Using parkour as a tool in education and social development


(Published on 17th of July 2014)


For those of you who conduct interviews with a voice recorder, you know that the transcription is typically a slow step. If you’re lucky, the interviewee speaks slowly or spends a long time thinking before answering, and the transcription process only takes two or three rounds. This was not the case when it came to Natalia Ivanova: On the contrary, the words flow as quickly from her tongue as the movements that flow from her limbs. She has a fluidity and energy in her way of thinking that comes across in everything she does.

Ivanova is the founder of Hal X, a small indoor training hall for parkour in Copenhagen, and the coordinator of especially designed courses, where parkour is a force for positive change for youths.

Originally hailing from Russia, Ivanova speaks fondly about the memories she has of jumping from garage roof to garage roof in the oppressive heat during summers back home. She remembers how fun it was to run as fast as she possibly could, in bare feet on the burning hot rooftops. Jumping over the gaps between the buildings, she knew that one misstep could mean an unpleasant tumble into rubble that might contain rusty scraps of metal, crushed glass and used needles.

Needless to say, this love for exploring urban spaces and challenging herself with her surroundings has been the defining element of through life. As a child, the hijinks and hyperactivity were just called “fun”; now it’s called “parkour,” and it has spread around the globe with the help of aficionados and YouTube like wildfire.

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However, you may not realize that—beyond the physics-defying wow factor of the sport—parkour can serve as a positive alternative to destructive social cultures. In contrast to several other street activities, the philosophy behind Parkour is not only to challenge yourself and push boundaries, but to develop the best version of yourself. You have to have a totally clear mind if you want to be able to get the most out of your practice. That means little or no alcohol, drugs or cigarettes. If you are under any kind of influence, you risk not being able to judge distances properly and having a serious accident. “Alcohol and other substances are off the table since your mind has be clear and focused for practice.”

Observers who aren’t familiar with the sport and the philosophies behind it might see nothing more than loose-limbed young folks jumping from building to building, doing double backflips and hanging from rails, which might lead one to the conclusion that these people are more than a little bit crazy. But as with any sport, parkour practitioners—known as traceurs or traceuses—must train extensively, with utmost dedication, and exercise discipline on every level of their life in order to do what they do. You will never see a traceur leave empty bottles or discarded sandwich papers smeared in mayonnaise behind—they don’t want to mess up their surroundings, their space for practice.

Ivanova shines when she talks about space and her way of perceiving it; she revels in interesting angles on buildings and cherishes spaces that we walk past everyday and never really notice, where she can practice in for hours on end. She talks about an spot high-up on a building and how she wants to figure out a way to get up there. The city is her playground, and everything from a bench to a set of walls can capture her interest.

She has managed to incorporate this passion for Parkour and the underlying principles in a rather innovative way. In addition to being the woman behind Hal X, Ivanova is also teaching parkour in collaboration with various partners as a way to prevent vandalism in schools and to help kids with autism interact with one another and the world.


Before studying at Paul Petersen’s Physical Education Institute in Copenhagen, she was a social worker who specialized in physical education, helping kids with troubled backgrounds. Back then, she couldn’t help herself from using Parkour as a tool to bring out new sides in the kids she worked with, nor has she been able to help herself from doing it in various ways since. The difference between now and then is that Ivanova has learned that the various ways she was working with the students were grounded in theories such as ‘Appreciative Inquiry’ and the ‘SOS Method.’ This discovery not only confirmed that she was on the right track, it also gave her a basis to continue her work. She knew parkour was a good way to work with kids at a level on which she could truly reach them and now she could explain and make others understand why.

After Ivanova completed her studies, she could have just gone the safe route, becoming a conventional teacher who activates kids in various ways, but instead she chose to focus on parkour and let everything revolve and develop around that.

The success of Ivanova’s various projects has spread through word of mouth to the extent that she is typically working five to ten different projects at any given time. A few of these projects are in the development phase, some are being executed, and others, such as Hal X, are regular gigs. This means that she doesn’t really have to go out and find clients, but that the clients come to her with a problem and they figure out a way to reach the goal together.

One of these projects came to her by way of a Danish insurance company that was working with schools around the country. The goal with the project was to stem the vandalism of schools, which was costing them obscene amounts of money. They were looking to address the issue by introducing a new social trend in the schools, to make it uncool to deface the school grounds, and Ivanova was tasked with figuring how to do so.

