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Danish gymnasts wow Queensbridge with flips

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What kind of encore can top a performance filled with airborne flips the height of a small building, pelvic gyrations and synchronized leaps that have already captivated an audience of bouncy children for an hour?

You teach them to do it themselves.

Although the children at the Jacob Riis Settlement House had not replicated the triple flips before their brief lesson ended, they certainly got a chance to watch and feel the human body’s potential after spending two hours with the National Danish Performance Team.

The group of 29 gymnasts appeared at the Queensbridge Houses community center Friday afternoon as part of its 10-month international tour of 20 countries.

The relationship between the settlement house and Denmark is long in standing and rich in tradition, dating back to the arrival of its namesake, a Danish immigrant who became a prominent journalist and social advocate on American shores in 1870.

Although the settlement house moved to Long Island City’s Queensbridge Houses in 1950, Riis established it in 1888 on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.

Danish Princess Benedikte now acts as the house’s patron, and like the gymnastics team, she stops by whenever she visits the United States.

The Danish gymnasts’ performance featured elaborate choreography in the women’s jazzy floor combinations as well as a few demonstrations of pure bravado — such as the airborne leaps the men performed in rapid succession after propelling themselves like torpedoes from a trampoline.

“We don’t have all these rules because we are performers,” said team manager Johannes Bjerre. “We can do what we like to do.”

For the gymnasts, that gives them the freedom to show off a life worth of training.

“This is what I’ve ever dreamed about,” said Peder Lillelund, 24, a team member who has been studying gymnastics since he was 7. “It’s the highest you can get to as a gymnast in Denmark.”

For the kids, who cheered and applauded the spectacular moves as they sat in the gymnasium, the performance offered a dose of pure entertainment that turned into hands-on fun when the gymnasts gave them a chance to bounce on their feet and stand on their palms.

“It was very unique,” said 10-year-old Olivia Simms from Queensbridge. “It was different from a lot of dance that I’ve seen. It was creative and funny.”

“I liked when I stood on my hands and put my feet up,” said tiny Kharyn Ethridge, 5, as she tried to demonstrate the hand-stand she did while two of the gymnasts held her legs.

The children also got to flip through the air, roll on the floor in somersaults, and perform partnering moves in which they sat stacked on top of one another like Legos.

“This is cool,” said 14-year-old Nazmul Alom. “I hope I could be like one of them.”

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.

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