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The Blogger Beat: Dilettante Club

This week, we try some hobbies on for size with the ladies from Dilettante Club.

The Dilettante Club tackles its latest challenge: learning to play bridge. Left to right: Nicole Bono, Amy Schirmer, Kathleen Canedo, and Amanda Lonsdale. Photograph by Chris Leaman

What’s a dilettante? According to Webster’s Dictionary, it’s “a person having a superficial interest in an art or a branch of knowledge.” In other words, a dabbler.

That’s exactly what the four women behind the blog Dilettante Club consider themselves. They’ve tried lots of hobbies, but none has stuck permanently. And that’s why they formed the club three years ago—to indulge their inner dilettante and give them an excuse to do lots of activities one time only.

Here’s how the club works: Once a month, the group assembles for an activity. The activity must be a one-time event that runs no longer than five hours, cost $100 or less, take place in Washington, and end with a recap over drinks and food. Activities have run the gamut from hula-hoop-making to ceramics to palm reading to self-defense. The group’s successes—and hilarious failures—are then documented on the blog.

The club was formed after a cocktail party when the women discussed their sordid hobbying pasts. Kathleen’s dilettante tendencies led her to hold ten jobs in 15 years. Amanda has dabbled in languages and knows several—but only at a novice-to-amateur level. While Amy became a dilettante for strictly practical reasons—she learned flute, for example, to join the band and avoid gym class in grade school—Nicole has tried lots of activities, such as field hockey and dancing, for the cute uniforms.

We caught up with the dilettantes to talk about—what else?—hobbies. Read on for their favorite and least favorite activities, the strangest thing they’ve ever dabbled in, and one activity they hope they never have to try.

Three hobbies you tried—and gave up—before the Dilettante Club:
Kathleen: “(1) Distance running—my orthopedist could tell you why. (2) I took tap-dancing lessons for a few years as an adult, and once I made Guinness World Records, I hung up my tap shoes. I mean, really, I had reached the pinnacle—where else could I go? (3) Playing the cello. I played it as a kid and tried to pick it up again as an adult. After spending an ungodly amount of money on a cello and private lessons, I decided I just wasn’t that into it.”
Amanda: “(1) Ballet. We spent an entire month doing only pliés. A girl’s gotta twirl. (2) Piano with a creepy teacher that smelled like mothballs. Oh, and my family moved to Guam. (3) Tennis—I’m not a very good loser, and I lost a lot.”
Amy: “(1) Kathleen and I took a tap-dancing class before we started the club. It was fun—and who doesn’t love tap shoes?—but after the third class it started to feel like exercise. (2) Baton twirling. Okay, this was when I was a few years younger, but I stopped because, really, who does that anymore? (3) Dog agility. I enrolled my dog, Archie, in a few agility courses. He was very good at it, though much faster than me. And, like me, after one trip around the obstacle course, he got bored with it and preferred walking around sniffing the other dogs. (That part isn’t like me.)”
Nicole: “(1) Field hockey. The uniforms were cute, but sitting on the bench got old after a while. (2) Piano. It requires a lot of patience and dedication, and at age eight I didn’t possess those skills. (3) Knitting. Store-bought baby blankets are a lot cuter than my creations. Plus, they don’t fall apart.”

Longest period of time you’ve maintained a hobby:
Kathleen: “I was a distance runner for almost eight years.”
Amanda: “Fourteen years. I played soccer from fourth grade through my sophomore year in college and then for three years as an adult.”
Amy: “I took dance lessons from the time I was three until I graduated from high school. I even taught classes for a few years. Then a couple years ago, I found a video of myself dancing as a teenager—I was really terrible. No one told me, and someone should have. My folks should probably get their money back.”
Nicole: “Three years. Even as a kid I couldn’t stick to one activity, probably because I couldn’t find one I was really good at. Ballet, field hockey, soccer, and piano all lasted about that long before I called it quits.”

And the shortest time:  
Kathleen: “Standup comedy. I wrote a ton of material and then actually did it . . . once.”
Amanda: “Felt jewelry. I bought the materials and books and never made a single thing.”
Amy: “See any entry on the Dilettante Club Web site.”
Nicole: “One month: knitting. It just wasn’t my thing.”

Strangest activity you’ve ever dabbled in:
Kathleen: “Ventriloquism. I still have my puppet, Lester. I’ve seen enough horror movies to know that I can’t get rid of him—and survive.”
Amanda: “Raising rabbits. They’re much less cute when you have to clean up after them. Plus, once you’ve seen how much they poop and eat their young, the appeal kind of wears off.”
Amy: “Back in high school, I took sign-language classes so that I could sing and sign the words to a song for the Anderson County Junior Miss scholarship program (it wasn’t a beauty pageant!). I thought it’d be unique. Sadly, I learned I was a terrible singer—another refund in order—but man, was I good at sign language! Incidentally, this was before Napoleon Dynamite made signing so cool.”
Nicole: “Didgeridoo. If you’ve heard of it, that’s more than I knew when I tried it.”

