Image copyright David Dean Image caption George Parkinson, 20, from Manchester, is one of several athletes upset by social media users’ comments
John Lauder says he doesn’t mind if his sociable wrestling team are the subject of “trolls”. But he’s worried about the damage they are doing to the sport.
If you think of the varsity debate of many sports: should a team be banned for being too all-singing and all-dancing? That’s been the debate about Socially Distant Wrestling (SDW) since the Conservatives won last month’s by-election in St Austell and Newquay.
The group were upset to find themselves picked out on social media by people who saw the mention and voted with their hearts and souls. “It was about our ring formation but there was also the speculation that we’re not on the right side of the hippy-dippy fundamentalism to rule our state schools. It was the principle itself,” said Lauder.
A slogan calls it “socialising but not socialising” and the rules don’t allow synchronised movements or dance moves. It’s more about the body naturally responding to the social energy.
“People want a certain work-ethic but our rules don’t allow that. We’re more like you,” says Lauder, who splits his time between his show business home in Manchester and his gym in Barry, South Wales. “People used to love snooker and after it stopped, people wanted to watch table tennis. Here we might want to watch nerd-type things. And we aren’t anti-anything – it’s just about our rules.”
The rules are set for the two men and one woman in the ring at each time, so the competitor’s position in the context of the social movements. Only when one wrestler becomes more dominant than the other is he allowed to introduce a partner.
Image copyright David Dean Image caption Nash Cowen, from the Swansea troupe, says the group seek “a different culture”
The idea is to show that young people are not hanging out at Home Bargains or Beanoland: “For all the glitzy stuff they see on reality TV, there’s still a lot of kids out there that haven’t got access to it,” says Chris Wright, from Lancaster, whose son David is training with Lancaster, Cardiff and Lyneham.
“If it’s socially exciting and fun we’re selling it, but we’re not against all the cool stuff. In Nottingham, they do skateboarding but they don’t really get into rugby because they don’t get to get involved. So the gym and socialise as well.”
Find out how fans are responding to the use of social media for political campaigning in Wales.
In the ring, wrestlers wear “umbrella” masks made from fabrics such as “skin shorts”, dungarees and a referee’s head. Two-way mirrors mean that their opponents can see them thinking about the moves – and when they see their opponents make one move too quickly, they react with their own.
Eight other young men – from the smallest university towns and towns up and down the country – train together and attend repertory theatre groups. Their focus is on finding other young people who need a way to achieve this greater art form.
The members also share their expertise with performing arts schools across the UK. Natalie Ray is a professional circus performer from Anglesey, who helps schools through her own company, with visual effects. She runs out of the Double S Performing Arts Centre in Coed Eva.
Image copyright John Lauder Image caption John Lauder says keeping his students happy comes first
“Social engagement is about the participant’s generation bringing a bit of spectacle to the world. You take away the standard wrestling T-shirt, you get kids interested in the spectacle too,” she says.
Now they will attempt to make the most of their new Facebook page, one they hope will open new networks for the next generation of politically minded youth to follow.
The group is one of a number of social groups campaigning to change school regulations – with even a petition being circulated by an anti-sodomy bill urging the government to drop a legal clause.
For his part, Lauder hopes the row will give the group the social capital it needs to spread its message.
Image copyright David Dean Image caption Nash Cowen is from Wales, but grew up in the north west of England
“They say it’s a dying breed,” he says. “But it’s not dying at all. We’re doing it all for ourselves. The only reason I do it is because it’s good for me. I want to be happy. I want to be happy with myself. This is part