Would you like to be an action man, woman or kid? Dionne Christian goes to movement school.

Last weekend the streets of Hamilton were filled with folk tumbling over park benches, leaping up walls, defying gravity as the New Zealand Parkour Association held its Ham Jam - for the growing sport.

Aucklanders of all ages will have extra chances to try parkour - and a few other movement styles - when a new Flow: Academy of Motion opens tomorrow.

The region's first purpose-built parkour studio is the place of active children's dreams, with an inner-sprung, foam-topped gym floor, a trampoline, a foam pit, ceiling-high rails and beams for aerial work, a ninja warrior wall to sprint up and jump down from, a flying fox and all manner of specially devised equipment and obstacles to leap up, on and over.

I know my limits so I don't even attempt anything remotely physical, but I can see Miss Five's eyes light up as she sizes up the possibilities presented by the the ninja warrior wall and flying fox.

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Even though she's only little, she'll be able to take classes. I discovered that parkour isn't the only "flow discipline". The academy also teaches break dancing, circus adagio and aerial gymnastics, tumbling and street work-out callisthenics.

Photo / Manic Room
Photo / Manic Room

NZ Parkour's managing director, Damien Puddle, tells me that parkour, also known as free running, is about using your body to find ways to move "efficiently, effectively and creatively" through space. Because it involves negotiating and overcoming obstacles, parkour develops resilience and becomes a mental as well as a physical discipline.

Damien says he wouldn't describe it as a sport because that implies there is a competitive element, whereas parkour is about what each of us can do. In my case, that's not very much but watch those who have perfected their techniques and you'll be awestruck by their physical prowess, grace and apparent ability to leap tall buildings - well, walls at least - in a single bound.

Parkour has grown through community networks, with the Auckland scene centred on Aotea Square, but demand to learn more is growing, especially among children who have energy to burn and want to try new ways to move.

Photo / Manic Room
Photo / Manic Room

Now 3, Mt Maunganui's The Manic Room was the first centre in New Zealand for indoor free running and tricking (that's a form of acrobatics, which involves martial arts-style kicks, flips and twists). Using street art for decoration, the Manic Room includes a foam pit, air track, platforms, walls, bars and loads of other challenging structures.

Owner Sue Hair says although the original intention was to provide a facility for teens upwards, children as young as 4 have joined its classes. "It's all based on learning in a safe environment before you take it out on to the streets."

Need to know:
Flow: Academy of Movement, 20 Dunrobin Place, Highland Park. Opens Sunday, February 15 with free sessions (1pm under5s; 3pm primary and intermediate school-aged kids; 5pm teens upwards.

Manic Room: 9 Triton Ave, Mt Maunganui. Ph (07) 572 4920; $10 per two-hour session (under 10s must have a parent or guardian supervising)
nzparkour.co.nz for more gatherings and events.