia.
"I'd run so many classes a year, a combination of classes and workshops, and I'd do some online tutorials on Facebook and Instagram.
"For a long time I'd wanted to bring the full courses online, simply because a lot of the people had said they'd love to be able to rewatch particular parts so they could practice and get things right.
"Then when all this happened it gave me the opportunity to sit down and write the courses, record them and get them out there."
Offering practical courses over eight modules for beginners, Olivia also has plans to offer advanced training as well as lessons in the business side of the work she does.
"The great thing about the online courses is that the students can complete them as and when suits them," she says. "There's less of that urgency to be at a particular place at a particular time. They can work on the modules over eight weeks, or they can do them more quickly to fit in with their own schedules.
"I'm there as well for advice, and by the end of it they've learned all the basic fundamentals of creating bridal hairstyles and all they need to know. I go through everything from hair types and textures to face shapes, and showing them in detail the right techniques."
Switching to online, the make-up of Olivia's students has changed, too.
"The online course is amazing," she says. "I have people from all over doing it, from Australia, Israel, America, all sorts of places. And there are all sorts of people doing it too, who might not have opted to actually sign up to a course of classes. I have nurses in there, which is brilliant."
Explaining her new mentoring programme, Olivia (45), says she'll offer top insight into the industry.
"It will be a whole mix of things," she says. "From the practical stuff and the hair styling techniques to how to get your ideal client, how to set up your social media, your accounts, what contracts you need to arrange. Basically I'll explain how not to make the mistakes I've made!
"But those guys will get the full thing - interviews with industry and social media experts, photographers, everything."
So once normal life resumes, will Olivia return to the way she worked before?
"I still love the weddings so I'll always do them," she says. "But I want to make this my primary focus now, building course after course, whether that's face to face lessons for on down the track, workshops, out visiting salons or the online courses. It's rewarding work, and people really get a lot out of it."
Follow Olivia on Instagram @educationbyoliviamuldoon on Facebook @oliviamuldoonhmu or visit the website educationbyoliviamuldoon.com
Language teacher Louise Jouanny: 'Learning a new language is about taking a risk'
AFTER moving home to Northern Ireland from London in 2019, Spanish teacher Louise Jouanny launched a tutoring business to help students through their GCSEs – as well as devising a six-week ‘holiday Spanish’ course for adults.
And with the arrival of coronavirus last year, much of her work relocated online.
“When Covid hit and all my face-to-face work dried up people said I’d have to switch online,” says Louise, 34. “At the start I thought no way, you can’t teach a language through Zoom or online – but I’ve been proven wrong.”
In fact, says Louise, working in live sessions online has turned out to be even more effective.
“In lots of ways it’s worked a million times better,” she says. “For a start we manage to cover more content in the same amount of time because you don’t have all that small talk on Zoom that you do when you’re in a room together. You just get your head down and start working.
“As well as that, if we’re working on Zoom I don’t have to stand over people’s shoulders as they’re writing to see what they’re doing. We are able to share a screen so I can see how they’re doing and keep them right as they go.
“It’s worked really well, and even in group sessions while I can’t stand over individual students’ shoulders to chat through what they’re doing, we’re able to communicate directly through chat which works really well.”
And with plans to offer a six-week adult course in the coming weeks with a series of live online sessions, mum-of-two Louise, whose third child is due in the summer, says it can be a rewarding – if challenging – thing to do.
“In my experience I’d say adults can be quite out of their comfort zone learning a language - which isn’t always a bad thing,” says Louise, who lives in Bangor. “Learning a language is about taking a risk and being open to making a fool out of yourself.
“The first adult course I did online was a bit of a trial with friends, my husband Jack, my sister and my mother-in-law. It was funny because they didn’t all know each other and putting yourself out there to learn a language isn’t easy – I got honest feedback from them, and not all of them felt completely at ease at every stage!
“But holiday Spanish is really enjoyable. Yes, you can go on an app and learn a word and how to pronounce it, but speaking a language is much more than that. It’s about engaging with it and relaxing into a conversation and getting used to the feeling of being out of your comfort zone.”
To find out more visit www.ljspanish.com/ or find Louise on Facebook @LJSpanish