Tourists come in all shapes, sizes and forms with myriad expectations of what they want from a trip. What do you then call the tourist who not only wants to avoid the ‘touristy’ but also wants to engage with the socio-cultural, lifestyle and anthropological landscape of a region/area? S/he also wants to delve into how it has been impacted by the history of a place, its architectural aesthete, its performing arts, religions and other elements.

This kind of unique engagement has come to be called ‘cultural tourism’ and an Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development  (OECD) study has documented, with empirical data evidence, that such touristic engagement is long lasting and has proven to bring substantial benefits to a region’s holistic development, often going beyond the cosmetic.

“Despite its challenges, one of the most attractive destinations in the world in this regard is India with an ecosystem created with the numerous heritage temple townships, festivals, fairs and folk and classical art,” says Jonathan Hollander, one of the world’s outstanding choreographers of his generation, who has taken a leadership role in international cultural exchange and social activism. He should know. Hollander once told this writer that India is a part of his DNA, and he visited the country eight times for extended dance engagements. Something clicked within when he first came here at age 16 and has the feeling has lingered. The three strands of music, India and dance have beautifully braided themselves inside me and run through, he had said.

Battery Dance Company Battery Dance Company at one of their performances, (Inset) Jonathan Hollander

Having arrived as an exchange student in American Field Service, he was exposed to Indian classical painting, the sitar and the classical dance forms of Bharatanatyam (by Parvati Kumar and his disciple Sucheta Chaphekar) and Manipuri (by the Jhaveri sisters Darshana, Ranjana and Suvarna).

Later, he pursued dance and formed his own Battery Dance company. It’s annual dance festival at New York has featured renowned Indian dancers such as Mallika Sarabhai, Shashidharan Nair, Swapna Sundari, Rama Vaidyanathan, Arjun Misra and CV Chandrasekhar. In January this year, young Bharatanatyam exponent Unnath Hassan Rathnaraju joined the BDC troupe in a piece set to Pt Rajan-Sajan Mishra’s raga Durga and Darren Sangita’s music. Hollander’s extensive work with Indian dancers, musicians and costume designers give each of his productions a uniquely Indian flavour.

While a culture editor at The New York Times once had been dismissive of Indian dance, Indian dance performances are now being cited among top dance performances of the year by the top dance critic of the same paper. We are convinced Hollander’s ‘cultural tourism’ has been part of that journey in its own small way.

Originally published on DNA India | Written by Yogesh Pawar

Mr. Hollander, an AFS alumni, ays, “I owe so much to AFS – not only my India connection, which runs so deep, but also my connection to my AFS brother, Roger Jacobsson, from Sweden; and my AFS life-long friends Christiane Walesch-Schneller in Breisach, Germany, who was the spark that started Dancing to Connect which has spread to 26 cities in Germany and 60 countries around the world; and Annick Garache Gouvernel, recently retired after a life long career as a high school teacher and translator in Paris.”