Founders / Directors


Sonali Skandan is a passionate and accomplished artist of Bharatanatyam and one of the more visible artists in the field today. Sonali has been an NYC resident for almost 30 years, and her work reflects the urban, dynamic and diverse atmosphere inherent in the city. 

Sonali is the Artistic Director of Jiva Performing Arts, where she teaches and creates engaging dance works to increase the accessibility of the classical arts, and Jiva Dance, a professional dance company presenting compelling works based on Bharatanatyam. Sonali is a student of the legendary C.V. Chandrasekhar and Bragha Bessell of India and is receiving creative mentorship with senior dance artist Maya Kulkarni. Sonali and her company have received praise in the New York Times, Financial Times, and The NJ Star Ledger, among others and has presented Bharatanatyam worldwide. Sonali is noted for her technique and eloquent and emotive expression, and is considered to be an exemplary soloist in the art form. In 2018, she was given the title “Natya Ratna” by Trinity Fine Arts in Chennai, India. 

As an educator, she has given lecture demonstrations and workshops in museums and schools throughout the NYC area. Sonali is the first faculty member to teach Indian Classical Dance at the internationally acclaimed Joffrey Ballet School. In addition, Sonali was on the dance faculty at Sarah Lawrence College to teach Bharatanatyam. She uses her experience in teaching to develop engaging and enriching lecture demonstrations and workshops for professional dancers, students and teachers. Sonali recorded and developed Bharatanatyam lessons for Juilliard’s online educational program. Most recently, Sonali is teaching and choreographing at Queens College for 2019-2020. Through the Jiva School, she strives to train the next generation of Bharatanatyam artists that share her joy and passion for the art and helps them develops the skills necessary to explore new possibilities of this art in today’s world.

Artist Statement: I was born in India and immigrated to the US at the age of 5. I have been an NYC resident for almost 30 years, and my work reflects the urban, dynamic and diverse atmosphere inherent in the city. My vision is to create work that expresses the evolving nature of Bharatanatyam. I possess a forward-thinking attitude with the goal to present the art to universal audiences regardless of language or religious background. I emphasize the creation of new art and collaborate with living composers and interdisciplinary artists to affirm the Indian classical arts as a dynamic, evolving form. My solo works also reflects my own personal connection with the art and its universal expression of human emotion. I feel Bharatanatyam has the capability to express the deepest form of human emotion. I am inspired by the connection to unspoken feelings and the drama of desire. I enjoy seeing a dancer who is living through the dance, where the dancer has totally surrendered and committed unto it, where each fingertip holds emotional intensity, and where there is virtually no difference between the dancer and what is being danced. I also see connections between the dance and the larger artistic environment in which the dance has developed – from the poetry, literature, mythology and temple sculpture. I try to relate this to our modern global outlook, where the themes and movements are foreign, yet familiar, and where the emotions are universal.


Bala Skandan is a performer, teacher and composer in Carnatic Violin and South Indian Percussion (Mridangam, Kanjira, and Konnakkol).

Initiated into the Carnatic percussion art of Mridangam, and the violin at age six, Bala Skandan is a classical Indian music polymath. Having emerged as a respected Mridangam exponent, he has performed with the doyens of Carnatic music, including Shri TV Gopalakrishnan, Shri N Ravikiran, Carnatica Brothers, Bombay Sisters, and has been acknowledged by the New York Times for his “superb musical accompaniment.”

As leader of Akshara Music Ensemble in NYC, Skandan’s original compositions embrace Hindustani and Carnatic styles, as well as world music traditions. Skandan is a prolific educator in Carnatic music, teaching students in mridangam, kanjira, solkattu, and violin. Skandan has received tutelage under noted Carnatic gurus including, Guru Karaikudi Mani of Chennai (Mridangam), Smt. T Rukmini (Carnatic violin), Shri Seetharama Sharma (Carnatic vocal) and Shri T V Gopalakrishnan (Kanjira).

In 2007/08,  Bala Skandan had the distinction of teaching and conducting the first Carnatic student recital at the prestigious Juilliard School of music.