Director of Teacher Development
Seibi Lee began her studies in the arts at age 5 with piano, violin and ballet. She developed a strong interest in the sciences in middle school and in 1985 she completed a Bachelor of Science at the University of Alberta majoring in Psychology and Biology. At the age of 19, she discovered the harp and began a 2nd Bachelor degree, this time in Music. She completed a Bachelor of Music in 1991 and a Master of Music in 1994 both specializing in Harp Performance under the internationally renowned harpist Judy Loman at the University of Toronto. In 1991, Seibi met the legendary Kathak master Pandit Chitresh Das and began her journey into the world of Kathak. She continued her studies with Das’ disciple Joanna De Souza for the next 3 years. After establishing her professional harp career teaching and performing in the Vancouver area and holding the position of Principal Harpist with the Vancouver Island Symphony, Seibi made the decision in 1997 to move to the Bay Area to study Kathak with Pandit Das in the guru-shishya parampara - traditional one-on-one training, this formative experience continued until his passing in 2015. Seibi began performing with the Chitresh Das Dance Company in 1999 and was appointed to be Co-Director of the Chhandam School by Pandit Das in 2010.. Currently, Seibi is Senior Instructor, Dean and Artistic Director of Chhandam School of Kathak and guest faculty at the Leela Institute in LA, Sureela in Denver and Chhandam Nritya Bharati in Mumbai. The depth and expansiveness of this art form is a great inspiration to Seibi and she has dedicated much of her life to passing the knowledge Das’ pedagogy through teaching and mentoring generations of teachers and dancers. Seibi is Co-Founder and Principal Dancer of Leela Dance Collective, a group led by senior disciples of Das that bases its philosophy on collaboration and collective creativity and whose work is strongly grounded in tradition yet boldly innovative.
Director of Youth Company
Rachna Nivas is a leading artist, educator, and activist in Indian classical dance, bringing a relevant voice to Kathak. Deemed “charismatic” and “revelatory” by the San Francisco Chronicle, Rachna is a fierce and passionate performer, displaying the depth of her 17-year training under legendary master and icon Pandit Chitresh Das. Rachna was a principal dancer with the Chitresh Das Dance Company for 15 years and has and continues to tour extensively across the globe. Rachna began teaching at the Chhandam School in the year 2001. Her skills quickly brought her into a leadership role to build the school. Her passion and commitment to her own journey of the art and to building pride of Indian classical art amongst the South Asian community, led her to emerge as a powerful role model amongst the Indian diaspora. In particular, Rachna has exceptional talent in teaching and training youth, making the art relevant, inspiring, and empowering to girls. By 2009, Pandit Chitresh Das himself appointed Rachna to be Co-Director of the Chhandam School along with Seibi Lee. Rachna and Seibi worked tirelessly directly under Pandit Das to institutionalize curriculum, build infrastructure, train teachers, develop Chhanadm’s 9 Principles, create a summer camp program, direct school-wide dance dramas, and flourish the school into one of the world’s leading and most influential academies of North Indian classical dance. Rachna has also taught numerous kathak workshops, after-school programs, and outreach events/residencies to communities of all backgrounds, including at the San Francisco Asian Art Museum, Treme Center of New Orleans, Conservatory of Arts in Miami, Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix, LA Tap Fest at Debbie Allen Dance Academy, National Center for Kathak Dance in New Delhi, and many more. Today, Rachna is a successor to Pandit Das as Co-Artistic Director of the Chhandam School and Artistic Director of the Chhandam Youth Dance Company, shepherding excellence, leadership, and creative discovery amongst teens. She is also a founding artist of the Leela Dance Collective, an artist-led collective producing powerful works through the collective creativity of trailblazing women in Kathak. In addition, she is the Director of the Leela Dance NYC Initiative, bringing her lineage and philosophy of kathak to promising pre-professional adult students in New York City. She currently guest teaches at many of Chhandam’s affiliate schools, splitting her time between San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York City, and Mumbai, becoming one of the most sought-after kathak artists and teachers of her generation.
