For this coming Open House on Saturday, March 30th, RDT’s Dance Center will be offering a special beginner parkour class for the first time. Some of those attending the parkour class may already know what parkour is or have seen parkour on TV or YouTube. The content in the commercial world is usually described as huge, dynamic movement involving jumps from crazy heights or all kind of flips. There are even competitions held in major cities. But flips and competitions are not all of parkour, in fact, it is barely scratching the surface.
Origins of Parkour
In the beginning, parkour was called Art du Deplacement or “the art of displacement.” It was founded in France in the 1980’s by a group of nine men that called themselves the Yamakasi. Yamakasi is a Lingala word loosely meaning ‘Strong Man, Strong Spirit’, and summed up the original and still core aim of the discipline – to be a strong individual: physically, mentally and ethically. The original nine founders are Yann Hnautra, Chau Belle, David Belle, Laurent Piemontesi, Sebastain Foucan, Guylain N’Guba Boyeke, Charles Perriere, Malik Diouf and Williams Belle.
During this time it was a hobby, a way to workout, a way to develop strength and create bonds as a group that did not involve going to the gym. The founders used the environment to challenge their strength and creativity. They would ask themselves, “What is the most efficient way to get over this wall?” After finding what they deemed to be the most efficient, they then asked more questions: How can I change the way I get over the wall? Is there a different way? Is there a way that requires more strength? Much of Art du Deplacement was discovered through creative movement.
Another part of Art du Deplacement is discovering your own personal physical and mental limits. For example, you decide practicing jumping three feet from one wall to another wall but the wall is only six inches high. It is safe to you, close to the ground and if you jump short, you can just land on the ground in front of the wall. But Art du Deplacement is not a training that settles with what is comfortable. The next step is jump the same distance but on taller walls. You have jump the three feet distance many times on the six inch high walls. But suddenly, with walls that are a foot and a half high at the same distance, there is a voice in your mind that says, “You can’t do that. Give up.”
I had a wonderful experience of training with one of the founders, Laurent Piemontesi, for two weeks once and he talked about overcoming the mental limits is sometimes more difficult than the physical limits. He said that if a person can overcome the mind saying “I can’t go on” in a strength exercise, such as pull ups, and keep going, they’ll find there body has a higher breaking point than the mind. That ability to say no to mental breaking points translates into normal life. Laurent gave the example that if a person can push say “no, I can keep going” to the mind and then a person could also say no to drugs or no to cheating.
Sometimes, this voice is a good thing. This warning voice makes you more aware of your actions and makes you analyze the situation more closely. But this voice can also be debilitating. What if you did not get the warning voice on the foot and half wall but the six inch high wall? This voice can cause distrust between you and your body, YOU are telling your body that you can’t do it when your body can actually physical accomplish the jump. Art du Deplacement is understanding these physical and mental limits and providing ways for you to grow and overcome your limits.
Nowadays, Art du Deplacement has been nicknamed “Parkour” and “Freerunning” by a couple of the founders to help express the meaning of the physical practice to non-french audience. The physical practice has also been commercialized through movies, television and YouTube. This is where the adoption of tricks such as flips and huge jumps started. There are parkour gyms that provide obstacles and mats for practice as well. The founders are also still moving, training and more often teaching around the world the Art du Deplacement.
Now, why is a whole article about parkour being posted on a professional dance company’s blog? Why is a “dance” center offering parkour? Repertory Dance Theatre celebrates art in motion. And from my own experience, parkour is more than a physical practice and is an art form. I have trained in dance since the age of 4 and joined a parkour/dance performance team at the age of 19. I trained with Laurent Piemontesi, one of the founders, for two and half weeks. And from my experience on the performance team and my experience with Laurent, I firmly believe that parkour is a movement art form just as much as a physical training. Everything that you learn from parkour can be applied in the dance studio and vice versa. How many dancers have mental and physical fears in dance? I have plenty and found that I could better handle them when I was training in parkour. How many traceurs/traceuses (people who practice parkour) find themselves getting stuck practicing the same moves on the same wall? I would do this and then I tapped into my dance training to bring new ways to move over the wall.
Doesn’t that sound like dance?
This is why RDT’s Dance Center is offering a special beginning parkour class at our upcoming Open House. Parkour is an movement art form that helps one overcome physical and mental limits in creative ways. It uses the environment as a partner, a constant duet between you and the wall, the handrail, the bench, etc.
This beginning parkour class is meant for people to have a taste of parkour and help people enjoy their bodies. No experience is required! And if anyone has any reservations about trying the class, ask yourself if the voice in your head that is saying no is helping you or holding you back.
Noriko Bell is a freelance dancer/traceuse based in Salt Lake City, Utah. She graduated with a B.F.A in Modern Dance from the University of Utah and a certificate in Entrepreneurship. She has also been a guest dancer with Repertory Dance Theatre and Doug Varone and Dancers. Performing and creating movement is her passion. Currently, she is working on forming work that blends the art forms of parkour and dance while exploring the possibilities of performing in all environments.