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If you simply have to know 'how to,' myriad DVDs and videos are there for you.

March 11, 2004|T.L. Stanley | Special to The Times

Kathy Schnitzius is plenty crafty. She sews, she draws, she paints.

But when she took a class in one-stroke painting last year, she left disappointed. It was too crowded and things moved too slowly. "It cost $25 and we learned how to make a leaf," she said. "We didn't even get into the whole flower."

Eager to master petals, and even stems, she went straight to video. She got an $80 set of instructional videos as a birthday gift a few months ago, and now she's so immersed in the new style that she's decorating pots to hold centerpieces for her daughter's wedding reception.

"It's so much easier for me to understand than a book of instructions," said Schnitzius, a Burbank homemaker. "You can back it up for something you missed, fast-forward through a part you already know, practice with it, stop it for any reason you need to. And all at your convenience, when you have the time."

Schnitzius is one of many people who have taken their continuing education into their own hands and own homes. Exercise videos are still the most popular and abundant of the how-to genre, but there's an ever-growing list of instructional DVDs that can teach you everything from how to pray to how to tattoo.

Pop-culture watchers say it's akin to book clubs, do-it-yourself TV shows and adventure vacations. We, as a society, are on an information quest, and instructional DVDs fill that bill. And unlike some TV shows that are well-watched by people who are content to be entertained by "Iron Chef," those who rent or buy instructional DVDs want to do, not just watch.

"It's one of the new tools of empowerment," said Tom Julian, a trend analyst with Fallon, an advertising agency in New York. "It's not passive, it's active, and it's a way to inspire yourself."

Or, it can be a way to keep from embarrassing yourself.

Kim Savant, a fitness instructor from Santa Clarita, rented a salsa video to learn some dance steps and mix up her exercise routine. Once she'd gone through it a few times, though, she had learned all she could. Taking it to the next level would require a class, she said.

"It's a good way to introduce yourself to something before you go try it somewhere else," Savant said. "That way, you don't have to go in cold and look stupid."

Instructional subjects are following in the footsteps of their film and TV brethren, migrating from video to DVD format. Those who use them say lessons on DVD are easier to whip through, replay or freeze on the important demonstrations. Many come in sets, as well, so that you can learn the basics and then progress to increasingly harder levels.

But there are those who never get through that first level. The push-the-play-button level. Their instructional DVDs sit around the house along with other unfinished projects, filed under "best intentions" and "proof of slacker tendencies."

Paul Hewitt, a wannabe musician from Hollywood, said he bought some tapes on learning the guitar but has yet to crack them open.

"It seemed like a good idea at the time," said Hewitt, whose acoustic guitar is gathering dust in a corner of his apartment. "I can still only play three chords, and I could do that already."

Renter's remorse is less expensive. Public libraries and some video chains rent instructional DVDs, though the selection may be limited.

It's a good way to try something out -- but check the dates. Video production has improved immeasurably from the early 1990s. Large electronics retailers and music stores stock larger varieties.

Marcy Magiera, editor of Video Business magazine, said that the "special interest" category of videos and DVDs (made up of things such as documentaries, how-to topics and rock concert movies) constitute only about 1% of offerings and sales.

But their scope is unlimited, she said, because manufacturing DVDs these days is so inexpensive (less than $1 per disc) and people can sell them cheaply over the Internet.

"There's all kinds of funky stuff and little independent titles," she said, "things you didn't see five years ago."

In fact, find the right online retailer, where the selection is vast and specific, and you'll have your choice of pursuits, from "Electrifying Your Dollhouse" to "The Basic Principles of Equine Massage."

"You can get to be an expert in your own domain," said Julian, the trend analyst. "It's like geek education."



If you want to...

Take somebody down.

Martial arts may be second only to general fitness in the scope of videos and DVDs produced. Besides the typical karate, judo and tae kwon do, there's also the more militaristic "Judsado Self Protection Series: Wrist Locks" (Turtle Video, $29.95). Online reviews called it great for law enforcement, but it's available to any of us who find ourselves in a smackdown. It's from martial arts instructor Sang H. Kim.

Find a new career.

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