Saturday, July 28, 2012

A lazy Sunday at the Gerlev parkour park

One of the best things about being at Gerlev is that whenever you wanted a place to train, all one had to do was walk outside the building and the structure was waiting.  Sunday afternoons were a particularly popular time to go and mess around in the park, and once one person started training, there were inevitably others that came to join the fun.

These are some shots from one of the first "lazy weekend training sessions" at the parkour park back at the start of the semester.

What starts as this.... Photo courtesy of Dennis Madsen.

soon evolves to this...  Photo courtesy of Dennis Madsen.

often turns into this...   Photo courtesy of Dennis Madsen.

Kaj doing the jump at the top of the structure.   Photo courtesy of Julie Runge.

Surveying things from the top.   Photo courtesy of Dennis Madsen.

Oliver practicing handstand lifts at the top of the structure.   Photo courtesy of Dennis Madsen.

Peter catching some early spring sun.   Photo courtesy of Dennis Madsen.

August and Rune getting comfortable with heights.   Photo courtesy of Julie Runge.

Working on flags.   Photo courtesy of Dennis Madsen.

Andreas practicing lachées.   Photo courtesy of Dennis Madsen.

Ville learning the "Danish style".   Photo courtesy of Dennis Madsen.

Monkey see, monkey do.   Photo courtesy of Julie Runge.

Gerlev = a parkour paradise....  Photo courtesy of Dennis Madsen.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Life at Gerlev: Outside of Classes

After Classes
One of the primary goals of the "højskole experience" is to give students the opportunity to develop their aptitude in particular physical disciplines, as well as to encourage their personal growth and teach them valuable social skills.  Therefore the "social aspect" of Gerlev is pretty important to the way that things work at the school and the time at school spent outside of classes is not seen as simply "free time".  Most evenings have one social event planned, sometimes more, and these can include movie showings, dodge-ball games, choir practices, evening parkour jams, football matches (to play or watch), or various other "højskole events".

The task of planning these events is divided up between the students, who are put into one of seven "family groups" when they arrive at school.  These families meet weekly and function as small social units, discussing issues at school, eating cake (baked by the students), and planning two separate weeks of social events over the course of the semester. This planning includes leading the morning assemblies, organizing evening activities, and helping out with preparations for weekend events. Each family is also responsible for a number of daily cleaning tasks throughout the school, which are divided up between the members and performed in the free block before lunch.

Enjoying the sunshine with my family group.  Photo courtesy of Rafaela Cappai.

Within less than 24 hours of being at Gerlev- already dressed up for something.  Photo courtesy of the Gerlev Facebook page.

Ready for the "Zombie Run".  Photo courtesy of Louise Burmeister.

Dodge-ball is way more fun when there are 100+ people playing in crazy costumes.  Photo courtesy of Lotte Møller.

After-class activities are not limited to the gym or parkour park.  Photo courtesy of the Gerlev Facebook page .
Weekends at Gerlev come in 3 different shapes and sizes.  The first are Home-going Weekends where students are allowed and encouraged to go home to visit friends and family, and foreign students either accompany them or hang out on campus.  There have only been a few of these over the past semester and they were very enjoyable, whether they were spent hanging out on campus or visiting new-found friends around Copenhagen.

Before continuing I should mention that Gerlev is a "dry campus" (consumption of alcohol is forbidden on Gerlev grounds) with the exception of Saturday night, when the student-run bar sells beer, wine, cider, and champagne during dinner and for the party.  This took me by surprise upon my arrival, especially since Danish youth have one of the highest alcohol consumption rates in Europe, I've come to agree with the administration that it is beneficial for the overall atmosphere at the school.  While at first glance it may seem a bit draconian to forbid the students to drink during the week, the result is a much more active and engaging atmosphere during the week, and hangovers can't be used as an excuse for early-morning workouts.  The flip-side of this is that Saturday nights can get pretty crazy as the party ends up being one of the main highlights of the week!

Working at the student-run bar during one of the parties.  Photo courtesy of Dennis Madsen.

The second type of weekend is the Student Weekend.  These are organized by the students, who form a committee to plan and run the events of the weekend, with a staff "adviser" that is on hand to help out if needed and to offer their insights and expertise.  Most students stay on campus for these weekends, although they are allowed to go home with a valid reason.  The themes for these weekends would best be described as eclectic, some of them from the past semester included:

Grease/50's theme.  Photo by Julie Runge.

The "Night & Day" weekend where nighttime and daytime activities were flipped for the entire weekend (7am became 7pm).  Photo courtesy of  Bea Valand.

