Parkour in Dubai

Jumping over walls has never been so cool. Or healthy

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Dubai and alternative culture aren’t exactly the most familiar bedfellows. This is also true of the city’s sports scene: while there are abundant opportunities to get involved in everything from football to netball, surfing to sailing, or bootcamps to boxing, alternative sports remain firmly under the radar.

This is set to change thanks to the work of a couple of local teachers who, for the past couple of years, have been holding parkour classes as part of the curriculum at Emirates International School. ‘We stumbled upon something that kids went crazy for,’ says teacher Dominic Mann, one of the those responsible for bringing parkour to Dubai. ‘A friend in the UK works for a council sports development programme, and they’d just put parkour onto the curriculum in schools. [Parkour] has absolutely taken off in the UK and we thought maybe this was something that we could try.’

Parkour is, by definition, a quick and creative way of overcoming obstacles, developed by Frenchman Raymond Belle. The discipline, which involves leaping over walls, swinging from railings and more, has become popular in urban areas and has developed into a competitive sport, known as freerunning.

Not having any parkour experience himself, Dom and fellow teacher Jonny Houghton sought the help of Steve Smuts of UAE Parkour, based in Abu Dhabi. Once they’d learned the basics and refined their technique, they introduced it to the curriculum. ‘It absolutely exploded, and the kids couldn’t get enough of it,’ says Dom. ‘It was amazing. There’s something cool about parkour – it’s a bit street, a bit urban – and it has something that the kids don’t get from playing football. There’s no right or wrong – there’s an obstacle in front of you and you have to get over it however you choose.’

This success prompted Dom and Jonny to expand the class into an after-school activity, with pupils invited to bring their friends. Dom guesses that about 80 teenagers are signed up to the class and now feels ready to introduce parkour to adults.

For Dom, parkour isn’t just something ‘cool’ for kids to do; it’s the ultimate workout, which he hopes will also appeal to grown-ups. ‘It incorporates speed, power, cardiovascular endurance, flexibility, reaction speed and co-ordination,’ says Dom. ‘Fitness-wise, it’s fantastic. I love fitness, but I hate going to classes with someone standing over me saying, “Do this.” Parkour is a lot more fun and it’s not quite as disciplined.’

The adult classes will be aimed at beginners, with Dom and Jonny teaching parkour basics such as landing safely to ensure creaky knees and hips stay intact. ‘The key is safety,’ says Dom. ‘We start off with a normal jump, then onto a bench, then onto a beam, then up onto boxes, and then bring in some basic jumps and crane jumps. Then we move on to vaulting. You get a bit more flamboyant and a bit more flash-looking as you progress.’

This sounds like a lot to take in, but Dom assures us that parkour is something that everyone can learn at their own pace. Those worried about clattering into a wall or a railing will take comfort from the fact that all parkour lessons take place in the EIS gym, meaning more crash mats and less concrete. ‘When we did some lessons in Abu Dhabi, the adults learned all their stuff outside on concrete. To teach kids on concrete is a recipe for disaster, and we found that it wasn’t practical to teach people to vault over concrete walls – you’ll always miss a landing or miss a take-off or crash into a wall.’ We’re assuming the same goes for adults too.
Dom and Jonny’s adult parkour classes are scheduled to start on March 14 at 6.15pm at Emirates International School, Emirates Hills. Dhs350 for 10 classes. Email houghtonj@eischools.ae or mannd@eischools.ae for info

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