The Performer’s Paradox – It’s the Quiet Ones You Need to Watch

I am many things. A dancer, a teacher, a performer, a blogger, and in my ‘other’ life a geek, a feminist, an occasional goth… And an introvert.

The idea of a shy or introverted performer doesn’t make sense to most people. It doesn’t seem natural for somebody who finds social interaction stressful or tiring to excel at performing for a crowd, or at teaching a class. People who know me from the non-dance world are often amazed when they see me perform for the first time, because they really didn’t expect somebody who is normally quiet and reserved to be able to bare their soul on stage for a theater audience.

Rasha dancing to Enta Omri
Rachael dancing to Enta Omri. Photo by Nick Mills

And yet, I meet many performers who are not naturally outgoing or attention-seeking types in their normal lives. I can’t begin to guess what the percentage is, but it seems that introverted performers are far more common than one might expect. This leads me to wonder, why?

I can only speak for myself, but as a beginner dancer, I found the idea of performing quite frightening (as do most of us!). The idea of dancing socially with others, however, was far more terrifying. And dancing of any kind paled into insignificance compared to the sheer horror of actually speaking to my teacher or my classmates.

As I’ve grown as a dancer my social anxiety has lessened drastically, and I’m now pretty comfortable talking to people I don’t know, but I still find social interaction a bit draining, and probably always will. Yet somehow, performing doesn’t have the same effect. Perhaps it’s the freedom from having to actually speak to a single person face to face that makes the difference. When I talk enthusiastically about bellydance to a room full of people, or dance at a busy restaurant, there is no anxiety or fear of getting something wrong. It sounds strange, but that’s how it is.

Whyever it happens, this lack of fear is very liberating. Introverts often express themselves through the arts, typically through solitary activities like painting, writing or making music – and although dance performance seems like something that wouldn’t work for us in the same way because of the social aspect, in reality it seems even more powerful. Through dance, introverts can express their emotions and artistic vision naturally and directly to their audience, without any of the awkwardness that accompanies normal conversation. This, for me, is a wonderful thing.

The strange thing is, as a dancer, I’m totally fine with even quite personal interactions like giving a cheeky grin to a lady two feet away in the front row whilst shimmying my bottom in her direction. I feel that when I’m dancing, I have permission to be bold and outgoing in a way that feels safe to me, because there are clearly defined roles. I am the performer, and I’m doing what is expected from me as the performer, so I don’t have to worry at all about what people will think of me for interacting with them or showing emotion.

So, if you’re shy or don’t like drawing attention to yourself, please don’t feel that this is a reason not to try dancing, or a reason to never perform. You may find that not only is it less frightening than you expected, but also that dancing and performing frees you to be truly yourself in a way that isn’t easy for all of us in daily life. And if you’re one of those bouncy, gregarious, life-and-soul-of-the-party types, well… Know that we reserved and quiet people aren’t  necessarily boring or unfriendly, and many of us have flamboyant hidden sides that may be deeply surprising to you. Remember what they say – it’s the quiet ones you need to watch 😉

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13 Replies to “The Performer’s Paradox – It’s the Quiet Ones You Need to Watch”

  1. The more we progress and delve into our project of Oriental Dance for 2013, the more we are coming across these various ‘types’ (and I use that term very lightly) of artists. Society likes to pigeon hole people too much in my opinion (which I hate by the way) and I think being an artist, whether you are a dancer, performer, painter, sculpter, photographer etc… does allow people to be themselves without the chains of society too much.

    I like how you have expressed it and explained it in this blog. When I first started (oh so many years ago) I used to think taking photos at a wedding in front of all those guests was quite scarey, I soon got over that and now think nothing of working in front of 30,000+ people at events and concerts.

    As an ‘outsider’ to our recent experiances related to our project I have met the shyest of people and watch them perform the most amazing dances, yourself included, Rasha.

    Long live shyness and timidity in artists 🙂

    1. This reminds me of something I forgot to say in my post – that it seems that for many people, once they finally do their ‘thing’, whether it’s photography or dance or public speaking, in front of a large audience, something changes that affects how you see everything afterwards… Suddenly very few things seem frightening anymore, because you’ve faced one of the scariest things for most people, and nothing bad happened. I suppose it’s a combination of having faced your fears, and coming to realise that you are actually very competent at what you do 🙂

  2. You’ve gone a long, long way in just 3 (going 4?) years in belly dancing, Rachael … and you are an INSPIRATION to most of us. Thank you for sharing your experiences and thoughts. I always enjoy reading your messages / blogs.

    1. It has been 4 and a half yeas now, Bing 🙂
      I’m glad you enjoy my blog, and I hope that I can inspire as many people as possible to learn and enjoy this wonderful dance!

  3. Thanks for writing this piece. It is always hard for people to believe me when I say I have a serious social phobia, because they see me being so outgoing when I’m performing and after performances. As you said, the clearly defined roles in those situations make me feel comfortable. I am and always have been, comfortable on stage, but being social in regular circumstances can be terrifying. I have become more comfortable socially over the years, in part due to the dance.

  4. I am another shy dancer!! I refused to perform at all for more than 3 years, I was so terrified. That was more than a decade ago now and dancing and performing has transformed my life.

  5. Me too! I felt this sentence was written by me: “People who know me from the non-dance world are often amazed when they see me perform for the first time” (I say that a lot…!)
    It is like we want to show the people around us who we really are, and can only do this by dancing. I loved how in one of her DVD’s, Rachel Brice said that for her, wearing her costume is like wearing an armor, because she has stage fright and the armor helps.

  6. I so get this ! Spot on,100% . Some of the most accomplished actors and actresses are very quiet…it doesn’t stop them from being amazing and mesmerizing performers. Performance while seemingly extrovert and public, needs the ability to draw deep inside .

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