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Charlotte Amalie
Tuesday, July 23, 2024


A group of Danish guests bent over backwards to enliven a sleepy Sunday afternoon at the Winston Wells Ball Park on St. John.
The touring gymnastics team from the city of Odense got a standing ovation from about 250 residents and visitors who filled the first- and second-floor galleries of the Julius E. Sprauve School and spread out over the ball field.
Performing what they called traditional Danish gymnastics, the 13 men and 12 women flipped, tumbled, turned handstands and danced to the delight of the audience.
In traditional Danish gymnastics, the men and women alternate – the men performing acrobatics and the women presenting synchronized dance routines. For the group's Virgin Islands tour, lots of Afro-Cuban music is being used to set the pace. The opening number featuring the whole ensemble was performed to the Grammy Award-winning tune "Smooth," by Carlos Santana and Rob Lowe.
The Sunday afternoon program radiated the feel of a circus with energy, speed and agility. Spectators stood riveted as six men performed a simultaneous handstand on a 3 by 3 foot table. A long row of mats was laid out for a steady stream of serial backflips. Soaring through the air from a catapult, the Danes wowed the crowd with mid-air twists and somersaults.
Later into the program, the dancers changed the pace to a Danish folk dance in traditional costume. Gwenaviere Hyndman, a member of the St. John Cultural Dancers, said she noticed many of the steps were similar to those of the Virgin Islands quadrille.
The visitors then staged a comedic skit about two men competing for the affections of a young woman who skips off with a third suitor when the two resort to fisticuffs.
The territorial tour has been organized with the help of the Education and Tourism Departments. "It's good entertainment on a Sunday afternoon," St. John tourism coordinator Lucinda Jurgens said. "The turnout is excellent."
Education publicist June Archibald said, "When you think of gymnastics, you think of athletics. But they're not just wonderful athletes, but wonderful dancers."
The Danes had good things to say about the territory, too. "It's exciting to come and see this – it's like a dream coming true for us," 27-year-old Anja Durr said. "We learn about the Virgin Islands in history classes, and now we are really here to see – and the streets have names like at home."
In Denmark, Durr explained, cities and towns have gymnastic teams the way other countries have local softball leagues. "All the big towns in Denmark have a team like this to represent the county," she said.
Teammate Kartsen Simonsen said more than a million Danes take part in gymnastics. When he's not preparing for his own performances, Simonsen trains boys ages 7 to 10. "What we do is a lot of rotation training, movement training," he said. "And then, when they grow older, they can specialize in gymnastics."
Most of the Odense team members train from September through the winter months and perform in the spring. Although gymnastics is a popular Olympic sport, team members said that very few of those who take it up in Denmark go on to compete internationally.
"You might have two or three to compete, tour manager Jesper Nicholaisen said, "but that's not our philosophy. Our philosophy is gymnastics should be something for all."
Before arriving in the Virgin Islands for a weeklong tour, the Odense team performed in the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. Its local public appearances began Saturday with a demonstration in Emancipation Garden. For the remainder of its V.I. visit, its schedule is as follows:
Monday at 4:30 p.m. – UVI golf course clubhouse on St. Thomas.
Thursday at 6 or 7 p.m. – Educational Complex on St. Croix.
Friday at 10 a.m. – Good Hope School on St. Croix.
Saturday at 11 a.m. – Whim Museum on St. Croix, as part of daylong Starving Artists Day activities; admission is $5 for adults and $1 for children, with proceeds to benefit the Danish Gymnastics and Sports Association.
For further details, call Beverly Drew-Petrus at the Tourism Department, 774-8784.

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