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Danish Dancing

Morten Nilsson and Camera Take a Turn Around the Ballroom

By Jonathan Padget
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 13, 2005; Page C05

Admirers of sweaty teenage Danish ballroom dancers, rejoice! The work of photographer Morten Nilsson has made its way to Washington.

Okay, you may actually want to rejoice rather quietly, because some people might think you're a bit odd. Still, make a beeline for Ingrid Hansen Gallery, where "Dancers," an exhibit of Nilsson's striking portraits, opened last week.

Morten Nilsson's photographs of the Danish ballroom dancing scene are on view at Ingrid Hansen Gallery. (Copyright Morten Nilsson)

Nilsson, 37, was working as a photojournalist when he ventured into the realm of fine-art photography for the first time two years ago with his portrait series devoted to young ballroom dancers -- mostly in the 12-to-20 age range. Speaking from his home in Copenhagen, Nilsson says he first learned of the country's ballroom subculture through an encounter with a young appliance store clerk with oddly dark hands -- the residual effect, he learned, of special hand makeup the clerk wore when he was in full dance regalia.

Intrigued, Nilsson checked out the ballroom scene and was eagerly received by exposure-hungry crowds -- all of whom posed for him immediately after they exited the dance floor.

"It's a strange world for an outsider to look into," Nilsson says. He was particularly drawn to the rituals of wardrobe, makeup and movement -- and how the ungainly, rebellious nature of the average teenager seemed to conflict with the rigid conformity and extreme stylization of ballroom dance customs.

Gallery owner Ingrid Hansen found Nilsson's work to be right up her alley -- she specializes in Scandinavian fine-art photography -- when he contacted her about exhibiting in Washington.

"It made me kind of happy to see people portrayed who are so passionate about something, but he tweaked it a little bit," Hansen says. "He clearly has a sense of humor. His point of view is very unique."

After all, in these portraits of dancers, she keenly observes, "there are no feet."

Artistic Response

Roving Artists had been planning its current exhibition for months. But when news of the South Asian tsunami broke, the 35-member local group acted quickly to transform the show into a relief benefit before the exhibit's opening at Friendship Heights Village Center earlier this month.

The artists will donate a portion of their show revenue, and the center will donate its commission, which means that 50 percent of overall proceeds will go to the Red Cross for tsunami aid. The exhibit's 37 works -- paintings, prints, photographs and mixed-media pieces -- are priced from $125 to $1,800.

Roving Artists member Sherry Matz, who coordinated the benefit and was on hand for a public reception Sunday at the center, says she feels a special sense of connection to the disaster, having spent four years in Indonesia as a "Foreign Service wife" in the 1970s. Matz even created a new painting in time for the show: "Rising Numbers," portraying a tsunami hitting a beach. The work has already been sold.

Charitable Concerts

Fans of opera or world music can catch a concert and support tsunami relief efforts at two events Sunday night.

Washington Hebrew Congregation will host a concert of operatic and contemporary selections featuring tenor Otoniel Gonzaga and mezzo-soprano Barbara Dever. The event is sponsored by the All Dulles Area Muslim Society, Episcopal Diocese of Washington and Washington National Cathedral. Tsunami relief donations will be collected for each organization's humanitarian outreach programs.

"It's healthy right now to be together and not just to write a check," says Susan Hanenbaum, Washington Hebrew's executive director.

In McLean, the Asian American Music Society will present a concert at the Korean United Methodist Church. The program will include the Korean-American Musicians Association, Jayamangala, Indonesian gamelan music, Sutera Malaysia Dance Group, Washington Guzheng Society, Washington Toho Koto Society and Yellow River Ensemble. Donations will be collected for the Red Cross.

Dancers at Ingrid Hansen Gallery, 1203 19th St. NW, Suite 300, through Feb. 24. Open Tuesday and Thursday 10 a.m.-2 p.m., and by appointment. Free. Call 202-266-5022 or visit www.ingridhansengallery.com.

Roving Artists Winter Show at Friendship Heights Village Center, 4433 South Park Ave., Chevy Chase, through Jan. 31. Open Monday-Thursday 9 a.m.-9 p.m., Friday 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Saturday and Sunday 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Free. Call 301-656-2797 or visit www.rovingartists.com.

Tsunami Benefit Concert at Washington Hebrew Congregation, 3935 Macomb St. NW. Sunday at 7 p.m. Free. Call 202-362-7100 or visit www.whctemple.org.

Tsunami Benefit Concert at Korean United Methodist Church, 1219 Swinks Mill Rd., McLean. Sunday at 7 p.m. Free. Call 301-424-3379 or visit www.aamsopera.com.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company