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January 18, 2007

happy coincidence

Posted by dogpossum on January 18, 2007 1:34 PM in the category academia and clicky and lindy hop and other dances | Comments (6)

normal_7iplodpassemuraille.jpgI'm doing a bit of research on youtube for this paper I'm doing (and discovering in the process that deciding to 'stop reading', while a fabulous tool for getting the thesis done, has left me... oh, at least a few years behind the published world of academia), and have come across this neat article on M/C by Paula Geyh. Do go read it - it's only a little thing, and does the nicest job of combining talk about bodies, urban space and D&G I've seen yet.
I am a massive big nerd for anything to do with bodies and dance/gymnastics/beautiful, rhythmic movement, and this stuff on parkour (which I've also heard referred to as urban junglism) is absolutely right up my alley.

To quote directly from wikipedia:

Parkour (IPA: [paʁ.'kuʁ], often abbreviated PK) is a physical discipline of French origin in which the participant — called a traceur (/tʁa.'sœʁ/) — attempts to pass in obstacles in the fastest and most direct manner possible. The obstacles can be anything in the environment, so parkour is often practiced in urban areas because of many suitable public structures, such as buildings, rails, and walls.
And to continue with a quote from Geyh's article,
Defined by originator David Belle as “an art to help you pass any obstacle”, the practice of “parkour” or “free running” constitutes both a mode of movement and a new way of interacting with the urban environment. Parkour was created by Belle (partly in collaboration with his childhood friend Sébastien Foucan) in France in the late 1980s. As seen in the following short video “Rush Hour”, a trailer for BBC One featuring Belle, parkour practitioners (known as “traceurs”), leap, spring, and vault from objects in the urban milieu that are intended to limit movement (walls, curbs, railings, fences) or that unintentionally hamper passage (lampposts, street signs, benches) through the space.

So when we watch footage of that parkour stuff, we're watching a combination of practical (yet wonderfully imaginative and creative) urban locomotion. But the bit that catches my interest is the repeatedly quoted line from Sebastien Foucan,

"And really the whole town was there for us; there for free running. You just have to look, you just have to think, like children." This, as he describes, is "the vision of Parkour." (Wikipedia article)

I like that idea - thinking like a child. This is play. But it also involes a creative and unconscious approach to physical activity. One of the things I've noticed about swing dancers - they're particularly keen to try new things, particularly sports, physical activities, games, tricks and 'stunts'. I think it's because they've discovered that you have to just try things (as Sugar Sullivan would shout at us in class - "If you don't try to dance it, you will never dance it!"), throw yourself into activities, even if you're likely to look foolish or fall over. When you know the limits of your body, you can trust yourself to do things which appear physically difficult. And when you're used to experimenting physically, you stop worrying about looking foolish or being embarassed.

As an example, I am frequently (if not always) the only woman leading in aerials classes. I hear comments about how leads (or bases) should be physically strong, and there's certainly a degree of posturing by some male dancers in regards to being a base. But the truth of the matter is, if you have good technique and do moves correctly, you don't need to be ridiculously strong at all. I'm no stronger than the average woman, and certainly not as strong as most men my size, but I know that I can lift my partner up onto my shoulder and flip her over. Because I know how to use my body effectively, and work with her body. You are in greater danger of hurting yourself or your partner if you enter these activities with some grandiose idea of your own strength, or, conversely, with the idea that you're going to get hurt. In learning aerials, the conventional 'female = weak/vulnerable', 'male = strong and protective' is rubbish. Self reliance, good communication, solid technique and using spotters are key parts of safe aerials

But back to the parkour people...

There's lots of talk about military obstacle courses and so on in discussions of parkour, and escaping and leaping and reaching (the latter two I quite like, as ideas), but I'm really struck by the emphasis on creative responses to obstacles, yet with a practical eye. Ostentatious flips are debated - are they un-pakour because they're aesthetic (an unnecessary) embelishments?

