Finding a Flow Through Heartistry

By Farah Yasmeen Shaikh

Screenshot from Heartistry's 2020 Year in Review video

Oh my, not another podcast.

With an infinite number of podcasts to listen to, why would I add another one to the list? Would anyone even listen to it, who would I speak with, what would we discuss?

Pondering what would interest and motivate me had to be balanced with what would draw in guests and listeners alike. Before I get into this heart-filled gift that in so many ways created itself, I’ll first share the behind the scenes of how it all came to be.

Ironically, much like the projects and productions that start out as a glimmer of an idea, this too was that. Before the podcast could truly materialize, I had to consider all of those questions above, and I had to be clear with myself about my bandwidth and my intentions.

Headshot of Farah Yasmeen Shaikh
Photo by Magic Lantern/ Maud Daujean [Image Description: Headshot of Farah Yasmeen Shaikh as she looks back over her shoulder (smiling) wearing a red and gold patterned gown and her head is adorned with white and silver beaded jewelry and her long ponytail is sprinkled with flower-like material.

What & Why?

In the mix of the artist life hustle, I find myself going nonstop. I rarely take the time to engage with others to get a sense of what is working for them, hear of their challenges and successes, share my own, and go through what could be a collaborative reflective process. Like many artists, I go from project to project, production to production, teaching one class to the next, grant to grant, practicing, choreographing… you get it. I might attend an information session, or even a networking event, but hardly ever take the time to just talk to someone without it being tied to a particular outcome.

Lightbulb moment. The idea was born.

Initially, I thought I would create a podcast based on the “business of being an artist.” This would be a great way to engage, with the hope that they would listen to each other’s episodes, and we could collectively learn from and support one another in hearing each person’s experiences. But wait…

As much as it excited me to create a platform for engaging artists from across the globe, the divide between artists and non-artists was also weighing on me. Perhaps this podcast could contribute to bridging the gap between non-artists and artists and the assumptions that we lead totally different lives. It could be a space where we can acknowledge that the pursuit of one’s passions can be equally inspiring and informative, regardless of what “industry” you are a part of. I also wanted to shine a light (in that blue light kind of way to expose the things that we often don’t want to see) on the fact that artists work tirelessly with often minimal financial remuneration, and are highly undervalued, especially in comparison to those in areas such as tech, medicine, law, and, dare I say it, “more traditional” careers.

These various thoughts and ideas began to coalesce, and in February of 2020, the Heartistry Talk Show was born.

Heartistry is a podcast based on the idea that we are all artists – creating a choreography or masterpiece through our respective life paths – and the belief that when life is approached with heart, there is a form of artistry, or as we call it “heartistry.”

Through my journey of performing, teaching and collaborating, I have had the opportunity to meet many incredible visionaries that inspire me. I had a deep desire to get to know them better, and I also wanted to find a way for others to be equally inspired by what they had to share.

Now 50 episodes in, I have had the immense pleasure of welcoming guests from around the globe – each bringing a passion, compassion and commitment to what they are doing, income generating or not. Conversations take place with dancers and artists of various genres, educators, entrepreneurs, activists, government officials, lawyers, and more – uncovering the layers of how we each find an artistic flow with our heart leading the way.

The podcast initially airs on Rukus Avenue Radio – an online radio station as part of the DASH Radio platform, with Rukus Avenue Radio being their “South Asian Radio Station.” Though not exclusively, many of the guests on Heartistry are from South Asia (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Maldives, Bhutan); however, this too has been an unexpected outcome: to communicate the diversity of South Asians who are often stereotyped as having particular career paths and lifestyles.

Following the air date, each episode can be found on Spotify and Apple Podcasts.

Season 1 welcomed phenomenal individuals including many who make up the rich tapestry of Bay Area artists – Kai Davis, Rena Marie Guidry, Raissa Simpson, David Herrera, Deepti Warrier, Jim Santi Owen, Kawika Alfiche, Sheherazaad & Chanpreet Singh, Amit Patel and Wayne Hazzard along with many others – each sharing their amazing story of finding and following their heart led passion. Listen to any and all of the episodes.

As 2020 went on, probably needless to say, all of our guests joined me via Zoom rather than in person. Considering all that has been going on in the world, my time in conversation with each guest continued to yield stories of their respective journeys, as well as the conveyance of a deeply reflective state of how they were being impacted personally, professionally, physically and emotionally. I believe that each conversation has a timeless quality to it by hearing both the guest’s “origin story” and their own presently evolving path.

