Sureela is now the Leela Institute of Kathak!
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 soon 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 in 2016, 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 & Values
How To Get Involved
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.
Take A Class
Sign up for an introductory class to see if kathak is right for you
Attend a Local Event
Join our community in supporting Indian classical arts in Colorado
Leela Dance Collective
Learn about our professional, internationally touring dance company
Donate to our endowment and support the future of Indian classical art
University of Denver Programming
Our longstanding relationship with the University of Denver’s Lamont School of Music gives our community the opportunities to perform on DU’s renowned stages and interact with kathak students at the university level.
This programming enables us to reach new audiences and connect communities through dance. Along with performances each semester highlighting student progress, we also present Leela artists, both as soloists and educators, enriching our community through exposure to professional kathak dance and Hindustani music.
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.”
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. Classes are fun yet rigorous at all levels and the teachers have done an excellent job of transitioning to virtual teaching until it is safe to dance together again!
– Cailey S.