By Jonathan Hollander, AFS-Summer Program, India, 1968. AFS Host Brother, Sweden, 1967-68
“The memory is incredibly vivid although it was 50 years ago: Grabbing a large manila envelope out of the mailbox on the porch of my suburban Maryland home and pulling out a sheaf of papers with a small black and white snapshot affixed to the top page. A family — a mother dressed in a sari, father in oxford shirt and trousers, son in shorts, daughter in sari — standing closely together on a small balcony with the urban landscape of Bombay stretching out below. This was the first indication that I was not going to Norway, Brazil, Turkey… but even farther away geographically and culturally – to India! How could I have known how seamlessly and completely I would become a part of that family’s world? How could I imagine that the life I led over those three months would change me forever, shape my career path, guide my philosophy, and expand my friendships and family exponentially?
Today I am the Artistic Director of Battery Dance Company which I founded four decades ago and through which I have produced choreography with titles like, ‘Songs of Tagore’, ‘Layapriya’, and most recently, ‘SHAKTI: A Return to the Source’! I am co-founder of the Indo-American Arts Council in New York, and spent the last twenty years helping to propagate the arts of India in America’s cultural capital. Through the Battery Dance Festival which I created 37 years ago, I have provided a platform for exponents of the eight classical dance forms of India, thereby awakening audiences in the tens of thousands to the dances that entranced me as a teenage AFSer in Bombay.
These days, though I studied classical piano for 13 years and love Western classical music, I am more apt to be seen at a Hindustani vocal concert than at the New York Philharmonic; as likely to conjure up dhal, saffron rice and gobi curry as to whip up a pasta pesto; and to favor a Kuchipudi arangetram over a ballet recital. The Jonathan I am now is definitely the post-AFS Jonathan, and I am so very grateful for that.
If I could speak to every high school parent, to every high schooler, to every headmaster or mistress, I would say this: Let AFS take you to a culture you never dreamed of. Get that passport stamped and take the leap of faith. What awaits you is a family somewhere that will open its doors and hearts to you; and you will return the favor either directly, or throughout the rest of your life.”