The founder of Evolve Move Play brings structure, age-appropriate fitness challenges and tree-climbing fun to his parkour-based sessions.
MY FAMILY’S APPROACH to activity is loose: maybe a trip to the pool, the playground or a trampoline park.
When I found out that Rafe Kelley, founder of Evolve Move Play, also accommodates kids in his outdoor movement classes, I was excited to bring our family together in a structured way. Kelley teaches a form of natural movement with roots in parkour, and his classes take place in parks. Generally, they incorporate tree-climbing, a bonus for two of my tree-loving stepkids, Reagan, 10, and Carson, 8.
We met at Volunteer Park. He took us through wrist and shoulder warm-ups, then, for our necks, he told the kids to move like a snake, side-to-side, and bob their heads forward like a dolphin.
Evolve Move Play
We headed to nearby trees, with long, giant branches and bark worn smooth from thousands of climbers. Kelley showed us our first challenge — walking up tree branches without using hands. He demonstrated, going up several branches higher than my comfort zone.
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During the first round, everyone was tentative, trying to work out footing. With each round, we got more comfortable and made it a little higher. I was impressed when my husband, Chris Danielle, made it to the highest branch.
After a few practice rounds, we moved to an obstacle course on a tree cut down to several undulating branches. Kelley had brought his kids to class and demonstrated the course with his 4-year-old, Keir, who showed us the lower route, while Kelley jumped over the higher branches.
It was our turn. We went for it, with experienced adults jumping over branches smoothly, and kids climbing over the tall roots or running underneath. Kelley had adults chase kids, to increase the excitement and challenge; Keir chased me.
While we waited our turn, Carson clambered into nearby trees he calls “koala” trees. Soon, Kelley was up there with him, telling him to climb as fast as he could to another tree before Kelley, who had turned into a “tree shark,” could get him.
When the kids’ attention wandered, Kelley’s assistant teacher, Andrew Denhard, went to work with them on another tree.
Kelley showed adults how to land jumps with our momentum moving forward, and also had us do a series of vaults. We learned a step vault, jumping with one leg up, pulling the other through and putting our hands down on the branch to slide to the ground. Eventually, you could learn to jump with both legs through at the same time. While I never mastered the final vault, my vaults got smoother. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Reagan and Carson running at tree trunks and leaping off to land on two feet.
The adults finished with contact improvisation. Denhard, 20, who has trained with Kelley since he was 11, showed us how to dodge a partner’s blows, getting into a conversation on movement, then added wrist-to-wrist contact. For the final stage, we got rougher, leaning on our partners and flowing with their movements. When I worked with people new to me, the conversation was polite. When I partnered with my husband, the back-and-forth was more physical, as we leaned on each other and tried to push each other around. I laughed at our dynamic.
Class closed with a few deep breaths, as rain came down.
Even with a bee sting midclass for Carson, the kids asked whether they could climb trees again the next day. Even Chris climbed high into one tree during a lull in class. The class was an appealing combination of structure and space, letting kids and adults play. It was an awesome way to move for 90 minutes as a family.