Where to find new hobbies as an adult in Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Middle-aged Pittsburghers are finding new hobbies — and friendships — in their second act

click to enlarge Middle-aged Pittsburghers are finding new hobbies — and friendships — in their second act
Photo courtesy of Sarah Souri
"Dancing queen" Sarah Souri in her happy place.

When Wexford resident Sarah Souri began approaching her 50th birthday, she decided it was time to check some things off her bucket list. “Turning 50 years old was a bittersweet moment for me, because my mom died unexpectedly a few weeks after she turned 50. As I was approaching my 50th birthday, I decided that I was going to start tackling all the items on my bucket list for me and for my mom's legacy.”

Souri began thinking about her own interests — including what she loved as a child — but wasn’t keen to revisit those hobbies, which included piano and spelling bees. “Like many kids, I just wanted to fit in, but as an immigrant child from a traditional Indian family, I sometimes struggled to find my place.” Unfettered by those same insecurities as an adult, Souri settled on disco dancing. “I celebrated my 50th birthday party with family and friends at a venue where the Pittsburgh-based Abba tribute band Dancing Queen was playing.” Since then, Souri has begun to follow this band and other local disco faves, even occasionally coming up on stage to perform. It wasn’t just about having the occasional night out. For Souri, this was a passion.

Souri is part of a growing cohort of adults who are exploring new hobbies. It turns out adult hobbies are good for our health, according to a 2010 study that was completed right here in Pittsburgh by Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh. According to the PEAT (Pittsburgh Enjoyable Activities Test), adults who had a hobby were found to have better physical health, lower stress levels, more quality sleep patterns, and improved work performance. They also reported feeling happier and having more friends.

That’s been true for Michaela Diallo Holts of Monroeville. As a kid in the city, she said she mostly biked around with friends, played basketball, and tried a bit of gymnastics at CCAC. “I had some interest in karate, but couldn’t sign up. The price, I suppose.” After college, she found herself craving community and looked up local dance classes. While ballroom dancing didn’t seem like quite the right fit, she and a friend decided to try salsa dancing at a spot in Shadyside.

“We were both nervous to check it out, but it was so fun. The people are so friendly.” She stumbled into a whole local dance scene where she’s been getting her dance fix for the last 15 years. Marriage and kids have made her nights out less frequent, but she still escapes with her husband to local spots like salsa events at the Hard Rock Cafe or through Los Sabrosos. “It’s a break from the ordinary. A chance to move, really dance, and the music is so good.”

Beyond shaking it on the dance floor, other Pittsburgh adults are finding new passions to fuel their happiness, including martial arts classes, roller derby, and even building race cars.

In Bellevue, Jillian Edmonson works in veterinary medicine by day and tears up the roller rink by night. “My roller derby name is Ruth Bader Fightsburgh, aka RBF.”

click to enlarge Middle-aged Pittsburghers are finding new hobbies — and friendships — in their second act
Photo: David Dyte
Steel City Roller Derby competing in State College, Pa.

As a kid, she was into playing the flute and sewing, with an occasional trip to the roller rink. For decades Edmonson didn’t skate, until her 12-year-old son expressed an interest in going to the Neville Island rink this year. “I couldn't skate without holding onto the wall for about an hour, and then balance slowly came back.” She bought her own skates and began to explore the local scene. “My oldest son's stepmom, who is one of my besties, invited me to a derby boot camp hosted by Steel City Roller Derby.” She found the group a perfect fit. “What an amazing, inviting, inclusive group.” Edmonson purchased full protective gear as well as a sticker for her water bottle that reads, “The bigger the ass, the harder to pass.”

In neighboring Ross Township, Lauren Wardgers decided to revive a childhood interest that their family could not afford when they were a kid. “My uncle trained in traditional Japanese karate at a local dojo and my parents let me do an intro session, but it just didn’t fit into our family’s schedule and budget at the time.” When their oldest child began taking traditional Japanese karate two years ago, it sparked that old desire. “I took the bait on a ‘parents train free for a month’ flier. Other than challenging my now-wife to a game of Boggle in a Charleston bar, it was the best decision of my life.” Wardgers says that studying under their teacher, Sensei Gaddis, has not only improved their martial art skills, it has, “made me a better parent, a better partner, a better friend, and a better citizen.”

Patrick Rogers, who lives with his family in Blairsville, has been tinkering with things his whole life. As a kid, he says he was into Lego, K’nex, and remote control airplanes. “I've always been creative and enjoyed putting things together.” He’s always had an interest in auto racing, but felt boxed out of the field as a young adult. “In 2003 I went to my first professional rally race as a spectator, and had dreams of participating in something like that — but I was young and inexperienced, and it was cost prohibitive.” Eventually Rogers stumbled across the niche field of rebuilding vintage Porsches to compete in off-road rallies. Now a dad of three, their family attended the local 944Fest in 2022. From there, he began to build his own car. “While it has taken considerable time and resources to build my car,” says Rogers, “The people we have met along the way who have followed the rebuild and transformation have been incredible. The friendships that have developed for myself and my wife were completely unexpected.” This Labor Day weekend, Rogers won first place.

As for the insecurities that may pop up when thinking about a new hobby, especially one that involves some skill? These adventurous Pittsburghers have some tips. Souri wants people to know it's okay to go out of your comfort zone. “It’s ironic when I think about my journey. As a child, I just wanted to fit in. As a middle-aged, disco dancing adult, I think it’s more fun to stand out.”

Edmonson echos the need to push insecurities to the side, even as someone new to the hobby. “Just leave yourself at the door — as in leave your ego and stress at the door — and just skate.”

Holts says if you’re itching to hit the dance floor, you will find the local scene is friendly. “It typically is a nice, positive, welcoming atmosphere.” Wardgers knows it might feel awkward to be the new adult in a room full of skilled people — they’ve been there. Push yourself anyway. “So few people in life challenge themselves to try something completely new as an adult. Embrace the awkwardness for a bit.”

Rogers’ tip? “Life is short, buy the Porsche.”

Looking to try a new hobby of your own? Check out some more local adult-friendly activities:

  • Pittsburgh Ballroom has ballroom dancing as well as salsa and other dance activities.
  • Ascend, with several local locations, offers adult, child, and adaptive rock climbing lessons in an indoor setting.
  • Pittsburgh Glass Center offers classes on glass blowing and glass art for all abilities.
  • Phipps Conservatory offers a certificate in floral arrangement and various themed workshops.
  • Switch and Signal Skate Park is an indoor skate park with child and adult classes as well as open skateboarding times. There are skateboards and pads available for students.

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