Senior Instructor (Alternate)
Dance artist and educator, Joanna Meinl, began dancing in her youth as part of her high school dance team. After two years she achieved the position of co-captain and then captain, leading her team to consecutive state championships. From 1990-1994 she studied at Ballet Etudes in Miami, FL, training and performing in ballet, jazz and hip-hop. After graduation she went on to study anthropology and world dance at New York University’s Gallatin School. Upon relocating to San Francisco, CA in 1995 she was introduced to the enthralling art of Kathak at San Francisco State University and began her 20 year journey studying with legendary master artist, Pandit Chitresh Das. While at SFSU she majored in ethnology and minored in performance/choreography, training extensively in ballet, Afro-Haitian, modern and of course, kathak. She graduated cum laude in 1999 with a B.A. in Dance Ethnology. As a performing member of the world renowned Chitresh Das Dance Company since 1998, Joanna has toured extensively both nationally and internationally, including four tours to India. She presented her first traditional kathak solo in 2005 and has performed in many critically acclaimed productions including Darbar, Pancha Jati, East as Center, Sampurnam, Shabd, India Jazz Progressions, Sita Haran and Shiva. She is honored to continue her Guruji’s legacy, performing most recently with the Leela Dance Collective in Son of the Wind. Joanna is an avid arts educator. As an instructor at the Chhandam School since 1999, she has developed a passion for teaching over the years. She has directed the Marin, Union City and San Jose branches of Chhandam and served as Arts Education Program Director. From 2001-2005 she trained as a ballroom and latin dance instructor at Dance Arts Studios and then pursued competitive west coast swing. She has trained with many world renowned artists including her current coach and choreographer, Benji Schwimmer. She is currently a champion level WCS dancer and performs, teaches and judges at events throughout the U.S. and Europe. She has taught kathak, ballet, ballroom and creative dance in schools and arts programs throughout the Bay Area for nearly 20 years and continues to love sharing her joy of dance!
Dancer and arts advocate, Cimeron Ahluwalia, began her study of Kathak with the late Pandit Chitresh Das at San Francisco State University in 1998, where she assisted his two unit accredited course for over three years. Throughout her study with Pandit Das, she was fortunate to observe and absorb not only the art form but how to teach to the masses and relate it to present day. Traveling both nationally and internationally to India with Pandit Das, she has performed with the Chitresh Das Dance Company in such productions as Sanpurnam, Sita Haran, Yatra, and Shiva. In 2012, she performed her first traditional Kathak solo in San Francisco. She is honored to continue the tradition, performing most recently with Leela Dance Collective in Son of the Wind. Alongside her performing career, Cimeron had the great opportunity to train directly under Pandit Das, assisting many of his high level classes. Since 2003, she has held positions as Branch Director and teacher in the Mountain View, San Francisco and most recently Fremont Branch of Chhandam School of Kathak Dance. Cimeron attributes has held high level fundraising positions with such organizations as San Francisco Opera, SFJAZZ, San Francisco Symphony and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. She credits all of her opportunities in the art world to her studies in Kathak and often times brings the artform into her presentation style. While teaching, she brings her performance style in, to not only educate but to captivate as well.
Poonam Narkar began her Kathak training at Chhandam School of Kathak in 2007 and received training directly under Pandit Das starting 2010. After his passing, she has been training under the mentorship of senior artist Seibi Lee. She has performed in Chitresh Das Dance Company’s critically acclaimed productions such as Ramayan, Darbar, Sita Haran and Shiva, several of Chhandam School’s Arts education programs. Poonam performed her debut kathak solo in 2017 and performed in Leela Dance Collective’s magnum opus Son of the Wind. In addition to performing, Poonam has been teaching at Chhandam since 2010, and has served as a branch director and School Programs Manager for Chhandam School of Kathak.
