Kathak Dancer, Educator, Arts Activist
A powerful leader amongst her generation of artists, Rachna Nivas brings a relevant and crucial voice to the kathak tradition. Deemed “charismatic” and “revelatory” by the San Francisco Chronicle, Rachna is a fierce performer who brings passion and great creative vision to her performances and works, displaying the depth of her 17-year training under the legendary master Pandit Chitresh Das.
Rachna is a founding artist of the Leela Dance Collective – a home for artists seeking to develop their individual creative voices while working collaboratively to forward a collective vision for kathak dance. Prior to that, she was principal dancer at the Chitresh Das Dance Company for 15 years, performing in numerous lead roles of award-winning productions, including two nominations for an Isadora Duncan Dance Award. She performed with the company and as soloist across the U.S. and India, most notably at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco, Cal Performances at UC Berkeley, REDCAT (Roy and Edna Disney/Cal Arts Theater and Getty Museum in Los Angeles, National Center for Performing Arts in Mumbai, National Institute of Kathak Dance in New Delhi, Shaniwarwada Festival in Pune, Debbie Allen Dance Academy’s LA Tap Fest, Dance/USA Conference, Scottsdale Center for Performing Arts, International, Kriya Yoga Congress, amongst many more. Her original solo work, Meera, was featured at the ODC Walking Distance Festival in SF and at Salvatore Capezio Theater in New York City. Rachna is currently touring her latest collaborative work SPEAK, bringing together leading women in kathak and tap – Rina Mehta, Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards, and Michelle Dorrance – in a cross-cultural expression of identity, gender, race, and heritage.
Rachna has also been an instrumental leader in passing down the kathak tradition to the next generation and in galvanizing a movement around the preservation and advancement of Indian arts. She is currently the Dean of Education and Artistic Director of the Chhandam Youth Dance Company at the Chhandam School of Kathak. She has over 16 years teaching experience, including teacher training and pre-professional elite youth training. She has also taught numerous workshops for residencies and grassroots outreach programs, notably at the Treme Center and New Orleans Center for Creative Arts (through New Orleans Ballet Association), South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center, Montalvo Arts Center in Saratoga, CA, New Light Foundation for children of sex-workers in Kolkata, India.
Born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, Rachna is an Indian-American who always felt a deep connection to her Indian roots, but not fully understanding its significance in early life. Her parents, Yogesh and Bina Nivas, both immigrants from India in the 1960s, raised her to follow her passions and believe in her convictions. She studied Environmental Biology and South Asian Studies at UC Berkeley and went on to pursue her Masters in Public Health. But it wasn’t until she stumbled upon a class of Pandit Chitresh Das, that she found her true calling in life and eventually decided to devote her full-time career as a dancer, performer, and educator. Today, her 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.