By GAIL JOKERST
When Arvid “Chris” Kristoffersen met his future wife, Roslyn, at Kalispell’s Eagles Club, the first thing he noticed were her Betty-Grable legs. The first thing Roz noticed about Chris when he asked her to dance was his accent.
“Svensk or Norsk?” she inquired. The answer was definitively “Norsk” as Chris hails from Kragero, Telemark, a small Norwegian seaport. Although he moved to the U.S. over 60 years ago, Chris’s lilting accent has not faded with the years, nor has his love for depicting the folk art and magical creatures of his native Norway.
Ever since boyhood, Chris has focused his talents on capturing the spirit of Norway’s trolls in sketches, paintings, and woodcarvings—a passion he inherited from his artist mother. And while these trolls with their long-reddened noses, big ears, and missing teeth certainly qualify as ugly, they also happen to be happy trolls and surprisingly cute. That appeals to Chris’s sense of humor and is the only way he imagines them, despite their reputation for misbehaving if treated disrespectfully.
“In the old days, people claimed trolls really existed and used to be scared of them. They thought if you left them a kettle of porridge at night it would bring good luck and good crops,” explained Chris, who attended art school at the University of Oslo and in Minneapolis. “But if you were mean and tried to chase them away, you would get bad crops and bad milk from your cows.”
According to Chris, Norwegians of his generation grew up hearing legends about trolls, which he equates to being, “a kind of Scandinavian Bigfoot or Boogeyman, not scary, but useful for telling stories.”
Considering that trolls can have from one to 12 heads and vary in appearance as much as humans, Chris has had a never-ending source of inspiration to ignite his artistic imagination. Observing older people and sketching their faces on a scrap of paper has often spurred him to render those whimsical impressions in wood or with paints.
“When I crumble a napkin, I can see a troll face in it, can’t you?” asked Chris, who believes that artists should be keen observers of the world and of its inhabitants.
Chris’s work, both its serious and playful sides, has been recognized in various ways. He was the subject of a PBS Northwest Profiles special; was voted Norway’s Number two Fairy-Tale artist of all time; and was even asked to present his work to Walt Disney Studios—an invitation he felt reluctant to accept at the time. However, the accomplishment he is proudest of is the rosemaled mural he painted for Fargo-Moorhead’s Sons of Norway Kringen Lodge. It measures 96 by 8 feet and depicts 22 carved trolls including Nikolina, a 700-year-old spinster troll in need of a husband.
Chris’s wife, Roz, is an artist in her own right, as well. But her artistry comes through her feet—to say nothing of her hips—rather than her fingers. A professional dance instructor, Roz has taught Montanans to salsa, waltz, line dance, jitterbug, and two-step for almost 35 years.
“I started teaching after I was divorced in 1983 and didn’t want to sit home. So I took a dance class at Flathead Valley Community College,” recalled Roz. “The instructor saw I could dance. At first, he asked me to help the other students. Then he recruited me to take his place when he moved away.”
The decision to teach was an easy one for her to make. A dancer since the age of four, Roz learned social dancing from her mom, a denizen of Arthur Murray Dance Studios.
“Whenever she mastered a new step, she came home and taught it to me,” said Roz, who introduced line dancing to the Flathead and has taught as many as 100 people at a time those moves.
“Line dancing is great because you don’t need a partner. And if you’re a man and know how to dance,” she added, “you’re a girl magnet. It’s really true.”
Roz ought to know. She has instructed over 10,000 wannabe Fred Astaires and Ginger Rogers, ranging from folks wishing to cha-cha at a 50th anniversary celebration to engaged couples preparing to waltz at their wedding. She has been hired by hosts to teach party guests the dances beforehand, so everyone has the basics down to feel comfortable on the dance floor. She has also taught at saloons, hotels, and guest ranches, inside homes and outside in parks, at grade schools as well as senior citizen centers. Consequently, Roz can authoritatively declare that no one is too young or too old to learn to dance.
“Whatever the age, the important thing is the ability to get the rhythm and follow directions,” cautioned Roz, whose classes have been featured on Montana Backroads. “The man has to learn to lead and the lady to follow,” she sais, “and they need to know a downbeat from an upbeat. The downbeat tells you when to start moving.”
Roz advocates dance not just for pleasure and relaxation but also for the bonus of staying physically and mentally fit. While novices may think dancing is all about movement, Roz pointed out that paying attention matters, too.
“Dancing keeps your mind sharp and your body in shape,” she said. “You have to be alert all the time to what your partner is doing and be thinking about your next steps.”
One fringe benefit of taking Roz’s classes is that former students can attend current classes for free, so steps remain fresh in thought. Many who partake of this offer even volunteer to partner with new students wanting to learn to dance but without anyone to attend class with them. Roz cheerfully reported that 16 marriages have resulted so far from those pairings.
Another rewarding sidebar for Roz is teaching the children and grandchildren of some of her first students. They may come from Montana, another state, or another country, but all discover that dance is a universal language. It may require practice but no translation.
For information about Chris’s gicle prints and notecards, contact the Kristoffersens’ daughter, Darlene Wagner, at HappyTrollsArt@gmail.com or 406-387-4000. To learn more about Roz’s dance instruction, call her at 406-752-8724.