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© RIA Novosti. Alexei Danichev

A parkour revolution on Moscow streets

by Lidia Okorokova at 20/09/2010 23:40

The urban jungle of Moscow has become an ideal home for tracers – people involved in the parkour movement. These modern-day Mowglis can be glimpsed on the streets of the city negotiating a variety of seemingly impossible obstacles, stunning passers-by with their speed and grace. 

Parkour, or or l’art du déplacement (art of movement), was born in France. David Belle, the son of an elite firefighter whose military upbringing in Vietnam and subsequent career in the fire service shaped his understanding of movement, was instrumental in the initial development of parkour as a physical discipline.

Parkour comes to Russia

In 2003, Muscovite Oleg Krasnyansky started the parkour movement in Russia after viewing Belle’s videos online. Krasnyansky decided to study the phenomenon up close – and wound up meeting David Belle. “In France, I found out what parkour was really like,” he said.

Now there are dozens of parkour clubs in Moscow, offering training to anyone interested. Krasnyansky did mention that in France, there are fewer parkour followers than in Russia, but that the  French tend to train more. “Most Russian tracers still trifle more than they train,” he said.

“Some guys take it seriously and others treat it as just a chance for self-expression,” Krasnyansky added.

The practical side of parkour

Besides being a physical discipline, parkour is a practical philosophy – the main idea of which is to move swiftly through a crowded urban landscape. 
“It’s a way of moving as efficiently as possible, without making it look posh and fancy,” Krasnyansky explained. He said he likes the idea of accessing areas that are not easy to reach. “And of course, it’s also a sport,” he added.

That is exactly what makes parkour different from freerunning for instance, according to Krasnyansky. “Using parkour techniques, you are travelling from one point to another skillfully, while freerunning has fancy moves and stunts to impress accidental spectators,” he said.

Dangerous tricks

Krasnyansky believes that younger people do not always understand what parkour is really all about, and that this often results in serious trouble.
Last week, a fifth-grader in Belgorod died while jumping off the roof of a transformer vault, Life News reported. 

Another 21-year-old tracer from Krasnodar fell from a height of four stories and died in June 2010, RIA Novosti reported.
Krasnyansky recommends that teenagers get actual training before attempting parkour. Ruslan Dzhavadov, a parkour trainer from the Street Union team in Moscow, agrees. “Those kids don’t get the true meaning of parkour. They misuse the concepts and moves to do crazy things,” he said.

A life philosophy

Ruslan Dzhavadov told the Moscow News that parkour in its essence is a movement that “helps to build you up as person, keeps your fit”.
According to Dzhavadov, getting into parkour must involve a complete understanding of why one desires to be part of the movement. Dzhavadov also sees a problem with the representation of parkour in media. “Newspapers and TV say that tracers just run through the cities, without an actual idea of what it’s all about - that’s wrong,” he pointed out.

Dzhavadov has been practicing parkour for 5 years now, and believes that if a girl or a boy decides that parkour is what he or she wants to do in life, then they should “find a good club and a trainer and get an understanding of the concept behind it”.

Pop culture and parkour

Parkour as a social movement has become a part of international pop culture. French director Luc Besson has produced three movies with parkour as a central theme - Yamakasi (2001), 13th District (2004) and 13th District: Ultimatum (2009).

The Russian parkour movement is also routinely highlighted in films, advertisements and music videos. The Street Union team, for example, has done videos with Russian hip-hop star Legalise and participated in various advertising campaigns.

Women in parkour

When the parkour movement started in Europe, it was considered a movement strictly for men. 20 years on, more and more women and girls are participating in the l’art du déplacement. It is women with previous gymnastics and acrobatics training who often decide to become tracers.

In the Street Union parkour team in Moscow, girls train on equal footing alongside the men. “Girls get very involved into parkour,” Ruslan Dzhavadov said. According to him, there are four girls aged 16-23 in the club who are “as good as the men are. And we welcome everyone, no matter who you are.”

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