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Hilde Holger

  • Hilde Holger brought her expressionist dance practice from Vienna to Bombay, collaborating with local and exile artists, and opening a dance school.
  • Hilde
  • Holger
  • Hilde Sofer

  • 18-10-1905
  • Vienna (AT)
  • 22-09-2001
  • London (GB)
  • ChoreographerDancerTeacher
  • Hilde Holger brought her expressionist dance practice from Vienna to Bombay, collaborating with local and exile artists, and opening a dance school.

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  • Hilde Holger on Juhu Beach, 1940s. Photograph by Charles Petras. Hilde Holger Archive (© 2001 Primavera Boman-Behram. All Rights Reserved).
  • Hilde Holger began her long dance career in Vienna. As a student and later as the principal dancer of the expressionist choreographer Gertrude Bodenwieser, she was at the cutting edge of modern dance. As well as touring Europe with Bodenwieser’s company, she established the New School for Movement Arts in the centre of Vienna in 1926. After the Nazi annexation of Austria in 1938, and the subsequent closure of her dance school, it was clear that Holger, who was of Jewish descent, would have to leave the country. With the support of her Viennese friend Charles Petras (also Karl Petrasch) she fled to Bombay, arriving there in the summer of 1939.
    Holger gave her first performance in India at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in a programme that included the Taj Cabaret and Teddy Weatherford and his orchestra. In October 1941, Holger established the School of Art for Modern Movement. It was located on the second floor of Queen’s Mansion, a residential building constructed in 1902 on Prescott Road in the historical centre of Bombay. According to her own brochure, Holger’s school was “the foremost professional European School for Creative Dance and Contemporary Ballet in India.” Holger struggled throughout her time in Bombay to establish a sustained interest in European forms of dance. Her school attracted students mainly from Parsi and Anglo-Indian communities, with a smaller number from Chinese and Hindu backgrounds.
    When putting together her shows, Holger collaborated with local musicians and artists, as well as artists from the exile community. The costumes and sets of the “Three Enchanting Ballets” performed at the Capitol in 1943 were designed by the exiled painter Magda Nachman (Acharya)and Shiavax Chavda, an artist who studied at the J.J. School of Art in Bombay and Slade School of Art in London, and was briefly associated with the Progressive Artists’ Group in Bombay. Charles Petras worked as an occasional photographer and manager. Holger also connected with, and on occasion worked with, the Indian dancers Ram Gopal, Uday Shankar, Menaka and Rukmini Devi.
    India’s independence in 1947 was accompanied by communal violence and large-scale population movements, as Hindus fled Pakistan and Muslims escaped India. Holger, who had lost fourteen members of her family in the Holocaust, including her mother, sister and step-father, decided to leave Bombay. In 1948 she migrated to London with her husband Adi Boman-Behram, and her two-year-old daughter, Primavera. There she quickly established the Hilde Holger School of Modern Dance, first in Hampstead, and a few years later in Camden Town. Among her many students was Lindsay Kemp, who went on to train David Bowie and Kate Bush. As well as remaining committed to her expressionist practice, Holger was a pioneer in the field of movement-therapy, working together with children and young adults with mental and physical disabilities.

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  • Hilde Holger’s students dancing at Juhu Beach, Bombay, 1940s. Hilde Holger Archive (© 2001 Primavera Boman-Behram. All Rights Reserved).
    Advertisement for Hilde Holger’s dance school in Bombay. Hilde Holger Archive (© 2001 Primavera Boman-Behram. All Rights Reserved).
    “The Bombay Man's Diary: The Art of Hilde Holger” (The Evening News of India, Saturday 2 December 1939).
  • Franz, Margit. Gateway India: Deutschsprachiges Exil in Indien zwischen britischer Kolonialherrschaft, Maharadschas und Gandhi. Graz: Clio Verein f. Geschichts- & Bildungsarbeit, 2015.
    Holger, Hilde. ‘Dance Teacher in India’. Dance, September 1946.
    Lupus, Krishna. ‘A Heroine in Our Midst’. BLITZ. 27 March 1948.

    Sassenberg, Marina. “Hilde Holger: 1905–2001.” Jewish Women’s Archive, Accessed June 29, 2020.

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  • Hilde Holger Archive directed by Primavera Boman-Behram.

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  • Rachel Lee
  • Bombay, India (1939–1948); London, UK (1948–2001)

  • Queen’s Mansion, Prescott Road, Fort, Bombay, (now Ghanshyam Talwatkar Marg, Mumbai) (Residence and Studio; 1939–1948); 18 Parliament Hill, Hampstead, London (Residence and Studio; 1948-1950); 27 Oval Road, Camden Town, London (Residence and Studio, 1950–2001).

  • Bombay
  • Rachel Lee. "Hilde Holger." METROMOD Archive, 2021,, last modified: 07-09-2021.
  • Magda Nachman Acharya
    ArtistTheatre DesignerIllustratorTeacher

    The political turmoil of the twentieth century took Magda Nachman from St. Petersburg to Moscow to the Russian countryside, then to Berlin during the 1920s and 1930s and, finally, to Bombay.

    Word Count: 31

    Charles Petras
    JournalistDirectorLanguage TeacherWriterTheatre MakerArt ManagerTranslator

    Charles Petras was the founder and director of the international cultural centre Institute of Foreign Languages, an avant-garde theatre director and a very active promoter of international understanding and world peace.

    Word Count: 31

    Iconic Photo of the Progressive Artists’ Group and Their Associates

    There are two versions of the PAG photo at the opening of M.F. Husain's first solo exhibition in 1950 (published in 1996 and 2003) and two narratives about the opening.

    Word Count: 28