Saturday, May 14, 2011

Parkour in Sao Paulo

My first contact with parkour in Sao Paulo was with Diogo Granato, who I had briefly met in London this past summer.  After arriving at the rodoviaria (bus station) around 6am on Monday morning I found that I was unable to get into the Metro trains due to the huge crowds of people surging to get on (if you think London or Boston subways are tough to get into during rush hour, Sao Paulo brings new meaning to the expression “packed in like sardines”).  After waiting for 20 minutes to squeeze myself and my large backpack and duffel bag through the crowd waiting on the platform, I realized that I had only made about 2 feet of headway so I gave up, took a train going the opposite direction for 3 stops, and then got on my desired train very easily, even getting a seat.  Three stops later I was able to watch in amusement as the crowd descended on the train like a crowd of traceurs on the “free food” table in the supermarket.

I met Diogo outside a metro stop and he gave me a ride up to his house in the car.  Although I thought that this was a bit unnecessary at first having seen the route on Google maps earlier, I was grateful once we got there because Google Maps does not show that Sao Paulo is probably one of the hilliest cities that I have ever seen (and yes, I have visited San Francisco).  After a quick breakfast and a bit of coffee to get me going, I accompanied Diogo to his dance studio where he was teaching a parkour class.  When I walked into the class I was immediately struck by fact that the only students were women, a phenomenon that I only seen at the PkGen “Women’s Only” classes.  The class was a lot of fun, perhaps even more so since I spent most of it working with Diogo to learn some of his movement style.  For those of you that know Diogo, you know what I’m talking about; for those that don’t take a peek at one of his most recent videos (it’s definitely worth it) and you’ll understand:

After the class, we headed back to the house, where we had lunch and rested for a bit before heading back to the studio for Diogo’s dance group’s practice.  The practice involved an hour’s worth of parkour, and then another hour of "dance-theater improvisation" dancing, for which I sat and watched.  While I had been slightly apprehensive when Diogo first mentioned the practice, not really knowing what to expect, I was really impressed by the dancing; even more so when I learned from Diogo that none of the movements that I had seen had been choreographed.  Instead, the dancers were merely following different sets of rules that seemed to be constantly changing throughout the piece.  If you’re interested in more of the dance stuff that he does, here are some good videos to check out:

Due to some personal conflicts, Diogo left me to fend for myself much of Tuesday and Wednesday, which was fine by me as it gave me some time to sleep and get caught up on the blog a bit.  I also met up with Danilo, who, along with Diogo, served as my unofficial host and training partner in Sao Paulo.  Danilo gave me the tour of the good spots in near Diogo’s house (the most famous of which is right outside his doorstep- literally).  Danilo and I spent a lot of time talking about parkour and life in general (an impressive accomplishment since he didn’t speak English or Spanish and I didn’t speak more than a few words of Portuguese at the time) and he also helped to further my Brazilian cultural education by showing me the second “Tropa de Elite” movie (even better than the first).

Diogo’s group, Le Parkour Brasil, is arguably the “first parkour group” in Brasil, although that is a title that is surrounded by a lot of controversy and details depending on who you ask.  Although Diogo wasn’t one of the very first members of the group, he and Geronimo (now one of the dancers in Diogo’s group) are two of the only “surviving” (in parkour terms, not literally) members of the group that now includes Danilo and some others of the “new generation”.  While there is a distinct difference between the two generations of movement, there are also a lot of similarities and it’s clear that they train a lot together.  Seeing them train as a group was interesting, since each city here in Brazil seems to train differently, and each city also seems to have a particular style.

While in Sao Paulo I also had the opportunity to meet Jean Wainer, who along with Bruno Peixoto, has been pretty instrumental in helping me to plan my trip in Brazil.  He and I spent a lot of time talking about parkour in Brazil and his involvement in it and I also got a sneak peek at the construction on the gym that will be opening up at the end of my stay in Brazil (an article to come).  While it was all white walls and cement at the time, there is a lot of potential for the space, and I’m looking hoping that it will be managed in a manner similar to the Trace Facility in Melbourne, which does a great job of being open and accessible to traceurs of all levels.

The rest of the week passed in a blur of hanging out and exploring with Diogo and Danilo, who were certainly an entertaining pair.  Danilo brought me along to one of his breakdancing classes on Thursday which was a lot of fun and brought back a bunch of memories from my first two years at Davidson.  Friday night I went with Diogo to a local club called Taco Bell (nothing to do with the American restaurant chain) for a night out in Sao Paulo.  This club is apparently pretty well known in the “Paulista”, (meaning “from Sao Paulo”), nightlife, as much for the specific mix of jazz, soul, and funk music that plays there as for the fact that the dance floor is covered in a white powder (not the really expensive type) which makes a pretty unique dance surface.