The morning (ie 4pm) after...  Photo courtesy of Elín Pórsdóttir.

The "Barbershop" at the pre-game session for the "RnB Weekend".  Photo taken by Dennis Madsen.

Re-working Rachacuca's look for the party.  Photo by Dennis Madsen.

Admiring my handiwork.  Photo by Dennis Madsen.

Some of you may have thought that you knew the "real Bruno".... Photo by  Dennis Madsen.

Getting into the mindset for the night.  Photo by Dennis Madsen.

*Note: Gerlev students love just about any excuse to get dressed up.  This can be a bit annoying at times, especially when you don't want to have to dress up as a pirate just to go schmucking about in the rain on a Thursday evening, but it always seems to be worth the effort once things are in full swing (and it makes for some pretty amusing party outfits.)

Welcome to Gerlev.

The third type of weekend at Gerlev is the Højskole Weekend and these are essentially the "no-holds-barred-go-all-in" type of weekend here.  Students are expected to stay on campus and to participate in the activities, which usually start after classes on Friday afternoon and continue through Saturday night or Sunday morning.  These weekends are led by two teachers who are assigned their "dates" at the beginning of the semester.  The teachers take the preparations for these weekends pretty seriously and really get into making them as memorable as possible with the help of a small committee of students that helps out with setting up and running the weekend.  The important thing about these weekends is that the activities aren't limited to the party Saturday night, but usually last all weekend and can involve anything from planning a circus act within a family group to participating in a capoeira workshop.

The set-up for the circus performance by students at the first party.  Photo courtesy of  Julie Runge.

Students performing at the circus event.  Photo courtesy of Julie Runge.

Tine and Mikkel (Brazilian weekend organizers) with 2 of the 3 Brazilians on campus.  Photo courtesy of Lucas Lima.

Tine teaching "forró" dancing at a weekend workshop.  Photo courtesy of Rafaela Cappai. 

More of the dance workshop.  Photo courtesy of Rafaela Cappai.

3 Brazilians, 2 danish girls, 1 unknown.  Photo courtesy of Rafaela Cappai.

A powerhouse set of  DJ's at one of the parties (they have day jobs as teachers at Gerlev).  Photo courtesy of Rafaela Cappai.

Any school with a headmaster that can successfully pull off this look has to be a bit special.  Photo courtesy of Dennis Madsen.

One of the great things that I've noticed about the social life at Gerlev is that the teachers often get as excited for the weekends as the students.  Having been on campus for these events in past years, they know the atmosphere that takes over, and they seem to take a really genuine interest in helping students make the best possible event (I also suspect that there is also some good-natured rivalry to make the "best party of the semester").  Many of the teachers have themes for weekends that they are particularly well known for (many have some pretty fantastic outfits for them) but they are always up to try out new ideas and themes to keep things fresh.

Despite being at the top of their respective fields/disciplines, the teachers at Gerlev know how and when to have fun- this is not their regular attire.  Photo courtesy of Dennis Madsen.
Sundays at Gerlev are special for a number of reasons.  The first is that there is Sunday brunch, the one meal of the week that students look forward to more than any other.  This is partly because it is a chance to see who will be doing the "walk of shame/victory" into the dining hall and to discuss the previous night's events, but also because after a long hard night of dancing and partying the night before, the scrambled eggs, bacon, pancakes, fruit, and cinnamon bread that come out only for Sunday brunch are enough to get most people out of bed way before they would dream of otherwise.

The agenda for the rest of the day is usually pretty weather dependent (and influenced by how crazy the party was the night before) but usually involves various group activities.  "Hygge-time" is a pretty popular choice for those that are sleep deprived, hung over, or just want to chill out.  "Hygge" is a Scandinavian term for something that I haven't really witnessed elsewhere in my travels.  If pressured, I'd probably describe it in English as a "cozy-chill-comfortable-physical-group-social-cuddle", and it can be performed anywhere, watching movies, outside in the sun, in the lounge, on a bus, in a dining hall...  While at first glance it may look like a bunch of people cuddling together in a big group, but I've found that it's actually pretty important to the way that many of the students get to know and trust each other here.  At first I found it a bit intense for my American (I guess we still have some Puritan traces in our culture) background but now I feel like I understand it much better.

