Fast-paced 'parkour' offers outlet for Iranian girls

Fast-paced 'parkour' offers outlet for Iranian girls
Iranian women practice parkour in Tehran's Tavalod Park, on March 13, 2014.

TEHRAN - In a Tehran park, a group of young women brave sneering men and shocked looks as they perform flips, mid-air somersaults and bound from pillar to pillar in a surprising sight in a conservative Islamic country.

The group has discovered parkour, the fast-moving sport blending acrobatics and gymnastics that has become their outlet for evading social constraints and dealing with stress.

"As a woman, it's a bit complicated," concedes their teacher Maryam Sedighian Rad, a 28-year-old who holds a masters in physiology .

She and the others wear the "hijab" obligatory in Iran, which requires women to cover their hair and much of their body in loose clothing to prevent their figures being seen, and her group often has a male escort when they practise outside to ward off unwelcome company -- and sometimes police.

Born in France in the late 1980s, parkour involves getting around or over urban obstacles, with a fast-paced mix of running, jumping, and gymnastic rolls and vaults.

Offering a cocktail of excitement, danger and risk, it caught on around the world thanks to blockbuster movies such as "Yamakasi" and "District B13".

Now it has gained a foothold in Iran -- and not only among the usual young male aficionados.

Sedighian Rad and about 50 women -- teenagers and young adults -- are among the hundreds of Iranians practising this non-competitive discipline that morphed from military obstacle course training into a mainly urban sport.

The parkour motto, "Never move backwards," seems to hold particular resonance here.

Three times a week, Sedighian Rad trains her groups at three indoor sports complexes.

"We encounter problems but we try our best to cope with them because we love doing parkour," she says.

While their baggy outfits allow for ease of movement, the jogging, jumping and somersaulting can cause hair to fall loose.

Unperturbed, Helia Goharbavar, 16, readjusts her hijab after every move.

"It doesn't bother me," she said. "It's cold anyway and you have to wear something. Besides, we are used to it."

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