Best activity the Dilettante Club has ever tried:
Kathleen: “Improv. We were all totally intimidated by the thought of this activity, but it was so much fun. Well, until Amanda brought it to a screeching halt (see her embarrassing moment below for details).”
Amanda: “The ropes course. We really challenged ourselves and overcame some major fears. Plus, we got to hear a guy scream, ‘Ow, my nuts!’ as he launched himself across a zipline.”
Amy: “Tough call, but my personal favorite was the improv class.”
Nicole: “There are so many to choose from! One of my favorites was the cooking class with Roberto Donna. You can’t go wrong with an activity that involves eating and drinking and having a famous chef to add humor and commentary to the fun.”

And the worst activity:
Kathleen: “Hypnosis. An instructor can make or break an activity. Let’s just say that this one made us very, very sleepy. The wreath-making class also tested my patience, because the instructor kept talking about adding ‘oomphy poomphy’ to our bows. WTF?”
Amanda: “Hypnosis. We perfected the ‘Dilettante ditch’ on that one and left early for beers.”
Amy: “Hot yoga. I missed this class because they lock the door when the class starts, and I was late, thanks to traffic.”
Nicole: “Since I’m terrified of heights, the high-ropes course. I was sweating and holding onto the harness for dear life before we even began. I can’t say I conquered my fear, but that’s what’s I love about the club—we all motivate each other to try new things that we wouldn’t have done otherwise.”

Proudest Dilettante moment:
Kathleen: “When a group of Amanda’s friends in Denver liked the idea so much that they started the Denver Dilettante Club earlier this year. What a huge compliment. (And the royalty check isn’t bad, either.)”
Amanda: “Kicking the 300-pound ‘bad guy’ across the room in our self-defense class.”
Amy: “Finishing the ropes course. What a physically and mentally tough challenge.”
Nicole: “Being named ‘dirty dirndl’ girl in the Washington Post Magazine. Quite an honor.”

Most embarrassing Dilettante moment:
Kathleen: “Falling off the Segway during the Segway tour of DC—three times! On the first fall, the instructor was concerned for my safety. The second time, he grew a little impatient. The third time—when I broke the handlebar off—he was so disgusted, he couldn’t even look at me.”
Amanda: “At improv, we were playing a game where we had to string a sentence together one word at a time, one person at a time. When the sentence got to me, it was, ‘When I was a teenager, I was . . . ” My word? “Abused.” Kind of a showstopper. The rest of the dilettantes nearly hyperventilated laughing at me and my purple face.”
Amy: “Another thing to add to the creed: I will not be embarrassed when I make an ass of myself. Thankfully, no one else but club members was in the pole-dancing class, or that would qualify.”
Nicole: “See above.”

One activity you’d like to try but haven’t:
Kathleen: “Mime. Primarily so I could reenact my favorite scene from The Aristocrats.”
Amanda: “Trapeze. We’ve come close twice, but certain members of the club are afraid of heights.”
Amy: “Trapeze. We have scheduled this twice but canceled due to the nerves of one of our members. Now that the ropes course was conquered, I’m hoping we can try trapeze at National Harbor.”
Nicole: “Hmm . . . I’m having a hard time coming up with one we haven’t done yet. Maybe an interior-design class—it’s my dream job at the moment.”

One activity you hope you never have to try:
Kathleen: “Skydiving. I wish I could accept gracefully that I’m terrified to skydive, but I want to be the type of person that would do it.”
Amanda: “I refuse to answer because it’d pretty much guarantee that someone would pick it next month.”
Amy: “Skydiving. I’m way too chicken.”
Nicole: “Trapeze! The others really want to try it, but I’ve been able to get out of it so far.”

Let’s do some word associations:
Kangoo Jumps class:
Kathleen: “Tiggerific! I was bounding around all over the place before class even started.”
Amanda: “No one over eight should have that much energy. (I’m looking at you, Kangoo Jumps instructor.)”
Amy: “A good bra.”
Nicole: “Barbie on speed.”

Kathleen: “Infomercial. And not the good kind.”
Amanda: “Cue the theme from The Twilight Zone.”
Amy: “Crazy.”
Nicole: “Saunas = the fast track to heaven.”

• Facial yoga:
Kathleen: “Offensive. The instructor spent an inordinate amount of time giving us tips on how to get attention from guys by walking and holding drinks in a way she considered alluring.”
Amanda: “It’s much easier just to give in to the wrinkles.”
Amy: “Back-handed compliments.”
Nicole: “Jowls. I’m scarred for life.”

• Pole dancing:
Kathleen: “Athletic. I had a whole new respect for strippers after this. (And I had a pretty healthy respect to begin with.)”
Amanda: “Those girls are athletes.”
Amy: “Bruised thighs.”
Nicole: “Lucite heels.”

Piece of advice for the hobbyless:
Kathleen: “Stay strong, comrades!”
Amanda: “Dive in and own it.”
Amy: “Find a couple of friends and get out there. Or get out there, and make some friends in the process. They may be weird due to their obsession with pagan drum circles, but hey, we all have our idiosyncrasies.”
Nicole: “Get a group of friends together and go for it!”

Favorite local blog besides your own:
Kathleen: “Liz Kelly’s Celebritology blog on Her new Twits segment is hilarious.”
Amanda:Brutalism—Kathleen’s blog!”
Amy: “Brutalism. That chick is funny!”
Nicole: “Are there any others?”

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