One thing is clear during the first night of ApenkooiGym (where people play a game of tag on an obstacle course made with gym equipment) in Groningen. All you have to do is put out a sawhorse and a springboard and people are immediately transformed into excited children.
Approximately 15 minutes before the first lesson is about to start, organiser Han Balsem is welcoming participants at the door. They timidly trickle into the gymnasium. But that changes when they spot the equipment that Balsem’s colleagues Rachel de Jong and Jobjan Blonk have set up.
A young woman grabs a rope and climbs a ways up. Another takes a run, launches herself over the sawhorse and lands on the thick mat on the other side, laughing. A third person is testing the trampoline. The old-fashioned gym equipment is inviting: have you still got it? Do you still know how it works?
Shrieking and giggling
Some immediately feel at home in the jungle gym, but others hang back. But after a few rounds, everyone is monkeying around as though they were born to do it. They shriek and giggle, enjoying themselves. Quite a change from your average health club.
‘During one of these lessons, you barely even notice you’re working out’, says Han Balsem. ‘You can just turn off your brain and play to your heart’s content.’ Rachel de Jong agrees: ‘This isn’t something you’re either good or bad at. Anyone can join.’
People are certainly interested. The online registration filled up in no time, De Jong says. And there is good news for anyone who failed to get in: if it is left up to the organisers, they will do this again.
‘We’d like to have a lesson every week’, says Balsem. ‘If a lot of people are interested we might even do it twice a week.’ There is no need to become a member, he emphasises. The lessons have to be accessible. ‘You can just sign up on the website for either a single lesson or a punch card.’
Tonight’s lesson ends with another PE classic: dodge ball. After a few rounds of throwing the ball and a ‘well done!’ the participants retreat to the changing rooms. They look more at ease and happier leaving than when they came in. Apparently, monkeying around for an hour is good for people.