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It's all about the obstacle - do you get over it or not?
Date posted: 19 May 2017
One of the tutors at People Dancing Summer School 2017 (25-28 July) will be Alister O’Loughlin, of Urban Playground. Alister will introduce delegates to the exciting world of parkour and performance-parkour, known as 2PK…
Alister O'Loughlin, Urban Playground
Parkour is the discipline of overcoming physical obstacles with movement that is safe, efficient and fluid. Created by a group of nine friends 28 years ago, in the suburbs of Paris, over recent years it has become many things - an official sport in the UK, a must-have for stunt sequences in movies and TV shows and, quietly, a choreographic form known as 2PK and pioneered by the Urban Playground Team.

Although usually identified with athletic young men, parkour is one of the most inclusive artforms around, with an ever-growing and extremely active female contingent, increasing numbers of seniors, and all ranges of ability represented. More than 35,000 people train in the UK alone. 

People ask ‘Is parkour dangerous?’ but that all depends on who is doing it and how they do it. The creators of parkour agree that people should become safer through practicing it. The idea is that, by learning to move in any environment, the practitioner understands themselves, and their physical abilities, far better than someone who does not practice it.

Parkour as performance
In 2003 Prodigal Theatre, founded by myself and Miranda Henderson in 1999, started training parkour for our own development as performers. This led to a project in 2006 where we started to combine the movement language of parkour with contemporary and urban dance in a performance and in workshops. We were fortunate that one of parkour’s originators, Malik Diouf, saw the piece and began working with us. Together we’ve developed performance-parkour (or 2PK) over the last ten years, respecting the original movement and values of parkour, and expanding the practice as a performance style in its own right. It has taken us all over the world, mainly because it is a fantastic tool for engaging participants at the community level. 

“Movement in relation to…”
Last year, Miranda Henderson and I completed the DDTAL Diploma at Laban. This has really helped us understand and see our work as community dance. There is an old quote from Gibson and Bramley’s Dance Teaching Essentials, that describes inclusive practice something like “All participants will participate differently in a way which is of value to them.” This is at the root of why 2PK can engage diverse communities of non-dancers in dance.

We specialise in working with at-risk communities of young people, but we work with all ages - our oldest participant to date was a 95-year-old gentleman who worked with us in a village in India. That night we worked with over 70 participants, with an age range of 4 to 95, and a hardcore of women in their 60s providing the backbone joined by numerous teenagers.

Parkour is about the obstacle - do you get over it or not? There is no faking, no pretending to do it. Anything functional is valid. And once we have functional movement, we can make it beautiful. Utilitarianism is our core, and this means what works for me may not work for you. No one is meant to look the same or do the same. 2PK celebrates difference. It’s inherent to the form.

The end result is, anyone who can move, can dance. A non-dancer (like me) can dance in 2PK. The relationship of the body to obstacle is critical. It helps us avoid much of the self-consciousness that many feel (especially younger people, and particularly boys) when asked to move in an empty space but also reinforces stability and proprioception for older practitioners. With 2PK, it’s always ‘movement in relation to…’ and this concrete element (forgive the pun) provides a foundation from which anyone can express themselves. If you work on engaging new participants in dance, then we cannot recommend some 2PK highly enough…

Alister O’Loughlin
Co-director, UPGTeam 

Alister O’Loughlin will be joined by Miranda Henderson in leading a parkour workshop at People Dancing Summer School 2017, as part of the Exploring Techniques to Develop Your Practice course on Thursday 27 July