Leela Denver got its start in Dr. Sarah Morelli’s North Indian Classical Ensemble at the University of Denver, which began in 2006. By 2013, students were attending her class quarter after quarter, and by 2016 she realized that, in order to nurture the growing kathak community, it was time to start a school: The Sureela Academy and Ensemble. This name, from sur or tuning, was inspired by our founder’s integrated training in Hindustani music and kathak. As a disciple of kathak master Pandit Chitresh Das, a student of sarod master Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, an ethnomusicologist, and an author, Sarah Morelli quickly established a deep and holistic learning environment for kathak students in Denver. Since Sureela’s founding, students, audiences, and artists have had the opportunity to share the joy of kathak across the Colorado Front Range through a variety of classes, workshops, retreats, lecture demonstrations and performances. We are proud to announce that this year, our organization is aligning with sister institutions in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York to form the Leela Institute of Kathak, representing a unified, clairvoyant vision for the field of kathak dance.
Read more about our Lineage
Read more about our Approach
We are proud to bring-world class education and performances of Indian classical dance and music to students, families, and communities across the Colorado Front Range.
Attend weekly classes, local performances, or participate in our various workshops and immersive learning opportunities
Leela Dance Collective
Learn more about our critically acclaimed, internationally touring dance company and attend a performance near you
Make a contribution and help build the first self-standing endowment for Indian classical dance and music
Kathak at University of Denver
Our longstanding relationship with the University of Denver’s Lamont School of Music helps connect Leela students and community members to DU’s diverse student body. Students at Leela Denver have the opportunity to perform on DU’s renowned stages and be a part of a broader dance and music community.
Our DU programming enables us to reach new audiences and connect communities through dance. We are proud to present student performances each semester, along with performances by Leela artists, both as soloists and educators, enriching our community through kathak dance and Hindustani music.
Learn more about Ethnomusicology at Lamont
Dr. Sarah Morelli has studied India’s performing arts since 1992 and is active as a kathak performer, scholar, and educator. She was blessed to receive much of her artistic training from two legends of North Indian classical performance: renowned kathak master Pandit Chitresh Das and maestro Ali Akbar Khan, from whom she studied vocal music and the sarod, and from their disciples Dr. George Ruckert, Gretchen Hayden, Steve Oda, and Pt. Rajeev Taranath. Her dance is infused with a rich musicality and understanding of kathak’s past and present. One of the co-founders of the Leela Dance Collective, her recent performances have included traditional kathak solos, collaborative works, and Leela Dance Collective productions Ardhanari, En Route: From Calcutta to California, Pragati, Pilgrimage, and Son of the Wind, in which she performed the role of Sri Ramachandra. Sarah received her Ph.D. from Harvard University in Ethnomusicology under the mentorship of Prof. Kay Kaufman Shelemay. She is currently an Associate Professor of Ethnomusicology at the University of Denver’s Lamont School of Music and Chair of the Department of Musicology and Ethnomusicology. Her book, A Guru’s Journey: Pandit Chitresh Das and Indian Classical Dance in Diaspora, is an ethnographic examination of Pandit Chitresh Das’s contributions to kathak dance and the development of the “California gharana.”
Learn more about A Guru’s Journey
Meet Our Team
“I truly cannot say enough good things about Leela as a school, as a performance collective, and as a community. It is a rare and special opportunity to study an artform from those who are at the very top of the field. No matter your level of dance experience, cultural background, age, or gender, Leela’s teachers and students are incredibly welcoming. “
– Cailey S.