For the students that have more energy on Sunday afternoons hanging out in the sun, training in the parkour park, messing around on the beach volley courts, or playing Frisbee golf are always pretty popular options.  Regardless, this is a day for hanging out, getting to know the other students, and enjoying the atmosphere at school.  Compared to the Sunday afternoons that I experienced in college (15-18 mile runs followed by lots of homework that had been postponed from earlier in the weekend), Sundays at Gerlev have been a really nice change and seem to help me (and many other students) recharge for the action-packed week ahead.

Catching some early-spring sunshine while watching the school football team.  Photo courtesy of Sisse Rasmussen.

Tree climbing challenges with the MEAT Squad on a Sunday afternoon.  Photo courtesy of Lotte Møller.

Hygge and sunshine.  Photo courtesy of Lotte Møller.

Photo courtesy of Lotte Møller.

Sunday afternoon "informal jam" at the parkour park.  Photo courtesy of Dennis Madsen.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Thinking differently

I saw this video and couldn't help re-posting it.  It shows Tim "Livewire" Shieff, a very well-known and respected name in parkour/freerunning, who is particularly known for his creativity and amazing upper body strength, performing an action that thousands of people do on a daily basis.  The only difference is that he has found a way to do it a little bit differently, in true "parkour style".

Looking forward to seeing further episodes in the series.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Life at Gerlev: Classes

A bit more background on the setup at Gerlev.  The school year is made up of 3 semesters: September - December (17 weeks), January - February (8 weeks), March - June (17 weeks), and a summer break in which the campus hosts a full schedule of seminars and workshops from July - August.  The different semesters allow for a wide variety in the sports that are offered (see here for the full list) but also creates a key part of the financial backbone of the school.  The Danish government subsidizes up to one third of the operating expenses of the school, with another third that is paid by the student’s tuition, and the final third that is covered by the use of the campus by a number of summer events and workshops in addition to conferences throughout the year.

The 125+ students at Gerelv hail from all parts of Denmark with a fairly equal representation from the three parts of the country (Zealand, Funen, Jutland, and Bornholm).  While the majority fall within the 19-22 year-old age range of young adults that have finished high school and are taking some time off to travel and "find themselves" before continuing their studies or seeking employment, there are quite a few students that are older than the average, yet still seeking some personal reflection time.

A typical day as a Gerlev student
A typical day for me starts at 7:20, as I crawl out of bed, put on whatever clothes are close at hand (depending on the weather this is either a sweatshirt and sweatpants, or a t-shirt and sweatpants- more on the dress code here later) and then head down to breakfast, where I am greeted by this:

While this picture is actually of lunch (hence the awake faces), it shows the dining room atmosphere.  Photo courtesy of Rafaela Cappai.
Still half asleep, but smiling already.  That's how I feel most mornings at Gerlev.  Photo courtesy of Dennis Madsen

At 8, we all head to the main hall where we have the morning assembly.  Since the morning assemblies that I had experienced previously in middle and high school in the US were not particularly positive (usually an obnoxiously cheerful voice reading semi-relevant announcements over the loudspeaker way too early in the morning) the assemblies here were a bit of a shock to me.  First of all, each assembly starts with the entire staff and student body singing a song from the school hymnbook that each student is given when they arrive at school.

Most of you who know me know that I am not particularly gifted at singing, and I have found that I am even less gifted at singing in a language that I can neither read nor speak.  That being said, there is something remarkably uplifting and uniting about mumbling Danish songs alongside a room full of fellow students and staff each morning.  I've also found that over the course of a few months I have started to grasp the semi-correct pronunciation of the words in the book, although I still have no idea what 99% of them mean.

Morning assembly.   Photo courtesy of Rafaela Cappai. 

After the song there is a 20-minute presentation by one of the staff members or students on a topic of thier choice.  Some of the subjects this past semester covered the foundations of democracy, growing up in a foreign country, personal challenges and conflicts facing students, background on various pieces of artwork around the school, influential life experiences from students or staff, and a few life lessons from the wiser and more seasoned members of the teaching staff.

