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Gymnastics between Protestantism and Libertinism from 1880 to 1940: A Comparative Analysis of Two Internationally Renowned Danish Gymnastics Educators

Nordic Journal of Educational History, Umea University Library, ISSN 2001-7766

Volume 4, 2, 2017

DOI:10.36368/njedh.v4i2.97, Dimensions: pub.1121851421,




  1. (1) University of Copenhagen, grid.5254.6, KU






The purpose of this article is to analyze and compare two internationally renowned Danish Gymnastics teachers, Jørgen Peter Muller and Niels Bukh. Whereas Muller’s home gymnastics had a cosmopolitan agenda that appealed to everyone regardless of ethnic origin, including many Jews, Bukh’s gymnastics increasingly became embedded in a right-wing nationalist frame of reference. Muller created an individual system of home gymnastics with a focus on health by means of exercises and the cleansing of the body that included a cold shower. In contrast, Bukh’s system was a collective form of gymnastics that emphasised the beauty of the young body. Common to both of them, however, was propagation of sexual liberation, which in Muller’s case focused on the naked heterosexual body’s manifestations in the sunlight and the fresh air. By contrast, Bukh was homosexual and through his aesthetic gaze he encouraged well-trained and sweaty young men to show their muscular upper body in touch-tight choreographies wearing only boxer shorts. It is the main thesis of the article that the contribution of sport to sexual liberation from late Victorianism’s firm grip is far greater than hitherto assumed.

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