I’ve been loving each and every conversation when they take place, during the editing process, when it airs on Rukus Avenue Radio, and sometimes even listening to it again on a podcast platform. I realized that I was being given the gift of not just hearing the words of each guest, but being able to interact with them by asking questions, having dialogue, reflecting, and even sharing my own experiences as I spoke with them. All of it continues to move me deeply, and has made me want to explore this medium even more – not just through the podcast, but to find other ways to share and amplify voices, experiences, themes, and topics.

Enhancing the Visual

Our organization, Noorani Dance, decided to expand on this idea and take these conversations to more of a visual platform, while simultaneously maintaining the podcast. Thus, the Heartistry Talk Show welcomed her sister, the Heartistry Video Series. Through a virtual, visual platform, we return to recordings of past performances of Noorani Dance and its collaborators, and at times, create anew, seeking to reimagine our work as artists during this new normal as a catalyst for collaboration, creativity, and conversation.

Episode 1: Creativity, Collaboration & Community aired in November 2020. I and some of my brilliant musical artist collaborators expressed our sentiments about being an artist during the pandemic, and the unique methods we are utilizing to execute innovative projects.  We engaged in conversations on creative collaboration during the pandemic and watched the premiere of a dance/music video project – Aaj Rang Hai (Today There is Color/Light/Hope). We also had a real-time Q & A session giving our virtual audience an opportunity to interact with the artists through the chat feature.

We had over 100 people join us for the episode in real time, with more that viewed after the air date. We were intentional in selling tickets for the event, and even now, though we want to make the episode accessible, we are unapologetic about requesting a donation to the organization in an effort to always encourage financial support for the arts and artists. #PAYARTISTS

With anything new, there are always unforeseen tasks that come up, but there are also wonderfully unpredictable outcomes which reinforce the importance of the work that artists do. It has become increasingly apparent to many in the arts community just how critical our work is. It is for our own survival, and the sanity and survival of those that we serve through our classes, our performances, and our various offerings. For those that are consciously taking on the responsibility of preserving cultural heritage and history, there is an increased responsibility of passing down their artistic practices and traditions as well. Operating on the belief that the practice of art making is a form of activism, we acknowledge that many artists proactively utilize their art as a catalyst for social impact.

This led us to the theme for our upcoming episodes of the Heartistry Video Series.


In April and June we will share Episodes 2 & 3 of the Heartistry Video Series. We are calling these episodes Social Change through HeARTivism.

Art and Artists have long been at the forefront of making social change, using their artistic mediums to promote the message or cause they are calling attention to. We see it in music, in film, and our favorite – dance.

In these episodes of the Heartistry Video Series, we are bringing together a powerful group of women-of-color artists from across the US. We honor and celebrate the work that they do to advocate for equality and justice, addressing issues through their artistic voice and movement. Taking a deeper look at how they engage in conversations, dance making and activism through performances, teaching and choreographing – often spotlighting various systems of oppression such as racism, casteism, colorism, gender inequality, classism, religious divide and so much more – we will speak with each artist to understand and learn from their approach, their process and the outcomes.

Our collaborating artists include: Brinda Guha, Athena Nair, Alicia Nascimento, Annette Phillip, Nadhi Thekkek and Aysha Upchurch.

In the second of these two episodes, we will premiere a new collaborative work, including Farah, where the artists will come together to create a new dance work and will also welcome special guest Valarie Kaur, a seasoned civil rights activist, award-winning filmmaker, lawyer, faith leader, and author of See No Stranger – A Memoir and Manifesto of Revolutionary Love.

Each of these women is mind-blowing and heart-healing, and I can’t wait to share the conversations and the new work that comes out of this timely and powerful coming-together of creativity, collaboration and community.

As we continue on this quest to find our flow (including the ebbs), I invite you to learn more about Heartistry, to not hesitate to contact me if you, or someone you know, would be interested in being a guest on the podcast or perhaps a future episode of the Heartistry Video Series. 

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This article appeared in the Spring 2021 issue of In Dance.

Farah Yasmeen Shaikh is an internationally acclaimed performer, choreographer and in- structor, and Founder & Artistic Director of Noo- rani Dance. As a performer, Farah is known for her evocative storytelling, technical precision, delicacy and grace. With two decades of training from the late Pandit Chitresh Das, Farah has developed a unique artistic voice, often addressing topics of historical and social relevance, while also maintaining the classical elements of kathak. Farah performs her own traditional and innovative works, most notably The Forgotten Empress; The Partition Project, based on the 1947 India-Pakistan Partition; and Nazaakat aur Taaqat - A Delicate Power.