From outskirt to frontskirt. The fight of gymnastics in a century

New book on OD, Danish gymnastics, academies, politics and cultural history on the occasion of the 100’th anniversary of Academy of Physical Education, Ollerup.

No state, organization, private company or school can be established or developed by individuals, regardless of their knowledge, capabilities, passion or ability to act. But personal leadership is nevertheless one of the decisive factors for the inner strength and coherence of states, organizations, private companies and schools. And, in particular, competent and committed personal leadership has great significance and value for states, organizations, companies and schools’ relationships with the outside world. Personal leadership is a central thema in professor, Ph.D. and Dr. Phil. in history Hans Bonde’s new book: “From the outskirt to the frontskirt. The fight of gymnastics for a century” (University Press of Southern Denmark, 2020), which was published on the occasion of the Academy of Physical Education, Ollerup 100’th anniversary. And let it be said right away: The book is excellent storytelling, both in words and pictures.

An amazing journey in words and pictures

The book brings the reader on an exciting continuous journey in which events – gymnastics performances, international and domestic tours of gymnastics and events, buildings and artworks, democracy festivals and much, much more – are described in 100 entries by one or more sources. The sources are central actors – as via Bonde’s interpretation – appearing with views, attitudes and memories based on a string of images from past and present. The historical witnesses are wide ranging from former students, teachers, principals, gymnastics instructors, journalists, architects, professors, diplomats, ministers to King Christian X., creates a coherent process based on extremely comprehensive documentation.

The book contains an in-march and an out-march, like any popular gymnastics performance, seven chapters and written references. The in-march sets the stage for the book’s structure and main themes, as well as describes Bonde’s personal relationship with the Academy of Physical Education, Ollerup from the early 1990’s, when then the former principal Gunnar B. Hansen assigned Bonde the responsibility of preparing an impartial doctoral dissertation based on Niels Bukh’s private archives, which had been ” hidden “knowledge of the public since Bukh’s death in 1950.

Niels Bukh – A charismatic gymnastics educator with naive political visions

Each chapter describes a historical period in which gymnastics such as cultural, physical, political, social and aesthetic phenomena are closely linked to concrete events, which have for decades left deep traces and crucial inspiration for the lives of many young people, both from Denmark and abroad. The motto of the academy: “Word and deed” (OD) has been far more than three small words for a century. The OD has also been the term for “Ollerup Gymnastics Instructor”, which more than 20,000 has achieved through an academy education of at least 12 weeks. However, Bonde emphasizes that “… words alone do not move very much. There must be action (deed) for “and” However, the cultivation of “action” rather than thought can also lead to an anti-intellectualism that renounces critical reflection and dialogue “(p. 18). With this in mind, the book’s first two chapters “A New Man Type” (1920-1932) and “The German Draw” (1933-1943) are fascinating reading. The chapters focus on at Bukh’s start-up of the Academy of Physical Education, which compared to the traditional Danish college with a focus on “the living word” and the song, used the body and specifically the gymnastics as a central language and tool. Niels Bukh and the Academy of Physical Education were a natural part of a Danish national revival, where the rural population, through the cooperative movement and, not least, gymnastics and shooting clubs, developed a cultural and political commitment, both locally in the parishes and nationally in the party Left. In the first half of the 20’th century, gymnastics was not a sport such as football, athletics and swimming, but “… an active cultural force that, in the countryside, partly shapes entire generations of young men and women, partly as an alternative to urban competition and finally through innumerable displays become the landmark of Danish abroad ”(p. 17). The first two chapters come very close to the charismatic, gay and politically naive Niels Bukh, who over a very short period – together with students, staff and locals – is building a cultural center in South of Funen with an impressive main building, the country’s first indoor swimming pools (1926) and one of Europe’s largest sports halls (1932). Bukh’s sympathy, admiration and desire for cooperation with other strong men in dictatorships – such as Hitler in Nazi Germany and Mussolini in Italy – is also more long-lasting and powerful than many other Danes who only “switched” towards the end of World War II. Today it is a well-known case that many Danish business owners earned huge sums, both before and during World War II, on working with or working for the German war machine. But Bukh never seriously distanced himself from his political views and attitudes after the end of World War II in 1945. Therefore, Bukh’s last year of life until his death as a 70-year-old in 1950 became a personal decline of dimensions. These years are described in the book’s third chapter “A new direction” (1944-1950), which also shows that a large loan from the Left government in 1948, loyal staff and former OD’s support surprisingly quickly reduced the student numbers at the rebuilt adecamy to the time before the Occupation.

