Sutradhar Institute of 
Dance & Related Arts 

Nilimma Devi

Nilimma Devi is an acclaimed artist, educator and choreographer whose career has crossed barriers and spanned the globe. She is founder and director of Sutradhar Institute Dance and Related Arts (SIDRA). Under her direction (1988 - present) she has made the Silver Spring based Institute into a community touchstone of classical art and culture.



In 2006 Ms. Devi was asked to join the CID, UNESCO International Dance. A former member of the Center for South Asian Studies, International Mimes and Congress on Research in Dance (CORD). She presented her research on the role of dance in the Indian immigrant community entitled, "The Communal Embrace", in 1992 for CORD. In 1994, Ms. Devi was a movement and cultural consultant for Paul McNally's award winning play "A Perfect Ganesh" at the Arena Stage in Washington D.C.



Devi's work is classically rigorous yet it challenges cultural barriers. As a faculty member of the George Washington University, Ms. Devi taught for several years "Gender and Classical Indian Dance" and "Ancient Dance, Contemporary Voices" In 2006, Devi recorded a highly reviewed television lecture series- Ancient Dance and Contemporary Voices — for Osmania University in Hyderabad, India. She has been an artist-in-residence at the universities of Maryland, George Mason, and Johns Hopkins. She has been associated with the Shiraz University in Iran and the University of London's Goldsmith's College. She choreographed a televised dance-drama in Kenya as part of the International Year of the Child.



As a recipient of the prestigious senior research grant AIIS, American Institute of Indian Studies, Ms. Devi explored creativity in hand gestures in Indian classical dance. The Twenty-first Century grant for 2004 and 2005 by the Montgomery County Arts Council enabled Ms. Devi to design a special interdisciplinary after school program for elementary schools using storytelling, yoga, writing, and dance. In 1988, she was commissioned by the Smithsonian to write the "Three Wise Tales" which wove universal truths from Hinduism, Islam, and Buddhism. Running thirty shows at the Discovery Theater the dance drama captivated young audiences.



Ms. Devi is also the director of the Devi Dance Theater, which has performed at the Kennedy Center, Dance Place, Smithsonian, Library of Congress, and for Voice of America. In 2002, the Choreographers Commissioning Project of the Kennedy Center awarded Devi a grant to create Walk the Sky. Devi's "hauntingly beautiful", "Poetry in Motion" (Washington Post) work is inspired by the 12th Century radical poetess, Mahadevi Akka.


Devi's own battle to master the secrets of gender and caste exclusive Kuchipudi dance continually inspires her idea of freedom, and crossing of barriers. From the Diary of Sita, explored the epic Ramayana from the unorthodox perspective of heroine Sita, which premiered at Dance Place in 2006. The drama of her personal battle to master the highly coveted secret art of Kuchipudi emerges as a powerful metaphor in her work. She was the recipient of master apprenticeship award and Choreographic grant 2006/2007 from MD State Arts Council. Her work 'Mandala - A Voyage within” was based on a poem by 5th century Buddhist nun Mettika in Pali language. Urgent ecological issues led her to create “Ganga” to highlight the sacredness of our waters. In 2015 Devi premiered “Sita Gentle Warrior” at Dance Place which offered a rare feminist perspective on Sita posing a dialogue between tradition and change. Her latest work “Weaving Life” articulates in dance, martial arts and mime the lyrics of Native American, African American and Indian poetry. 



In recognition of her lifetime body of work, the Governor of Maryland, Martin O'Malley, appointed her a member of the Maryland State Arts Council for two terms. Recently, she was awarded the Pola Nirenska Award for Lifetime Achievement in Dance and the Saraswati Award from  Indian Minister of Culture.