Unfortunately this venue closed in December 2013.. "This place is awesome!" My nine-year-old son proclaimed as we left Bklyn Beast, a brand-new East Williamsburg gym where kids (and adults) can get a real workout trying Brazilian martial art capoeira, different types of street dancing and parkour. What's that last one you ask? A week ago, I wasn't sure myself. Also known as "the art of displacement," parkour is a kind of obstacle course training where the goal is to get from one spot to another by overcoming a variety of physical barriers. Participants climb, jump, scale and swerve in order to conquer whatever is in front of them. It's a sport, a mindset, a philosophy and tons of fun. What kid doesn't want to try to leap tall buildings in a single bound?
While there are a few other local programs that offer parkour to kids, notably New York Parkour, Bklyn Beast is the first indoor New York City facility dedicated to the discipline. It's basically a renovated warehouse with a cool gratified interior in an industrial section of the borough. My nine- and 13-year-old sons attended a trial parkour class for ages eight to 18, and it was their first exposure to the sport. The session started with warmup exercises like running in circles, jumping, leaping and crab-walking. Next, they tried vaulting over cinder blocks forward, backward and sideways, with a little help from the instructor and the springboard floor.
But the real fun began 20 minutes into the class, when the group of mostly teens (my nine-year-old was by far the youngest one there) was shepherded over to a ten-foot wall leading to a mock roof. Starting from a cinder block, the kids attempted to scramble up the padded wall. Once they'd firmly clutched the edge of the roof (think Jimmy Stewart in Vertigo), they pulled themselves up, walked to the opposite end and leaped off onto a mat, preferably rolling as soon as they hit the ground in order to lessen the impact on their knees.
While my 13-year-old was hesitant to try it, my nine-year-old giggled with maniacal glee. He instantly did as instructed. Afterward, my cautious teen did the same. When a girl in the group balked, it was nice to see the other students cheer her on, shouting words of encouragement, followed by a hearty round of applause once she finally did it. Parkour is by nature a noncompetitive sport, but still I was impressed by the camaraderie exhibited in the gym.
The final challenge was to shimmy up a drainpipe, grab the metal grid overhead and cross it like monkey bars. My oldest son couldn't quite make it up the pipe, despite the instructor's attempts to help, but there was no penalty, just commendation for trying. My youngest scurried up no problem, only to falter when the bars proved to be spaced too far apart for his arm span. He fell down with a loud thump but, nevertheless, came up smiling. Parkour, as you can probably guess, is not for everyone. But young thrill-seekers will definitely get a kick out of it, and practicing parkour here is a lot safer than doing it out on the street.
While parkour is definitely Bklyn Beast's signature program, the facility also offers capoeira, tumbling, trampoline, break-dancing and other physically challenging classes. Check the schedule for a complete list. Drop-in sessions are $15-$20, depending on program, with discounts available when you purchase a ten-class card. All participants are required to sign a liability waiver, which you can download from the website.
Bklyn Beast is located at 230 Bogart Street at Ten Eyck Street in East Williamsburg, Brooklyn; 347-457-6290. It's approximately a four-block walk from the Grand Street L station.
Find out about other offbeat programs for kids in our Classes Guide.