North American Women’s Parkour Gathering 2017

Vaults at North American Women's Parkour Gathering 2017 in Boston

Parkour has been on my list of movement practices to try for a while. I wanted to be a gymnast as a kid, and with my ignited interest in natural and functional movement, parkour makes perfect sense (I know parkour =/= gymnastics. Don’t hate me, traceurs!). This year I dove in by attending the North American Women’s Parkour Gathering.

Rail Balancing at Women's Parkour Gathering in Boston
Rail Balancing at Women’s Parkour Gathering in Boston

I waited for a quite a while before attempting parkour because I was worried I would feel intimidated. I have never had a lot of upper body strength, and I was afraid I would not be able to keep up with others and that they would look down on me for it. I also had concerns that I would injure myself trying moves that I did not have the foundational strength required to attempt. For these reasons, I decided to train on my own until I felt I had some base level of fitness that would allow me to keep up. I bought Ryan Ford’s Parkour Strength Training (It is a fantastic resource for anyone interested in developing a comprehensive and progressive strength-building regimen, especially but not exclusively for those interested in natural movement or parkour.) and designed some workouts for myself. However, I did not stick with it enough to make as much progress as I wanted.

Since it was clear that I lacked the discipline to progress on my own, in May I decided to attend a women’s parkour meet-up, which I thought would be less intimidating. It was absolutely accessible to a complete beginner like me, and I craved more. Thus, I decided to jump in and attend the annual North American Women’s Parkour Gathering.

Swinging at Women's Parkour Gathering in Boston
Swinging at Women’s Parkour Gathering in BostonIt

 was a blast! Saturday and Sunday both started with fun but challenging group warm-ups. I realized that the social element added a layer of fun and motivation that I had been missing by trying to train on my own. I would never hold plank as long on my own as I did at the gathering in order to not break the circle of group exercises.

Nikkie Zanevsky Rail Balancing at Women's Parkour Gathering in Boston
Nikkie Zanevsky Rail Balancing at Women’s Parkour Gathering in Boston

I took the beginner class next. We learned the parkour basics of jumps, vaults (stepping or jumping over an obstacle), cat hang (hanging from a rail with our feet against the wall), rail balancing and walking, wall step-offs ( in which you step on the wall to try to gain height, similar running up the Warped Wall in America Ninja Warrior), and tic tacs (in which you run towards the wall and push off of it to change direction). I was disappointed in my jumps and rail balancing, which I could not do for more than a couple of seconds unaided), but my cat hangs and tic tacs went pretty well.

From there we divided up to take on various team challenges in different locations around Boston. I was maybe the most rank beginner in the whole event, and some of the exercises did not feel accessible to me, particular at the first location. The first location focused on precision jumps on higher obstacles, and I was not at all confident in my ability to land where I needed to to avoid injury, so I abstained from most of those exercises.

However, the rest of the day’s activities were much more accessible to me. I surprised myself by managing some wall climbs, wall runs, and quadrupedal crawls up and down stairs. The women at the event were amazingly encouraging and supportive, so I never felt insecure even when I could not execute a move or when I needed to modify something.

Handstand at Women's Parkour Gathering in Boston
Handstand at Women’s Parkour Gathering in Boston

The next day my entire body was insanely sore, but it felt good to know that I had challenged my body in new ways. Unfortunately, my participation in the remainder of the activities was extremely limited. I managed to finish the morning run which included crawling across a long ledge. I took the flexibility and range of motion course, which gave great guidance about how to practice dynamic ranges of motion within a stretch rather than trying to force your body to hold a particular position. We went to an awesome rock climbing gym, but my muscles were too sore and fatigued to try any of the apparatuses. Bummer! I’ll have to work on my endurance for the next time I take on a major parkour event.

It was so refreshing to be surrounded by people who are as into functional movement as I am. And for once I was not the odd one out in my “barefoot” Lems Primal shoes. I successfully trained in them all day, my first attempt to do more rigorous physical activity in minimalist shoes. My ankles felt a little fatigued by the end of the first day, but no problems otherwise. I wore regular sneakers the second day to give my ankles a break. The other women not only knew what I mean when I mentioned “zero-drop heels” but were mostly clad in VivoBarefoot and Merrell Vapor Glove shoes. I felt like I was among my people.

Indoor Practice at Women's Parkour Gathering in Boston
Indoor Practice at Women’s Parkour Gathering in Boston

The other thing that was unique about the parkour event was how non-authoritarian it was. With most dance and movement weekends, there is a clearly defined expert who implements a structured program to which everyone adheres. The parkour gathering had sessions led by instructors, but that felt almost incidental to the main itinerary of completing challenges with a group. At first, it felt to me like there was a void. As the teams began completing the group challenges, I was almost waiting for someone to tell me what to do or show me how to modify movements. Soon I realized that I was fully responsible for my own experience. I had to decide what I was capable of attempting, whether I needed modifications, and when to ask for assistance. It was incredibly liberating to be able to define my own trajectory rather than forcing myself into someone else’s preconceived, one-fits-all-plan that cannot take into account my limitations or strengths, which is my pet peeve with a lot of movement classes.

The other thing that was cool about how non-authoritarian it was is that the instructors were moving and completing challenges right along with, blurring the line between teacher and student. It was incredibly motivating to see more advanced practitioners meeting their own challenges along side us. It showed that we were all at different points of the same journey and made progress seem that much more attainable.

Also, there wasn’t the culture of external validation-seeking that comes when there is a defined expert. People were not hovering around the instructors in a worshipful bid for attention as so often seems to be the case in the partner dance world. Instead, the participants seemed to strive for the internal validation of facing and overcoming their own personal challenges. It was so refreshing.

Wall Running at Women's Parkour Gathering in Boston
Wall Running at Women’s Parkour Gathering in Boston

The biggest takeaway for me was how inclusive and open the parkour community is. If you are considering trying parkour but are scared, don’t be. The community is very welcoming to beginners. The men, who were able to join in on the second day, were as incredibly supportive as the women. I kind of regret now that I waited; I think the event would have been even better if I had more parkour flight time under my wings, and I wonder what I would be capable of now if I had started training with others a year or two ago instead of trying to develop strength on my own. I do think my movement practices helped me this weekend, but I would recommend to anyone interested to just go for it.

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