Rachna Nivas, Co-Artistic Director

Rachna Nivas has always been an avid lover of dance and a passionate leader for empowerment and building pride and recognition for her South Asian heritage. It was not until she stepped into Pandit Chitresh Das’ classroom, however, that she discovered the depth of that heritage and how the mental, physical, and spiritual breadth of the classical kathak tradition was a powerful path to inspire and reach the world. She embarked on a 17-year journey of Guru-shishya parampara (one-to-one Guru to disciple transmission of knowledge). The journey included intense training and coaching, both on and off the dance floor, not only of dance technique but for a holistic way of living and approaching life.
Through her study, Rachna progressed from apprentice member of the Chitresh Das Dance Company to principal dancer, being cast in lead roles for over 15 major critically acclaimed productions, including being nominated for an Isadora Duncan Dance Award as part of Shabd. Deemed "charismatic" and "revelatory" by the San Francisco Chronicle, Rachna brings fierce passion, creativity, and integrity to her performances. She had the rare opportunity to regularly tour internationally with her Guruji and also dance in roles alongside the great master on stage. She did her first traditional solo in 2008 and has toured across the U.S and India, both with the company and as a soloist, at such prestigious venues like Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco, Roy and Edna Disney Cal/Arts Theater and Getty Museum in Los Angeles, National Center for Performing Arts in Mumbai, National Center for Kathak Dance in New Delhi, Shaniwarwadha Festival in Pune, Indian Council for Cultural Relations in Kolkata, All-Star Concert at LA Tap Fest, Tap City in New York City, International Kriya Congress, amongst many others.


She has also participated in residencies, teaching outreach workshops through organizations like the New Orleans Ballet Association, Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center, and Asian Art Museum in San Francisco.

In 2013, Rachna developed a new solo work with support from the Alliance for California Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Grant. Her work, Meera is a full-length tour-de-force with a live orchestra, bringing to life the story of a mystic Hindu princess who defied her patriarchal role in Medieval India. After its critically acclaimed premiere, Meera was featured as part of the 2014 Walking Distance Festival at ODC in San Francisco and was featured at Salvatore Capezio Theater at Peridance in New York City in 2015.

Rachna has also gained global attention for her exhilarating solo performances of Kathak Yoga, Pandit Das’ groundbreaking innovation where the dancer simultaneously sings the rhythmic cycle, plays an instrument, and improvises complex rhythms with the feet. Rachna pioneered the use of the harmonium in this technique and has inspired many of her fellow dancers to follow in her footsteps.

As a community organizer, Rachna has been instrumental in building a premiere cultural academy. She served as the Director of the Chhandam School of Kathak, one of the largest classical Indian dance institutions in the world, for 5 years. During that time, she conceived and implemented programs to preserve and advance Pandit Das’ influential pedagogy for kathak, and continues to be fundamental to the school’s success today. She trains, mentors and choreographs for 100 students, including members of the pre-professional Chhandam Youth Company. As an arts advocate, she has been featured on KQED’s Forum, ABCNews, NBCNews, and many other media outlets. As a powerful leader amongst her generation of artists, Rachna's vision is to raise awareness of the rich history and philosophy of India through the art of kathak and for it to be a tool for empowerment, social justice, and self-actualization.

Currently, Rachna is spearheading a new collaboration titled SPEAK, with her gurusister, Rina Mehta. The show brings together leading women in kathak, tap, and spoken-word, including tap artists Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards, and Michelle Dorrance. The aim of the project is to cross-culturally express through rhythm, movement, and musicality a contemporary voice on identity, gender, sexuality, race, and heritage. The show will premiere in December 2015 at Z Space, San Francisco.  

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