Part 1: Learning to Enjoy the Fear

This particular incident that I am writing about, would be the best ice-breaker into sharing about what it feels like to be a female dancer training in parkour with Parkour Circle as their new intern.

This was sometime in June this year when Prabu was exploring and making us try things that would challenge our perceptions much much more than venturing into crazy physical extremities. However, on a different subject(something we hope to delve into the next blogs) who decides or in other words what is decided as physically extreme is another debate. Now, coming back to this ice-breaking account, a June early morning in Chennai,  we were training at Anna Nagar Tower Park – one of the biggest parks I have seen, which is situated somewhere in the more northern side of Chennai. The place has interesting structures, swings, slides made in different ways perfect for children to hang from, slide under, roll around etc. And it is perfect for people interested in Parkour to play around with.

Stationed somewhere in the heart of this park was a slide about 10 feet long that spirals downwards with a slightly bulging shape with large spots painted on it, which reminds me of the big Mushrooms in Enid Blyton’s books. The slide could be climbed up on from a ladder of about 10 feet high at about a 70 degree angle. The task – to get at the top of the ladder or the mouth of the slide, face downwards with head towards the ground, feet upwards and crawl downwards using the railings of the ladder.

It was a bright Sunday morning and I was with almost fearless boys from age 10 to say 24. Their execution of the task, ranged from steady to smooth to fast – in other words, perfect and enviable for me, someone who is dearly afraid of heights (let me add – it is through the practice of parkour that I realized I even had a  fear of heights, something which I haven’t had the space to conquer till now).  Prabu, aware of this fear of mine, was determined to make me finish the task, (by now I had almost started to convince myself that I would probably be able to evade the task. Just not today. “Tomorrow”, “tomorrow I will muster the courage and deal with heights. Not today, not today just yet. Let me delve into something more reasonable today.”).  I went up to the mouth of the ladder, and the whole world looked different from up there. No one was a bigger enemy of mine than Prabu that day. Prabu and the ladder.

Seconds turned to minutes. Whole 45 minutes. I could never have imagined that I would someday obstruct play time for children. They did manage to squeeze in up the ladder and slide down gracefully,  despite me latching on to one corner of the ladder with my dear life. Tarun and Hari, who by now started climbing an 8ft wall in another corner of the park, were placing fun unadulterated bets as to whether when they returned to the spot, if I would have gotten down or would have still been up on the ladder. Tarun said I would, Hari though, ‘hmm, maybe not just yet’. Prabu was adamant saying that, the day could end, we could be late for the next session, but I had to get down and today was the day. He even fired cannon – the ten year old boy was petrified, but he got down. Why can’t you? To the reader, please hold on to read till the end of what might by now seem to you as this overtly dramatic, pathetically narcissistic piece of writing. But, I assure there is a worthwhile ending.

Carrying on, by this time, 45 minutes obviously had never moved this slowly. Every time I thought this was the moment when I would cover the ladder, there would be either this involuntary tremble somewhere in the hands or legs, or I would get dramatic flashes of my childhood of when I never learnt to ride the bicycle like other children, or when  I went to swimming classes for the first time at the age of 22, of the blue deep water initially scaring me and eventually calming my senses, or even while trying to play football  with a theatre group comprising of mostly men, how I would get confused as to which side I needed to direct the ball, of always fighting with the idea of supreme physical ability of humans that is placed on the lines of male physiology and masculinity, or this anguish towards why the girls’ school we went to never had  a proper sports department etc. No brownie points for guessing who thought of herself to be the biggest wuss at the top of the ladder.

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There were multiple fake trials which gave Prabu these small hopes that that’s it, now she is coming down. But of course, I retracted and went back inside the cocoon. And then, that was it, it wasn’t a heroic step or sweep, rather a very slow and steady one. I placed one hand and then one foot, and then one hand and then foot and so on – I climbed down the ladder. Prabu asked me to go again, and it was smoother than the first time.

Nothing about the movement seemed scary; the 45 minute hesitation seemed pointless. And this is where I hope to bring in the worthwhile ending which I claimed I would:

  1. All your fears and mental blocks are real, and just as much human, and not pointless. They don’t need to be overlooked, or need to be looked down upon. There is no need to feed yourself with the feeling of ‘manning up’ and brushing past the fear. Your fear when facing an obstacle is a challenge that you don’t fight, but accompany with yourself and this small shift does magic – something that most athletic videos don’t show these days whilst they bask in their super-human quality
  2. Taking from point a, this description,rather projection of a scared unsure hesitant adult doing something as athletic as parkour is usually unheard of. And one does wonder, is Parkour at all meant for any other body apart from the male physique that is able to jump between tremendous heights, perform the best ‘Kong’ (a tremendously physically demanding movement that has grown to become one of the spectacular parkour moves)? Is there a possibility of recognizing oneself as a parkour artiste without crossing the threshold of a ‘Kong’ and a ‘Dash’? What is the deciding factor of recognizing the skill of a Parkour artiste? Or is the mere idea of developing a yardstick of a Parkour artiste’s ability unnecessary, something that never existed before, that never used to coincide with the original philosophies of the form? How can a woman who doesn’t possess the euro-centric version of a straight-lined physique develop her own language in Parkour?
  3. This brings me to this budding confluence – between Varsha and I. Varsha is a long time member of PKC – a Parkour and Jiu-Jitsu enthusiast who moonlights as the owner of her own Management Consultant company. Varsha and I have had plenty of our own musings regarding our perceptions of our own bodies, on what we think we can execute and not execute in the field of Parkour. And these conversations gave rise to this brilliant idea suggested by Varsha of creating a video blog that presents two things on a daily basis – an obstacle (whatever it may be, a chair, a bar, a ladder) and two women. Each find their way of crossing the obstacle, pushing their threshold bit by bit, finding the extreme point to which their present physical standing can take them. We hope to take off this blog soon, whose main interest is to show the process of how we learn to overcome the obstacle bit by bit, day by day amidst all our fears and vulnerabilities, as opposed to the super-heroic and already well executed nature of most parkour videos found in the internet today.
  4. Finally, I come to this combined understanding of unlearning the methods of training in dance all these years through the eyes of Parkour. It’s the organic ways by which Prabu, Kishor or Baskar teach their lessons, and how the students imbibe the vocabulary in their ways, wherein nobody is executing a move in the same exact way shown by the trainer, but somehow everybody overcomes the obstacle wonderfully. When its an efficient move, it almost looks like they are performing.

Prabu and I have our ongoing debates where I insist I must learn to perform the moves which the guys can comfortably do so, before I decide to do away with these very notions. Whereas Prabu says that I should do away with attempting anything that guys do in the first place and find my own way from scratch. What is the right way or the wrong way will develop on its own with time.

To round off more clearly, my biggest takeaways from the ladder story I started with are, Progression, progression is key.  Even if you are someone, despite your gender,  who wants to learn the ‘Monkey’ or the ‘Kong’ or just wants to keep moving better, work steadily in the smallest intricate steps for as long as you need to till you get your satisfactory result.  Lastly, Success is an obscenely abused word. It imposes a timeline and a pace on your dreams. You just keep moving, trying and failing as proudly as you can till you gather your experiences that can offer the world to yourself or anyone.

This post is written by Satakshi Nandy. She is a dancer from Kolkata who is interning with Parkour Circle.

Parkour Circle has training sessions that are free and open to all every Saturday and Sunday. You can contact us on Facebook, or Instagram.