But the part of this that I'm really interested in, is Geyhr's references to flow:

One might even say that the urban space is re-embodied — its rigid strata effectively “liquified.” In Jump London, the traceur Jerome Ben Aoues speaks of a Zen-like “harmony between you and the obstacle,” an idealization of what is sometimes described as a state of “flow,” a seemingly effortless immersion in an activity with a concomitant loss of self-consciousness. It suggests a different way of knowing the city, a knowledge of experience as opposed to abstract knowledge: parkour is, Jaclyn Law argues, “about curiosity and seeing possibilities — looking at a lamppost or bus shelter as an extension of the sidewalk”
Flow is something that's come up in swing dance discussions. I've mentioned it very briefly in my own work, but without using that term.

Dancers often talk about being 'in the zone'. As with that notion of flow, the zone is the place where you stop consciously directing your body, but respond to the music, to the weight changes and posture and movements of your partner on an almost instinctive level. I think it's important to point out that this point of flow or zone is only achievable if your body and reactions are at a particular level of ability. To make this work, you must have a degree of body awareness, a stability of core, clear lines of alignment in joints and muscles and bones, some level of fitness and a willingness to 'give in' or 'surrender' what I call 'high brain stuff'. You have to stop planning and to just give in and move.

Needless to say, this is one of the most wonderful parts of dancing, and the point to which most dancers reach toward. It's often the motivation for travelling internationally or interstate to attend exchanges, where the sleep deprivation and intense socialising helps bring that point of flow closer. It's something that newer dancers don't feel, but suddenly, at about a couple of years, suddenly do feel, and get seriously addicted.

The thing that catches my attention in the discussion of parkour is that this flow is about the relationship between body and environment. With dancers, it is about body and body and floor.

So go read that nice article, if only to check out the neat clip.

Geyh, Paula. "Urban Free Flow: A Poetics of Parkour." M/C Journal. 9.3 (2006). 18 Jan. 2007 .

Photo from this site, a photo by a parkour dood, uploaded to

Posted by dogpossum on January 18, 2007 1:34 PM in the category academia and clicky and lindy hop and other dances


Posted by: Caroline at January 18, 2007 4:11 PM

Great post! Parkour and swing dancing both roll physical fitness, brain fitness, and meditation all into one expression. I have always said, in reference to swing dancers, the beginners are great since they just move, the intermediates are terrible because they think too much, and the advanced dancers are fabulous as they can get back to just feeling it yet still access what they know without thinking too much.

Posted by: Caroline at January 18, 2007 4:11 PM

Posted by: Trev at January 18, 2007 5:41 PM

I assume you've seen the new Bond film then? The opening chase scene seems to be exactly what you've described here.

Posted by: Trev at January 18, 2007 5:41 PM

Posted by: dogpossum at January 18, 2007 5:51 PM

Yor, dood, fer sher.
Check out that article in M/C - they mention that. And begin to approach the idea of filmic representations of parkour.
The point I like, in that respect is that the public generally assumes this parkour stuff is all about jumping off tall buildings (which Bond, wonderfully, pushes into hyperbole with the whole crane thing. And that is why I love Bond - everything he does is so dramatic). When (apparently), jumping off tall buildings is less important than scrambling over fences and learning to roll properly on impact. I thought I'd mentioned that in reference to the image I used, but guess I forgot...

Posted by: dogpossum at January 18, 2007 5:51 PM

Posted by: dogpossum at January 18, 2007 5:55 PM

Incidentally, am I the only one who really likes the whole pakour thing as an approach to problem solving? For me, that's kind of how I approach ideas in work thinking. Sort of think about it, then get into it, kind of scrambling your way through it. At speed.

Then there's the editing. The endless editing. But at least, with editing, it looks like you've jumped massive distances at great heights. Hopefully.

Posted by: dogpossum at January 18, 2007 5:55 PM

Posted by: Francis Xavier Holden at January 20, 2007 5:13 PM

Ms D.P. - I'm curious - when you were younger were you a natural sporty ball catcher type with good hand eye etc or were you an unco?

You have any observations or theories?

