From sports leagues to art classes and everything in between, local recreation departments really keep residents of all ages busy.

But not if you’re an aspiring ninja. That’s where the new Flipside Academy of Movement in North Riverside — a facility dedicated to free running, parkour and ninja warrior play — comes in. 

Over the past several years, thanks to rise of popularity in TV’s “American Ninja Warrior” and YouTube videos about parkour — an acrobatic practice first developed in Europe during the late 1980s from military obstacle training courses and honing acrobatic stunts in the public sphere — urban acrobat Paul Canada decided opening a parkour facility in town was just was locals with tons of energy would crave. 

Located at 7918 26th St. in North Riverside — a site which has seen grocery stores come and go for years — Flipside Academy of Movement offers a one-of-a-kind indoor fitness venue filled with fun, safe and challenging equipment designed as an outlet for high-energy and social growth learning. 

Canada brings his business to North Riverside after a three-year stint in Forest Park in the 1500 block of Circle Avenue.

At the gym, visitors will find cushioned gymnastics mats, ladders suspended from the ceiling and sophisticated jungle gyms complete with wooden planks and rock climbing aspects. 

“We just create different challenges, so when [guests] first come to class, they’ll come in and check out the environment,” Canada said. “Then, we’ll pull them together and do a group warm-up and then we set up stations for them. Coaches create challenges and teach them how to do that course [and] conditioning and stretching at the end.”

With an extensive background in acrobatics and fitness, Canada, who spent his early adult years after college working as an acrobatics coach with the Ringling Brothers Circus, brings other experiences to the table, including working as a professional acrobat with the Indiana Pacers, as a personal trainer for adults and youth program director with after school programs on the West Side of Chicago. 

According to Canada, 20 percent of profits from the business funds Flipside Acrobats in Chicago’s Austin neighborhood. The group, for which Canada is the head coach, mentors young men and showcases their acrobatic talents across Chicagoland.  

Canada said his goal for Flipside Academy in North Riverside is to give kids the chance to explore fun obstacle environments that will not only challenge them safely but also help build their confidence. 

“It’s a little different from a typical gymnastics class,” he said. “We try not to have [kids] stay still for too long. We try to create a different challenge every week, and in some ways, it doesn’t matter how you get over the object, but we want you to get over it in a safe way.”

Students are grouped together based on their athletic skill levels. Younger children are in groups of eight per instructor and older children are taught in groups no larger than 12 participants. 

“It’s not about how big of a jump this kid will make or if they’ll be a parkour athlete,” Canada said. “Our goal is movement, confidence, physical development and youth development. We have a lot of kids that don’t fit in at other places; this is their place to belong. To see them come to a place where they fit, that’s encouraging.”

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