Nilima Dave began studying kathak in 1999 and received training directly under Pandit Chitresh Das starting in 2003. She performed in multiple Chitresh Das Dance Company productions, including Darbar (2012) and SHIVA (2016), and performs regularly for the San Francisco Bay Area Schools’ “Young Audience” program. Nilima is currently a teacher and Director of Finances at the Chhandam School of Kathak.
Assistant Director of Youth Company Ahana Mukherjee began studying kathak at the age of ten at the Chhandam School of Kathak and was a part of the inaugural Chhandam Youth Dance Company from 2001 through 2009. She performed extensively with the Youth Company in various prestigious venues including the San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival. While at UCLA for her bachelor’s degree, Ahana continued her kathak study with Rina Mehta, founder of The Leela Institute for the Arts, and taught for the institution. Upon returning to the Bay Area, she resumed her studies at Chhandam and began teaching and assisting beginning level childrens’ classes. She has performed in several leading productions such as Shiva and has also been an ensemble dancer in Leela Dance Collective’s pioneering work, Son of the Wind. After being a member of CYDC herself, she currently serves as the company’s Assistant Director in Fremont, CA.
Ria began her study of kathak with Seibi Lee at Chhandam School of Kathak in 2014, where she is now a member of the teaching faculty. She teaches introductory courses for children and adults. Before starting kathak, Ria trained in classical ballet and modern dance for 14 years before being introduced to the world of classical and Rabindrik Indian dance by Malabika Guha in the early 2000s. Since then, she studied Bharatanatyam under Chitra Venkateswaran and trained in capoeira and other Afro-Brazilian arts under the guidance of Contra Mestre Maranhão. Ria performed internationally in Spain, India, and Bolivia and extensively in the US with Kalamandir Dance Company (KDC), a troupe that she co-founded in 2009. In 2017, she debuted as an apprentice dancer for The Leela Dance Collective, and has toured with the company in Son of the Wind and California Gharana.
Rina Mehta brings to the art form of Kathak, classical dance of North India, a singular voice and vision. An artist and an entrepreneur, she displays on and off the stage her depth of training with legendary Kathak master, Pt. Chitresh Das, an unshakeable grounding in tradition and a pioneering spirit. Described as “regal” and “brilliant” by critics, her performances and artistic work are paving a path forward for the legacy of Pt. Chitresh Das and Kathak dance itself. Rina is a founding artist of the Leela Dance Collective, which brings together leading artists from around the world to advance a collective vision for Kathak. Rina’s original works include SPEAK, a kathak-tap collaboration; Chandanbala, the story of the revered Jain saint interpreted through the Kathak tradition; and Son of the Wind, the story of India’s mythological hero, Hanuman, brought to life through dance-drama. She has received funding to create and tour her works by such prestigious institutions such as the National Endowment for the Arts, New Music USA, the California Arts Council and the Zellerbach Family Fund. Prior to her work with the Leela Dance Collective, Rina was a principal dancer with the Chitresh Das Dance Company, performing and touring with the company’s critically acclaimed productions including Shabd, Pancha Jati, and Sita Haran across the United States and in India. She has received the Alliance for California Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Grant and twice been nominated for an Isadora Duncan Dance Award for Company performance as part of the Chitresh Das Dance Company. She has performed at such prestigious venues/festivals nationally and in India as REDCAT (Roy and Edna Disney/Cal Arts Theater), Meany Hall for Performing Arts (University of Washington), Tata Theater/NCPA in Mumbai, and the Shaniwarwada Dance Festival in Pune, as a soloist and with the Chitresh Das Dance Company. Rina is also the recipient of the prestigious Fulbright award and researched the effectiveness of Kathak dance education as a social intervention in underprivileged communities in Mumbai, India. Rina’s most ambitious initiative is The Leela Endowment, the first initiative of its kind, aimed at providing the financial infrastructure necessary to advance India’s rich artistic heritage.