Posted by: Francis Xavier Holden at January 20, 2007 5:13 PM

Posted by: dogpossum at January 20, 2007 7:28 PM

I wasn't terrible at sports, but I wasn't brilliant. I did a lot of horseriding when I was very young, until I hit puberty, played a lot of hockey, did some gymnastics. But my dad was a natural athlete - did lots of high jump and rugby and tennis and things.

Today I'm a sound dancer, but not one of those weirdly amazing phenomenal dancers. I will never be as good as someone like Frida (and wouldn't have been), nor would I even be at the next level down of rock stardom. But I don't suck. I don't aspire to be amazing, but I feel confident in the ability I do have - I can get through a night of dancing and have a great time, and can occasionally do really good work. The more I learn about the music, the more annoyed I get with my unfitness - I hear it in the music but my body's too slow to keep up with my inspiration.

Our whole family loves (LOVES) to dance, from my hippy-acka ps to my northern suburbs tuffy brother. In fact, at the wedding in Wales, our entire extended family were demons on the floor, and all of them had amazing natural grace and rhythm. It was really strange to see a whole herd of my (giant, muscular) relatives dancing so wonderfully.

Something I've noticed with dancers is that no matter how crap and uncoordinated you are, everyone can learn to dance. It's mostly a matter of being comfortable enough to just let go and enjoy yourself in your body. It's also about getting a level of fitness that makes it easier to move a lot, and to have a degree of muscle tone that makes moving less work and more fun. And it's also about developing 'body awareness' - knowing how to move which muscles to get what effect, usually at an unconcious level.
Young people get better faster than older people, mostly because older people have more bad body habits and have had them longer (eg poor posture, aches and pains related to poor posture and unfitness, etc). But younger people can get more uptight about embarassing themselves and looking foolish. I've found middle aged men can be the most difficult to teach as they have trouble taking tuition from a younger woman, hate looking stupid and get embarassed. Middle aged women tend to LOVE dancing but get scared off by the youth-dominated swing scene (it's a very ageist scene - partly because it's so physically demanding).

I am the slowest learner ever. I am always the last person in a dance class to get the move, and I am TERRIBLE, really really SHIT at learning and retainging routines. But I learn lead stuff far faster than follow stuff - I am naturally far better at leading than following. And I tend to retain stuff okly.

When I'm unfit, I just suck - I respond slower, I have less stamina, I have less flexibility and less strength (which is really important, especially for flexibility). I also have a few bad postural habits which get worse when I'm out of condition. I also get more muscle aches and injuries when I'm out of condition (of course). It's very frustrating when I remember how much quicker I used to be. Especially now, 8 years or so after I started lindy and in my 30s, it's getting harder than when I was in my 20s.

Doing yoga regularly makes it easier to learn dance stuff, makes me less likely to injure and prevents some repetitive aches (I have trouble with my right hip and knee if I'm out of shape).

I'm pretty unfit right now and am carrying extra weight (because I've spent so much time sitting on my arse doing uni work) so I'm slower on the uptake than usual. I'm also finding it harder to 'instinctively' figure out how moves work and how to lead things using weight changes and exploiting the follow's weight changes etc at the moment because I'm out of touch with my body. I find that when I'm really on I have a much better awareness of how to move my body to get the follow to move theirs. Right now I have a core of jelly, so I'm difficult to lead and find leading trickier.

But I also find I'm quicker at learning stuff than complete noobs. You never forget how to lead and follow. I find learning new partner dances much much easier than before I'd done any dancing - the basic principles of leading and following are the same across styles. Doesn't make me really good at them, just makes the learning process less frustrating. I think it also helps that I'm used to being in a dance class - it takes a while to learn how to learn to dance in a class (because it's a weird and unnatural way to learn to move your body).

I'm actually going to do some salsa classes this week, so if anyone's around, I'm going to go to Viva dance studio on Smith Street in Collingwood (, either Friday or Saturday night (probably Saturday as they have a live band, and I love that shit). I've only ever done one salsa class before, so it will be lots of noober fun.

Posted by: dogpossum at January 20, 2007 7:28 PM

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