Faces of Northwest Folklife: Dr. Joyce Paul Siamak

Over the past 45 years, Northwest Folklife has had the opportunity to work with leaders, organizers, teachers, elders, and various community members who have helped us celebrate the unique arts and culture that make up our Pacific Northwest community. We would like to highlight some of the many groups and individuals that we work with, to put a face to the people who really help to make Northwest Folklife possible–because Northwest Folklife truly is all about your communities, your traditions, and your folklife.

This is ‘Faces of Northwest Folklife.’


Photo by Siamak Poursabahian

Mentor, choreographer, educator, and UX Design Researcher and Anthropologist—these are some of the many ways in which Dr. Joyce Kakariyil Paul leaves her mark on our community. Born in New Delhi, India to a Syrian Orthodox Christian Community, Joyce moved to Seattle in 2001. “Growing up in India [prior to] the TV/Internet/Mobile era, I never really got to see too many dances from other parts of the world,” she shares. Upon arriving in the city, she found ways to bridge her culture with our greater community, creating opportunities to acknowledge and highlight the culture and struggles of the Indian diaspora in Seattle.

“My goal in this life is to create a difference in the community I live in using the artistic gifts and talents I am blessed with. I have always used my artistic endeavors to bring awareness about social issues.” 

Joyce attended her first Northwest Folklife Festival the first year she lived in Seattle in 2001 and has been attending and performing ever since. As a dancer and culture bearer, she was immediately taken by the sights, sounds and cultures of the world presented over the period of the four-day Festival. “Seeing a huge variety of artists from across the globe over four days was just mind-boggling and a totally blissful experience for me…” 

Her first performance at the Festival was the next year and focused on issues of war and destruction in the post 9-11 world. From starting as a performer, she ultimately became a Northwest Folklife Community Coordinator in 2015, organizing the Incredible Dances of South Asia showcase every year since. The show highlights the colorful variety of folk and classical dances of the region, branching out to include cultures and communities from Bangladesh, Nepal, as well as throughout India. To read more about her mission and vision around the Incredible Dances of South Asia, visit this 2015 article.

Joyce with her students of Arpan Arts. | Photo by Siamak Poursabahian

Beyond her work with the Folklife Festival, Joyce has rooted herself through a variety of academic and artistic endeavors. With a Ph.D. in Anthropology of Performance, Joyce is a guest lecturer at the University of Washington, Cornish College of the Arts and served as adjunct faculty for Cornish as well as Spectrum Dance Theatre. With a specialization in the injury patterns of elite dancers, her thesis was the first scientific study of Bharatanatyam dancers in India. She has presented at the Dance and Child International Conference, and the 4th NDA Conference on Pedagogy, Wellness and Healing for her paper, “Healing through Angika Abhinaya and Rasanubhava”. Outside of academia, she is a beloved choreographer who has also expanded her reach into the theatre community as a guest choreographer for  ACT Theatre’s Ramayana. 

“[Dance] comes naturally to me,” she says. “It’s a gut feeling, a burning desire to create movement that is waiting to find its form. When I choreograph, it’s the churning of an inner sea that is waiting to take the shape of a beautiful, multifaceted snowflake.”

Joyce portrays the mood of a Mugdha Nayika, a heroine at the threshold of youth and love. Her friend relays the tremulous state of the young girl who eagerly awaits her lover. 

She has also founded Socially Conscious Artists Foundation (SCARF), a nonprofit with the mission to “create and foster art that brings awareness around social issues to galvanize change.” Her mission is to utilize her art and advocacy to highlight social issues such as mental health and cultural identity. 

Joyce’s work is highlighted at MOHAI’s new exhibit, Beyond Bollywood: Indian Americans Shape the Nation. Featuring a variety of photos, audiovisuals, and artifacts, this exhibit highlights a story unique to the Indian American Diaspora, with a special consideration of Indian Americans in the Pacific Northwest. Created by the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center and the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service, this exhibit is now on view at MOHAI until January 26, 2020. 

Looking towards the future, Joyce hopes to continue her art and advocacy through her choreography, SCARF, as well as at Northwest Folklife and we’re all excited to see the projects that result from this work!