Training with Akira
Saturday morning I went to one of the training sessions of "Parkour Brazil", ( very different from “Le Parkour Brasil”) which was led by Akira.  I was initially approached by this group after one of their members saw an article on the Brazilian traceur site “Pulo do Gato” about my upcoming visit to Sao Paulo (original article here).  After a bit of background research I found that it is one of the more controversial groups in Brazilian parkour, and a hot topic of debate in many circles, so I decided to check them out. 

I showed up to the training session and was immediately struck by the fact that 1) it was entirely guys except for one woman (no surprise), 2) almost all of the people had on matching t-shirts (most training groups have a sort of dress code (i.e. sweatpants/tracky bums), but I hadn’t seen “uniforms” yet).  The actual practice was ok, and there seemed to be a few fairly skilled traceurs in the group, although there were a few things that struck me as “odd” in a parkour training session.  For one, there was an unusually long period of time spent (wasted) talking or joking around between exercises, and even though Akira seemed to have the group’s respect he was essentially leading from behind (meaning that he wasn’t really doing the exercises with us), something that I haven’t seen much in parkour.  I was also struck by how much the group dynamic seemed to be of a group of teenage boys, even given the wide range in ages (16-30+), complete with “Spartan” shouts and group call-and-response.

Post practice with the guys.

The guys were all very friendly and willing to talk to me and I had a good time hanging out and grabbing some lunch with the group, despite the fact that I was functioning on 3 hours sleep and wasn’t too up for jumping or doing much hard conditioning.  Talking to them I was struck by how much of a “bubble” many of the guys were training in, not having much, if any, contact with the Brazilian parkour world outside of Akira’s sessions.  I wasn’t able to tell whether this was voluntary or conditioned, but I was encouraged to see some of them show up the next day to train with the guys at the citywide jam held outside Diogo’s house.

Sunday Jam
Sunday’s jam was the perfect opportunity for me to meet many of the city’s traceurs that I wouldn’t have met otherwise.  Since it was right outside the house, all I had to do was roll out of bed and walk out the door to be in the thick of things.*  The turnout for the event was really good and the guys (and a number of girls) were really open and welcoming to the gringo that had suddenly appeared in their midst. 

Diogo attempting the cat-to-slanted-rail-precision outside his house during the jam (Photo courtesy of Murillo Cobucci).
Me going for a cat leap (made it) at the jam (Photo courtesy of Murillo Cobucci).

 The jam went from pretty much morning till dusk, and afterwards Danilo and I headed back to Diogo’s to grab pizza (Sao Paulo pizza is pretty good) and hang out for a while.  Diogo and I were both taking video at the event so he made a brief video with our combined footage (also gives you a good idea of some of the spots since I was too distracted to take many pictures):

*I should note that during my time in Sao Paulo I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to stay at Diogo's house.  Not only was it the perfect location, being right outside one of the best spots in Brazil (in my mind it's one of the best spots that I've visited so far), but it also came with two great hosts (Diogo and Paula), good food, and the closest thing to my own apartment since I left Davidson.

One of the things that I was most impressed about during my visit to Sao Paulo was the number of women that were participating in the training.  Diogo’s studio is different from most parkour classes in many ways, but perhaps most by the type of clientele that it attracts.  Although he says that the class’s representation of 100% female is not accurate of all of his classes (the second one I went to was also all women + me), it does illustrate one possible way to attract more women to the sport.  While I’m not saying that all parkour classes should be combined with dance classes (although personally I think that this makes a really cool combination), I think that hosting parkour classes in venues like dance studios and women-only fitness clubs might help to bring more women into the sport.

The female participation was not limited to the indoor classes either, and Sunday's jam included a number of traceuses that had evidently been practicing for a while.  So not only were the women of Sao Paulo more active in the parkour scene than in other places I've visited, but they are probably the most skilled traceuses that I've seen since leaving London.


  1. Great post! and all the others too...You are getting good at this! It was a pleasure to have you here, come back soon! ;) diogo

  2. As Diogo said. (though I wasn't there)
    You got a pretty complete panorama of São Paulo's intricated Parkour structure.
    Very well spoted.