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.
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.
Continue to Part 2 →