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How dancer who fled Nazis found perfect stage in north London

The renowned expressionist dancer Hilde Holger fled Nazi Germany and religious conflict in India to live her last 50 years in Camden Town. Mike Pentelow talks to the co-author of her biography

12 April, 2018 — By Mike Pentelow

Hilde Holger held dance classes in her Camden Town basement for more than 50 years – until her final weeks in 2001, she was still teaching

THE woman who had a huge impact on pioneering expressionistic dancing, Hilde Holger (1905-2001), lived in Camden for the last 50 years of her life.

If you Google this dancer, teacher and choreographer now there are nearly 80,000 entries for her. But back in the 1980s there was little published about her. In fact the very first biography of her was not published until 1990.

Entitled Die Kraft des Tanzes (The Power of Dance) by Denny Hirschbach and Rick Takvorian, it was published by Zeichen and Spuren in Bremen, Germany.

Denny had heard about Hilde through a friend, Monica, who had been a pupil of hers. She was so fascinated about Hilde and her life – including fleeing the Nazis and then religious conflict in India – that she came to London to interview her.

“I was so impressed by her creativity and powerful personality that I was determined to publish a book about her with the help of dance expert and journalist Rick Takvorian who wrote the biography,” Denny told Review. “I am glad that our book inspired more interest in her by others.”

Hilde was Jewish and born in Wien, Austria. When Hitler’s Nazis invaded that country in 1939 part of the persecution of the Jews was to ban them from performing on stage.

“She managed to leave from hiding at the very last minute to save her life, but many of her friends were sent to concentration camps,” adds Denny. “She lost her home, family and friends, just as she and her friends in Vienna were developing a progressive and liberating culture.

Hilde Holger

“A friend got her a visa to travel to India and she moved to Bombay [Mumbai] where she met and married a Parsi doctor, Adi Boman-Behram. She was greatly inspired by Indian dance and picked up elements of it, incorporating it into her own style.”

Then in 1948 came the partition of India and the conflict between Hindus and Muslims. Her husband went on ahead to London (where he had studied) and his wife and young daughter, Primavera, followed later.

“At first they lived in Hampstead,” said Denny. “Their neighbours were suspicious and hostile to her because she spoke German so it was hard for her to make a start again.”

Ironically, in 1988, Hilde’s dance group performed to great acclaim at Hampstead Theatre.

Hilde’s son, Darius, was born with Down syndrome in 1949.

“The doctors said he would not have long to live,” explained Denny. Darius, who took part in his mother’s dance classes for children, died in 2008 aged 59 having lived a longer and more fulfilling life than anybody could have expected thanks to the homeopathic treatment devised by his father and the dance therapy developed by his mother.

“She studied his movements and developed a form of dance therapy, which became very popular, and was performed at Sadler’s Wells with a mixture of professional dancers and handicapped people.”

In 1951 the family moved to Camden Town.

“She felt better there because it was much more cosmopolitan and immigrants felt at home there,” said Denny. “She also got inspiration from the arts in London – including expressionist painters and sculptors – and from the cultural revolution in China.”

For more than 50 years Hilde held classes in her Camden Town basement. Indeed, until her final weeks in 2001, she was still teaching.

Among her pupils was the celebrated dancer, Lindsay Kemp, but she also danced for many years. Now, Hilde’s heritage is being preserved and promoted by her daughter, the artist and prominent anti-HS2 campaigner Primavera Boman-Behram.

Primavera hadn’t realised that her mother was a famous dancer back in Vienna until she came across photographs and documents in a trunk of her mother’s belongings following her death.

More information about Hilde and her legacy can be found at hildeholger.com/

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