Following the morning assembly are the four 90-minute class periods that make up the main portion of the day.  In between each class there is a break for food, whether it's the mid-morning snack, lunch, or mid-afternoon snack.  More details on the food later as a paragraph or two can't do it justice.  Each student has a Speciality course in which they have 8-10 hours of instruction each week and which is essentially their "major" while at Gerlev.  Students also choose a Sports Subject, which meets for 6 hours a week over a 2-month period.  In addition to these, there are two Study Subjects, which meet for 3 hours/week and change after 2-months.  Here is a copy of my schedule for the past 4 months:

The classes schedule is set up to to ensure that that students get a maximum amount of instruction time, but it also groups the classes to ensure that the instructors benefit from the scheduling.  It took me a few weeks to realize but the schedule is actually cleverly set up so that most of the instructors are actually only needed on campus for a maximum of 4 days/week, allowing them time to pursue other interests or classes, train in their discipline, and spend time with family (which do not always live on campus), or run another business (like Mikkel and Martin at Streetmovement).  The schedule below gives a rough idea of my normal weekly schedule:

Some explanation about the classes mentioned in my schedule:
As one can see, I spend the majority of my class hours in Parkour, but over the course of the week I spend a lot of time in the other classes as well.  Of course the schedule doesn’t show the training sessions after classes finish, in the evenings, or on the weekends (I know that it’s hard to believe, but I spend a lot of my free time training, conditioning, or writing about it) but it gives a general idea of how I spend my time.

A beautiful day in the park.  Photo courtesy of Lucas Ribeiro de Lima.

The Streetdance (also includes "House for Dummies") class has been a lot of fun and the opportunity to do it here with real “classes” has been a great opportunity and allowed me to sample from a number of different styles including house dance, jacking, popping, locking, hip hop, in a setting that is condusive to beginners like myself.  The second two months saw the creation of a performance group called "The Grind" in which a number of the students performed various pieces at Gerlev parties and events.

Taking advantage of nice weather to train outside with "The Grind", Gerlev's Streetdance performance group.  Photo courtesy of Sutton Atkins.

Games is actually “Tradition Danish Games” and is actually a 2-part course that takes place in the Gerlev Legepark (Gerlev Playpark) located next to the school.  The first two months of the course were spent playing a lot of the games and learning about them, with a few instances when we were expected to lead the sessions ourselves.  The secod half of the semester the focus has been entirely on the instruction of these games and how to use them to bring different groups together and develop certain skill sets in children.  While a few of the games are very similar to the ones that I played as a kid, there a lot that were new to me and that I will definitely be taking back home with me.

Martin (from Streetmovement) taught this class about Sports Massage, not the lovey-dovey sensual massage that some might expect at a højskole.  Needless to say, although the massage sessions themselves were not the most relaxing experiences, especially when given by other parkour guys, they certainly helped to speed up recovery from the training and I learned a lot of useful techniques.

Knife-making is pretty self-explanatory, we ordered blades and blocks of wood from local sources and have spent the last few weeks designing, shaping, sanding, gluing, and polishing our knives.

From this....
To something simirlar to this.
Needless to say, I am only taking one load of courses at the school so my schedule only reflects a small sampling of the options at the school.  For more information on the full range of activities available (there are a lot), check out the Gerlev website.

The School Meeting has been an interesting experience for me as I think it shows a lot about the Danish culture.  During the meetings the student body and staff discuss the happenings and highlights of the past week, discuss preparations for the upcoming weeks events and guests or visitors, and bring up any issues that warrant school-wide discussion.  While at first this seemed like an impractical forum for discussing things that might only impact a small amount of the people at the meeting, over the past four months I've come to realize that these meetings do more than address the problem at hand.  These meetings offer an opportunity for anyone to voice concerns, problems, or proposed changes in a setting that is both receptive and representative of the entire group.  I was surprised to find that the issues presented were not resolved by a vote (which was described to me as a tyranny of the majority) but instead by the discussion of the issue until one side had gained the group's consensus.  If all else fails, a committee is made to look into the issue further (Danes really seem to like forming committees, sub-committees, and committees to oversee the committees).

Despite the two sided setup that looks like opposing sides in a divorce case, these meetings actually help to keep the school working smoothly and cohesively.  Photo courtesy of Rafaela Cappai.
Club Sports is entirely organized by the students and offers many students the opportunity to try things that they can't cram into their schedule otherwise.  There are the typical offerings (crossfit, circuit training, parkour, yoga, gymnastics, board games...) but each semester there are some sports that are unique to the interests of the students on campus like tree climbing, board games, and Vist (a danish card game).  However, about halfway through the semester I decided that "club napping" was best for my physical health, especially since my increasing sleep debt was starting to hamper recovery.

The Joint Class changed each week and was basically a great excuse for all of the students to get together to participate in an activity.  Different teachers and members of the staff led each week, so the themes were as varied and eclectic as thier interests and backgrounds, including swing dancing, cricket, group discussions, salsa, viking games, grinding, playpark events, hide-and-seek, Human Stratego, flashmobbing...

"Flashmobbing" in downtown Slagelse.  Photo courtesy of the Sealand News article covering the event.