Artistic Director of Chhandam Nritya Bharati, Mumbai, India A born artist, Seema graduated from the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, California, USA with Bachelors of Fine Art (BFA) specializing in painting and sculpture. She has been training under renowned Kathak maestro Pandit Chitresh Das since 2000 . Her lineage dates back to the great Gurus of the Lucknow and Jaipur gharanas. Seema’s style therefore strikes an admirable balance between the two styles, the subtle and graceful versus the warrior like vigour through powerful footwork and chakkars. Her performing career began in 2003 at the San Francisco State University. She is an expert practitioner and performer of Kathak Yoga- Chitresh Das’s innovation within the Kathak tradition. Seema performs Kathak Yoga by dancing complex compositions while singing and playing the harmonium. Seema is the Director of Chhandam Nritya Bharati-India where she teaches over 100 students in Mumbai and Kolkata. She has worked with the children of Kolkata’s red light areas, the New Light Project in particular empowering them through Kathak. She also teaches children from the Akanksha and SMILE Foundations in Mumbai. Going beyond the traditional preview of dance, Seema’s vision is to touch lives through her work. Seema is the Creative Director at Kirtilals.
Artistic Director of Sureela Academy, Denver Dr. Sarah Morelli (Harvard Ph.D. 2007) is a tenured Associate Professor of Ethnomusicology at the University of Denver’s Lamont School of Music and Artistic Director of the Sureela Academy and Ensemble in Denver, CO. With training in both Hindustani music and kathak dance from world-renowned artists Ustad Ali Akbar Khan and Pandit Chitresh Das, respectively, Sarah is an energetic, inventive teacher who enjoys working with students of all levels, from kids’ kathak classes to graduate university seminars. Her book A Guru’s Journey: Pandit Chitresh Das and Indian Classical Dance in Diaspora is forthcoming from the University of Illinois Press (November 2019). She is also the author of an Instructor’s Manual for the college-level world music textbook Soundscapes (W.W. Norton, 3rd ed.) and regularly presents her research on kathak at academic conferences for national and international associations such as the Society for Ethnomusicology and the International Council for Traditional Music. As a visiting instructor at Chhandam (San Francisco), The Leela Institute (LA), and Chhandam Nritya Bharati (Mumbai), Sarah particularly enjoys teaching Hindustani music skills to kathak dancers and has developed innovative methods that utilize movement exercises to help students identify notes and sing in tune.
Senior Vocal Instructor
Debashis Sarkar (vocal) was born and raised in a musical family. In his early years he trained in classical and semi-classical music with a number of renowned artists including Shri Sukhendu Goswami, Ustad Sagiruddin Khan and Shri Sukumar Mitra. He received his formal and foundational training in Hindustani Classical Vocal Music with Ustaad Ghulam Mohammad Khan. Debashis has performed regularly for All India Radio as a top grade artists and numerous media outlets including Doordarshan. For more than four decades, Debashis has been a highly sought after artist amongst India's classical dancers. He has accompanied some of India’s finest performers including the late Odissi master Guru Kelucharan Mahapatro, and notable Kathak artists such as Pandit Birju Maharaj, Pandit Chitresh Das, Pandit Vijay Shankar, and Pandit Rammohan Mishra. Debashis was a core member of the Chitresh Das Dance Company's musical ensemble for over 15 years participating in the composition and performance of full-length musical scores for dance productions such as Darbar, Shiva, Pancha Jati, Sita Haran, East as Center and Sampurnam. Debashis is a popular performer of light classical music including ghazals, thumris and bhajans. He has performed as a soloist and accompanist in prestigious venues in India, Europe, Japan and the United States. He is also proficient in a range of percussion instruments, having studied tabla under Pandit Hiralal Mishra. Debashis is currently a resident artist with Chhandam, visiting regularly for lectures and performances, as well as teaching at all of the sister schools and institutions including the Leela Academy, The Sureela Academy, and the Leela Dance Collective.