The hard way out of Bukh’s “shadow”

The book’s fourth chapter “In the Footsteps of the Master” (1951-1967) covers a long-standing and tiring internal power struggle between Arne Mortensen and Jørgen A. Broegaard, who shared the position of principal of the Academy of Physical Education, Ollerup after Bukh’s death. After hiring as a gymnastics teacher in 1936, Arne Mortensen was the principal of the academy’s elite team and his closest friend Bukh’s obvious replacement as the head of the academy, but “Morten” was without a qualifying education. That criterion met Jørgen A. Broegaard, who had been a student at the academy in the 1930’s and subsequently trained as a theologian and thereby qualified to be responsible for the academy’s historical, cultural and spiritual subjects. However, the two “co-proprietors” disagreed with the management of the “legacy of Bukh”. Arne Mortensen wanted to continue the academy’s “spirit, soul and gymnastics” as the model Bukh, while Broegaard preferred a critical overlook of Bukh’s homosexuality and political attitudes, especially during the Occupation. Bukh’s faithful arms – Arne Mortensen – won the power struggle in 1966, when the board of the Academy of Physical Education, Ollerup elected by resignation Jørgen A. Broegaard. And thus, the “Bukh cult”, which also includes extreme conservatism, both politically and gymnastic, could be continued until the next change of principal in 1976.

The youth uprising, which “passed” the Academy of Physical Education, Ollerup

Prior to this change, however, there were major changes, both nationally and internationally, outside the walls of the Academy of Physical Education, Ollerup. These changes in the form of rebellion against authorities, sexual emancipation, gender equality, barbed wire music and free hash are described in the book’s fifth chapter “Youth rebellion and Ollerup” (1968-1975). The youth rebellion cultural release, however, moved far beyond the Academy of Physicial Educaton, Ollerup to the principal Arne Mortensen undivided satisfaction. He stated the following to the media in 1970: “There is no breeding ground for a youth rebellion here at the Academy. Young people cannot be trained without the use of authority. The foundation on which Niels Bukh created the Academy is still the Academy’s ”. It was therefore both an external pressure and an inner “necessity” – far rather than the wishes or needs of the Board of the Academy and many former OD’s – that in the early 1990s, ie. more than 40 years after the death of founder Niels Bukh, a “Settlement with the Past” (1976-1998). Gunnar B. Hansen, who had been a student at the Academy, the headcoach of the elite team, the vice-chancellor, found it crucial for the academy’s current reputation and not least the forward-looking credibility to illuminate Bukh as a master and human being – with his strengths and weaknesses.

Inspiration for some gymnastics and sports colleges – and a counter parts to others

Calculated with the “father figure” Niels Bukh is the main topic of the book’s sixth chapter, which also deals with the description of the new principal Gunnar B.’s introduction of Beatles music to primitive gymnastics, student democracy and international students’ courses in democracy and sports life. This chapter also describes the role of the Academy of Physical Education, Ollerup for role models or counterparts for other of the country’s academies and sports colleges. At many academies and sports colleges, including “Gerlev Idrætshøjskole” (1935), “Viborg Gymnastikhøjskole” (1951), “Idrætshøjskolen i Sønderborg” (1952), Idrætshøjskolen i Aarhus (1971) and Nordjyllands Idrætshøjskole (1986) were principals and by far the majority teachers were former students or teachers from Academy of Physical Education, Ollerup. But there were also sports colleges, “Den Jyske Idrætshøjskole” (1943) and “Idrætsskolerne i Oure” (1987), which was established on the basis of competitive sports with coach-education in football, athletics, sailing, golf or modern dance. And with professional profiles, rules of order and living, which lay far from the Academy of Physical Education, Ollerup.

The balance between tradition and renewal – the folk high schools’ most important task

The book’s seventh chapter, “Culminated Jumping Series – Flagship for Democracy” (1998-2020), focuses on the past two decades with the current principal Uffe Strandby, former student of the Academy of Physical Education, as front figure. The chapter has two central themes: Renovation and new construction as well as the introduction of new forms of “gymnastics”. The “bite tradition”, introduced by Niels Bukh in 1922 and still practicing today, has created impressive buildings at the Academy. But daily wear and building materials of varying quality have also, in recent years, caused a great need for renovations and more modern facilities, such as a state-of-the-art spring center, which was inaugurated in 2002. And most recently, the old sports hall has been transformed into a modern multifunctional arena with mobile spectator stands for gymnastics performances, sports events, exhibitions, concerts and congresses. The renovation of the sports hall, indoor and outdoor swimming pool as well as works of art around the school area has been provided through donations from private foundations such as “Realdania”, “Ny Carlsberg Foundation” and “A.P. Møller Fonden”. The renovation and the new facilities have also meant that the academy’s professional profile in gymnastics has changed radically. Today, modern dance, fitness, parkour, crossfit, team gym, tumbling, zumba, yoga and performance are weighted on the same level as earlier “core disciplines”: jumping gymnastics and rhythmic gymnastics. With the extension of the academic profile, the Academy of Physical Education, Ollerup has managed to balance tradition and renewal, which is one of the most important tasks of the academies and colleges.

Out-march brings together the seven chapters into a clear and precise synthesis. But most importantly, Bonde sets out a number of choices and clues for the development of the Academy of Physical Education, Ollerup, which everyone with heart and brain for the Academy has the right and duty to relate to. Anniversary book “From the outskirt to the frontskirt. The fight of gymnastics for a century “deserves a standing ovation for several minutes – and the Academy of Physical Education, Ollerup deserves thanks for” words and deeds “as well as good luck with the next 100 years.

You can read more at the Acedemy of Physical Education, Ollerup here: