I’ve been fascinated by Denmark’s parkour structures for some time. I remember the disbelief I felt when I saw a photo of Gerlev for the first time. I had no comprehension it was a part of an academy that taught parkour.
The quality of what they are doing with parkour is unparalleled. I was initially just interested in seeing some cool parkour parks in Denmark but ended up with much more. I visited three such places and learned something deeper about their existence, the people they impact and what their future might hold. Here’s a brief of my experiences:
Upon our first hour of arriving in Copenhagen, our host Morten, a movement/outdoors teacher at Gerlev, swept us away for a night at Gerlev. Upon our arrival an hour later, we ate a delicious buffet lunch (I’ve never been as delighted by the variety of food as my time in these schools). After our meal, we attended a parkour class led by StreetMovement with around 15 students from around the world. These types of academies were originally built to help young people in Denmark that needed a “break from the system” and as these academies have evolved, many have opened their doors to international exchange.
As a private enterprise, Gerlev receives some funding from the government to support those in need and for international exchange students. Just our luck, we got to sit with Finn Berggern (a student, teacher and now, director of Gerlev) for dinner who happened to be in that day. We got to learn more about the school, his mission and why there was so much international exchange, especially from China? With a glint in his eyes, he told me that he was curious. He wanted to know what will happen after the end of the 2008 Chinese Olympics because he knew that role of sport would change. Through a previous Chinese student that he helped support, they secured multiple partnerships with Chinese schools.
What’s that? Would I like to teach a group of motivated girls at the most pretty indoor parkour space? Just like that, I got to stay and play. The kids of 18 or younger at Sorø have comparatively little outside influence (phone use is limited by their own sovereignty) and the school becomes a micro-environment of its own. They play, eat, gossip and work together to keep the academy running. By play, I mean gymnastics, parkour or dance sessions in the morning and afternoon depending on what major they choose with supplementary subjects to learn about health. In the evenings, they have open gym sessions (=limitless energy), tricking classes or whatever else they have an interest in that can be offered… like a girls parkour session led by a female for girls that may not have parkour as a major but have always wanted to try it.
The sense of community, pride and intention to give back was most evident from my interactions with the teachers. What better way to motivate a person to go the extra mile then to work with people of the same intention, to help young people through the same system that helped them so much… my stay there felt like being part of a well oiled machine. A crude example perhaps but society’s complexities make these schools feel unrealistically good. Many students and teachers experienced withdraw when they leave. At the academy, they had a clear place and purpose.
Denmark manage the upkeep of these schools through various funds and has now grown to a point where numbers need to be used to secure funding. The need for empirical data in a system that isn’t based on grades, poses a number of challenges for their future.
I stayed at Ollerup for six nights and it was mad cool. I took part in the parkour class where Jonathan Linde enjoys having his students go through challenges from week to week- no sitting on furniture, only drink water (no coffee/juice), etc. Seemingly small but thought provoking challenges.
The parkour space has been my favourite purpose built space to move in because it is just so well constructed for incremental learning. Their newly constructed outdoor space was fun as well with wooden beams that are just oddly narrow enough for me to feel challenged.
Students spend 20+ hours together for 4 months to a year and are generally free to use the facilities at other times. They adapt to the evolving demands that keeps it relevant and growing… introduction to other movement arts, goal setting and critical thinking. They also look to what others are doing in the world, always on the lookout for exchange (they have/had instructors from Morocco/Japan).
Ollerup has facilities that also cater to provincial/national gymnastics teams, professional development events and parkour jams (for the fall and winter). A swimming pool, sauna, dance studios, music rooms, trampolines, a conditioning centre, delicious food…. This is the unicorn of a parkour school I had imagined.
**Experiences like these aren’t possible without the hospitality shown by all the people met along the way, especially those that housed and fed us <3. I always felt very welcomed and looked after, a special thank you to Nina and Mikkel for our good conversations that informed me greatly of the schools and parkour in Denmark.
As well to the Ontario Arts Council for funding this experience through their residency grant.