Leela Samson

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Leela Samson
Born 1951 (age 62–63)[1]
Coonoor, Tamil Nadu
Occupation Chairperson: central board of film certification (2011– )
director: kalakshetra (2005– )
Chairperson: Sangeet Natak Akademi (2010-2014)
dancer, choreographer, instructor
Current group Spanda (1995–present)
Dances Bharatanatyam

Leela Samson (born 1951) is a Bharatanatyam dancer, choreographer, instructor and writer. As a soloist she is known for her technical virtuosity and has taught Bharatanatyam at Shriram Bhartiya Kala Kendra in Delhi for many years;[2] presently she is the chairperson of the Central Board of Film Certification (1 April 2011);[3] and the director of Kalakshetra (April 2005).

She also served as the chairperson of the Sangeet Natak Akademi from August 2010 to October 2014.[4]

Among the many honours conferred on her, Samson was awarded the prestigious Padma Shri by the President of India in recognition of her outstanding contribution to the art of Bharata Natyam as well as the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in Bharatanatyam (1999–2000), given by Sangeet Natak Akademi.

Early life and training[edit]

Leela was born in Coonoor, Tamil Nadu. She is the daughter of Vice-Admiral (Ret) Benjamin Abraham Samson, from the Jewish Bene-Israelite community of India, and Laila, a South Indian woman. After doing her BA, she learnt Bharatanatyam at the Kalakshetra[5][6] under the founder Rukmini Devi Arundale.


Starting her career as a Bharatanatyam soloist, Samson taught at Shriram Bharatiya Kala Kendra, Delhi and Gandharva Mahavidyalaya, Delhi. Over the years she has performed across India and abroad including Europe, Africa and the Americas.[5]

In 1995, Leela Samson formed Spanda, a dance group to review the traditional vocabulary of Bharatanatyam. Two documentary films – Sanchari and The Flowering Tree – have been made on her works.[7] Amongst her notable disciples included Joyce Paul Poursabahian and Justin McCarthy, who now teaches at Sri Ram Bhartiya Kala Kendra.[2] She has taught and mentored a galaxy of noted performers including the late Kamaljit Bhasin Maalik (Meeto), Jin Shan Shan (Eesha), Navtej Singh Johar and Anusha Subramanyam.

She became the director of Kalakshetra, Chennai in April 2005.[8] She resigned from this position in April 2012.[9][10]

In August 2010, she was appointed chairperson of the Sangeet Natak Akademi, India's national academy for music, dance and drama for five years. Before that she had was a member of the Academy for many years.[1][11] She resigned from the post in October 2014.[12]

She authored a widely acclaimed biography of Rukmini Devi Arundale. She was appointed chairperson of the Central Board for Film Certification in March 2011, succeeding the noted actor Sharmila Tagore who had held the position for two terms.

She has taught Bharatanatyam across the world, including at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London[5] and the annual Milapfest at Manchester.


Samson has received the Padma Shri (1990),[13] the Sanskriti, Nritya Choodamani, Kalaimamani (2005) given by Government of Tamil Nadu,[14] and the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award (1999–2000) for contributions to Bharatanatyam.[15]


  • Samson, Leela (1987). Rhythm in Joy: Classical Indian Dance Traditions. New Delhi: Lustre Press.
  • Samson, Leela (2010). Rukmini Devi: A Life, Delhi: Penguin Books, India, ISBN 0-670-08264-3.[16]


External links[edit]