On “Going There”: Looking back at “Grist”

A huge part of my dance training has been focused on emotional preparation for performance. This includes journaling, collaging, acting and theater exercises, crying my eyes out back stage in order to get into an emotional space before taking the stage, and then crying more when I’ve finished performing. If I do not project a true and honest emotion while performing, I don’t feel like I’ve done my job.

Performing is work. It’s not just physical work; it’s highly emotional. Just as I train physically, drilling and conditioning and sweating, I also train emotionally: crying, yelling, and laughing.

I owe my training to none other than the incomparable and ever-amazing Suhaila Salimpour, who leads her students working at Level 3 and higher through intense emotional exercises to prepare us for performing true, raw, and honest personal choreographies. If it weren’t for her training, I’m not sure I’d be able to give so much of myself on stage, and I certainly wouldn’t be as mature and experienced performer as I am now. That said, I know I still have so much to learn… and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

This little introduction brings me to write about “Grist”, the piece I most “famously” performed at Tribal Fest 8. It seems to be my most popular performance, but it was also one of the hardest for me to put on stage. Every time I have performed this piece, it manifests differently. Sometimes, as at Tribal Fest 8, it expresses as triumphant, but most other times it has come out as dark, brooding, angry, and sorrowful. “Grist” took on a life of its own. I created it in the summer of 2007, which was a dark time for me. Without going into details, I started questioning the stable things in my own life, realizing that they weren’t as stable as I had thought and they weren’t bringing me the joy that society tells us that they should bring. I was very unhappy. “Grist” was a physical manifestation of my frustration, my anger, my feeling trapped. The last time I performed it was the weekend before my marriage ended, and it was a “goodbye” to that part of my life into which I had invested so much time and energy. I haven’t performed it since that weekend in October 2009. For now, “Grist” is retired.

And yet, people ask for me to perform it. I’m not sure people understand how difficult it is to perform something like “Grist”. I’m not sure if people think it’s just an “act”, that I was just putting emotion out there for show, that it wasn’t real. Or maybe I really did strike an emotional chord in them, and that’s what they’re connecting with. And part of me, the professional, tells me that I should be able to perform it at any time. A professional can “go there” whenever she chooses, and she can walk off stage and return to the real world without a problem. I am still working on that elusive skill, and I expect to always be working on it.

Maybe one day I’ll perform it again. But for now, as I have been trying to travel the healing road, seeking joy and peace after the dissolution of my marriage, living out of my suitcase and sleeping on a friend’s sofabed for six months, and packing up all of my worldly belongings and moving to South Carolina, I want to create new pieces about this new chapter of my life. “Grist” is a collection of angry memories, and instead of looking back on them, I would much rather look forward.


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I can say as someone who has seen you perform that piece many times, and stepping for a moment outside of the fact that I also know you personally, as a spectator I absolutely understand the reason why people would request such a piece. You did your job as a performer in making the connection you sought — your performance was you dancing out your own emotions on stage, but what the viewers take from it is their own, and that is what they’re requesting when they ask you to “Dance it again, Asharah!” — to be back in the place they were when they saw you do it the first time. Which isn’t to say you don’t have every right to simply say, “Thank you, I’m glad you liked the piece, but I’m dancing other things right now”, because you have every right to do that. I just thought as a spectator I would confirm your suspicion that it’s a personal connection that they have to what you portray, since obviously spectators can’t see inside your head to know if your performance is due to actual emotion or really excellent method acting. :)




Amy Ray (of the indigo girls… you know my fave) no longer performed my favorite song of all times because it has passed and it is emotional… i LOVE your piece “Grist” because it speaks to me and I am so happy for you that you have moved on and found a better place. my suggestion… if you want it is not to revisit it because that is what people want but to be the best you…that you can be! miss ya




I loved this post on your perspective of Grist. Most of what you said I didn’t realize but it makes logical sense thinking back on it. The dance was exhausting emotionally just to watch live, I can only imagine performing it.

On a side note there are blog nomination posts going around and when it hit me this morning I nominated your blog. Take a look if you are interested.


Blessings, ~Joanna




Great post and GREAT BLOG!!
I wonder if you could write about how/why/when you started to bellydance and how you developed.





Thank you for sharing this! Really needed to read this today.




What a powerful piece. I have never seen it before and the emotion that comes through on camera is strong. I can only imagine how strong in person.

Follow your inner voice. It wont lead you astray.




Once of my favorite albums is actually a live show recording of Joni Mitchell– Miles of Aisles. It includes some of her banter with the audience, which is both revealing and revelatory. At one point, you hear numerous voices begin to shout their favorite songs, begging her to sing them. The voices grow into a cacophany, and one of them shouts, “Just play what you want!”

“Alright,” Joni says to quiet them down, “you know that’s one difference between the performing arts and other kinds of art, like painting. You know, you paint a painting and you hang it on some wall somewhere, somebody buys it, or maybe nobody buys it and it winds up in somebody’s attic, but nobody ever . . . I mean, no one ever said to Van Gogh, ‘Hey, paint a Starry Night again, man!’ You paint a painting and that’s it!”




One of my/our teachers once told me that if you want to dance professionally, you have to be able to dance beautifully and smile genuinely with a piece of glass stuck in your foot.

You live and breathe your dance, but is sounds like maybe you are looking for a way to detatch – just a tiny bit – so you can function after the music stops. If you haven’t already, talk to Suhaila. Or perhaps take an acting class (did I hear method?) and learn how to “fake it”. “It” being the original emotion of the piece.

The easy and glib answer is: compartmentalize. Just detatch, for a few moments. As far as how; it’s a process based on life experience.

One more thought, back when you skated, did you ever “tree it”? Touch a tree outside the rink, sort of leave your emotions at the door, then pick them up on yor way out?





[…] The dance in VA was something completely different. Originally I was planning to do only one song and it was going to be a sort of goodbye to my past relationship. While in NYC I was listening to some music on my iPod on the subway (like you do), and found the 2nd piece which just screamed, “dance me!” It was my anger, my broken heart, my sadness. Emotions that had every right to be expressed just as the healing ones did. When I put the two songs back to back I saw the rollercoaster I was setting myself up for. This was in a way my “Grist”. […]




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