Her solution was to present parkour in such a way that the students started to interpret everything in the schoolyard as a tool for practice. She challenged the students to figure out various ways to use the benches, the corners, the stairs and other areas of the school grounds for practice. This made them perceive space in a different way and ultimately think twice about smashing bottles and burning the bleachers, because if their activity space was littered with trash or smeared in grease, they could no longer be used for training.


Every new client brings new challenges, new possibilities and new knowledge to be acquired.



(Published on 18th of July 2014)

In part one of this two-part series, we introduced Natalia Ivanova, educator and founder of the Hal X parkour training center in Copenhagen; as a passionate traceuse, or parkour practitioner, she has long incorporated physical education into her work with children. Here is a more detailed outline of her method.


Getting the kids involved and excited about a new project is normally never an issue—they are more than happy to get out of their routines and try something new. Seeing as this is the case with most projects, the challenge is to make the project become a part of the everyday culture, to ensure that the students continue to practice after the official project is over and Natalia and her crew leave the school. Unfortunately, she has yet to come up with an answer… so No, no formula to be found here. At least not yet.

(When working with co-creative processes at various schools, my colleague Heidi and I encountered the exactly same problem. No matter what approach we tried, we never really managed to implement the way of thinking and working we used when collaborating with the students and teachers in such a way that it became a part of their everyday culture.)

Breaking Down Borders

No matter how much we try to ignore it and think or act otherwise, the fact remains that we live in a system where the gaps between the various social classes are visible to the naked eye. Just as with other sports, parkour is a means of breaking down these imagined barriers and connecting people from various cultures and social groups

Parkour transcends these social borders by creating a common ground—wall, ledge or bench—for participants.

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The Best Version of Yourself

Some call it mindfulness, others meditation, parkour practitioners just seem to call it preparation. Cleaning the soles of your shoes, moving your neck from side to side, stepping inside of yourself while warming up your joints, jumping up and down, visualizing the site and its various possibilities.

While the general public may have the impression that people who do parkour are just mad, jumping between building and doing double backflips, many people don’t realize that traceurs practice year-round. No matter how dangerous a technique might look, they have no intention of pushing themselves so far that they get hurt. Injuries are inevitable in any sport, but with practice and incremental improvement, traceurs can keep the risk to a minimum. Another thing that doesn’t mesh with their way of living is a large consumption of alcohol and other nefarious substances. The potential harm to their only required tool—their body—is far too great to justify. The point is movement, after all.


One of the things Ivanova has pointed out many times throughout the interview is that “there is always something you can do.” If you can’t jump 1m, then jump 50cm, if you can’t do that then jump 30cm and if you can’t jump at all, then train your upper body.

Moreover, the mental strength that one builds through parkour may have a positive impact on other parts of his or her life. Benefits may include: the propensity to look at situations from different angles to find a way to get from A to B; the practice of challenging yourself and pushing your limits when you feel the time is right; the habit of seeing possibilities where other see nothing; and the method of supporting and encouraging peers through struggle and in victory.

The Community

As an outsider looking in, it’s impossible not to notice—and envy—the camaraderie between people practicing parkour. The smiles, the pat on shoulder, the shouts of encouragement and kudos, the curiosity when someone does a maneuvre that others have yet have to master, and how everyone gladly supports and teaches one another. There is no talk about gender, country, culture, age, education, background, language or social layers. And if you, like myself, am curious about what they are up to, they are more then happy to show you some techniques and just or just sit down and give you an insight to what they are up to and what it’s all about.

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The Next Generation

Outsiders look at parkour and assume that the sport is driven by a distinct lack of mental stability. Looking at some of the appalling videos you can find on YouTube, I don’t blame them. Some of the jumps and maneuvers you will see can make you hold your breath and make your heart skip a beat… or five. Yet the movements continue to evolve and some of the techniques that were earth-shattering a few years back are now seen as standard inventory.

The trend of filming more and more courageous and dangerous routes is cause for concern among some of the more experienced traceurs. They are worried that the new generation will forget the principles behind the sport, that which holds the community together and drives its progress. Principles such as ‘practice makes perfect,’ ‘warming up’, ‘mental awareness,’ ‘taking things at your own pace’ and ‘supporting one another through thick and thin.’

In an effort to prevent this you can now find videos showcasing the small things that make a big difference, such as simple, progressive warm-ups and mindful training.

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Questions? Comments?

Now that you have a sense of what parkour is about, we’re curious to hear what you think…
– What sort of social problems do you you encounter in your surrounding?
– Do you think parkour could be a way to solve these problems? If so: How?
– How do you create lasting change when a project is over?
– How do you suggest we create a stronger connection and bigger understanding between parkour practitioners and the general public?