Senior Music Instructor
Jayanta Banerjee, renowned sitarist and eminent composer, started his formal training under the guidance of Pandit Rabi Chakraborty at a young age. HIs talent and singular approach to the sitar garnered him early recognition in the field. In 1997, he received the prestigious National Youth Festival Award, paving the way for a prolific and enduring career in music and composition. A profound sensitivity, responsiveness and gravity makes Jayanta's approach to music. Jayanta has performed with some of India's greatest artists including the likes of Pt. Rajan and Sajan Mishra, Pt. Birju Maharaj, Pt. Chitresh Das, Pt. Swapan Chaudhuri, and Pt. Kumar Bose. He has established himself as one of India's leading composers and his musical compositions are seen in India's leading dance and theatrical productions. His live performances and compositions have been featured across India and around the world at prestigious venues such as the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts, Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater, Meany Center for the Performing Arts, and the National Centre for the Performing Arts, Mumbai. He is currently a resident artist at Chhandam and is heavily involved in the composition process for all of their major productions, including most recently Shiva and Son of the Wind.
Vaibhav Mankad is an up and coming musical artist based in Mumbai, India. He boasts a Masters in Hindustani Classical Vocal from Mumbai University and more than a decade of training under the guidance of Shri Rajesh Kelkar, renowned exponent of the Agra Gharana. Vaibhav began performing at the age of 15. His range and versatility quickly established him as a go-to accompanist for artists such as Pt. Birju Maharaj, Smt. Uma Dogra, Smt. Nandita Puri, Pt. Rajesh Gangani and many more. He has toured nationally and internationally performing at prestigious venues such as National Centre for the Performing Arts, Mumbai, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, and The Broad Stage. Vaibhav also has established himself as a solo performer with a specialty in the semi-classical genres of ghazals, bhajans and sufi music. In addition to being a prolific performer, Vaibhav is a dedicated educator, with a passion for spreading the knowledge of Hindustani music. He has been teaching music for more than 15 years to talented and avid students in Vadodra, Gujarat, Mumbai, Maharashtra, and across California. Vaibhav is currently an artist-in-residence with Chhandam, performing in their major productions around the world and teaching regularly in the Bay Area and at Chhandam’s sister schools in Los Angeles and Denver.
Tabla and Rhythm/Taal Instructor
Satyaprakash Mishra is the son and disciple of critically acclaimed tabla artist, Pandit Kalinath Mishra of the Benares Gharana. Satyaprakash’s versatility and range makes him a sought-after accompanist amongst India’s most renowned dance and music artists. He has performed nationally and internationally with artists such as Chitresh Das, Sunayana Hazarilal, Suresh Wadekar, Shankar Mahadevan and Anup Jalota. His performances have been seen at some of India's most prestigious festivals including Saptak, Chakradhar, and Harrivallabh and at international venues such as Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, The Broad Stage, and the Green Music Center. An artist and entertainer alike, Satyaprakash’s style is marked by technical prowess and sophisticated layakari on the one hand and accessibility and universal appeal on the other. When he is not performing, Satyaprakash is working as an educator, training a new generation of students in the art of tabla through classes and workshops.
Meet Our Faculty
At the heart of India’s artistic traditions is the guru-shishya parampara, a life-long relationship between teacher and student through which knowledge is transmitted. The relationship is a living and learning one and the emotional, intellectual and spiritual bond between guru and shishya is profound. Only through such bonding can mastery and enlightenment be achieved – for both the guru and the shishya.
Chhandam’s teacher development program works to train a new kind of educator, one that extends far beyond the classroom and shepherds their development as self-defined artists and leaders. Our teachers are trained in an intensive learning environment that strives to uphold a standard of excellence for both teachers and students, and that is part of a global network of affiliate schools with knowledge bearers committed to working together to sustain the integrity of Pandit Chitresh Das’ renowned pedagogy.