The latest in the Introverted Performer Project series – please welcome Sekhmet!
How does being an introvert affect how you prepare for a performance?
I’m sure that it’s directly linked to my tendency to do research about my venue, find out what kind of audience to expect, and talk to other dancers who have performed where I’m about to perform. While an extroverted performer might be more concerned about the quality of her publicity, I want to have a better understanding of the variables I might face on locale. The more I can learn about what to expect the better I will feel about showing up. If I am dancing at an annual event or workshop, I will ask the event planner or one of her associates some of these questions. As far as my actual dancing goes, I’ll rehearse as often as I can, and look for a space that accommodates my rehearsals. I often end up doing this in the weeks before a performance anyway, since I don’t have a dedicated dance space at home. If I’m performing to recorded music, I always have a spare CD and an MP3 file for the sound tech when I arrive to the performance location. In this case, introversion helps me focus on managing the factors of performance that are under my control.
Since I dance most often as a soloist, I don’t often rehearse in front of other dancers. I realize that for many, dance classes are a source of social bonding. By contrast, I might ask someone to one of my practice runs if I think they can give me critical feedback. The feedback part is important, though. I wouldn’t use the time for socializing. I don’t invite friends to my rehearsals “for fun.” Rehearsal time is valuable for creating muscle memory, determining the logic/flow of a choreography or visualizing the emotional nuances of a new piece of music. Socializing and creating a dance require different parts of my mental energy, and it’s rare for me to try to expend them both at once.
How does being an introvert affect your connection with your audience?
This is a really good question since introverts on the whole are motivated by their internal world — their creative influences, ideas, choices of music, etc. This sets up an interesting tension when dealing with an audience, an external presence. As I mentioned earlier I always want to know who my audience might be. Are they dancers, the general public, parents with children, all women, or a regular restaurant crowd? The energy and mood of the audience can make a real difference in how my performance is received. Knowing something about the audience helps me decide what costume to wear, sometimes influences whether I’ll dance to “classic” belly dance music or how creative my choreography will be. Knowing these things is part of being an informed professional. There’s no point in doing Turkish Oriental/Hip-hop fusion if your audience won’t get it or like it. So the tough part is, without having a “Look at Me!!” personality, how can I encourage the audience to feel involved? At this point, my role is as translator: my job is to embody through my dance why my music is great. If my research into the tastes of the audience and the layout of the venue are accurate, then my show should go well.
So many aspects of life and dancing are like a balancing act! Ideally, I want to feel control over my dancing that doesn’t completely block out the audience, but doesn’t let social interaction interfere with my dance. I don’t go into my audience, pick out “volunteers” and make them dance with me for comic effect. I realize that it could destroy the mood if I’m too extroverted or pay too much attention to one or two audience members. However, if I’m completely introspective, that will bore some people (although a photographer friend of mine once told me this was sexy). This is especially important to me when I’m in a restaurant setting (where there are distractions in the form of waitpersons, children, or people coming in off the street) or any performance venue when I’m not on a stage elevated above the viewers. I often choose medium to fast tempo music and invite the audience to clap along. Once I’ve made this connection, I’m “off the hook” so to speak, and I can give the audience my best, keeping a genuine smile on my face as I dance.
How does being an introvert affect your choices of things like makeup, costuming, props, venues you choose to perform in, etc.?
Makeup and clothes are two things that I’m tremendously picky about in my non-dance life, so that’s not a big change for me on stage. This is the reason why it’s rare for me to perform in troupes nowadays. I want control over what I appear in. I admit that my sense of style is quite individualized. To be precise, I don’t really care if it’s the newest costume design from Cairo, everyone likes this eyeshadow color, or saw one of the Belly Dance Superstars wearing a particular brand of bell-bottoms. If it doesn’t look smashing on me, I don’t wear it.
My decision to dance with props is limited to whether I feel that my music calls for them. The prop that I choose most often is the veil because of its visual dynamics.
How does being an introvert affect the other aspects of your performance career (i.e. marketing, networking, negotiating)?
I don’t really think I’ve been able to capture the entrepreneur mindset. The dancing part is the easier for me: I don’t mind working on a skill and polishing it in order to get better. It is difficult for me to assess my abilities, write objective material about them, and then do the promotional work. I have a hard time understanding how I’m supposed to develop content for online media that includes testimonials, recommendations and referrals. Because introverts are often people who have well-developed internal motivation, I am often at a loss when it comes to requesting external acknowledgement. This is a task that makes me extremely uncomfortable.
I’ve networked over the years in the sense that I’ve met a number of dancers with whom I share some interests and creative approaches. However, I’m not really sure how to take advantage of those relationships. Or that I should. I often get stuck in an emotional loop of I don’t expect strangers to work with me or promote me, but business is a “dirty” game that shouldn’t be allowed to intrude on positive relationships (i.e. friendships). I think I actually perceive good relationships as “private” and business relationships as “neutral”. Having an introverted nature does make me value my professional relationships, but it can also cause me to think the value is limited to my private world. It would probably help me to broaden my perception of positive relationships to include both emotional value and collaborative gain.
What’s your relationship with your introvertedness? (Does it bother you, do you see it as something to overcome, have your learned to leverage it, etc?)
I see it as one of my personal characteristics like my eye or skin color. It makes some difference in how I approach the world and how I like to socialize. Sometimes, it can be a real gift. I think the attributes of being an introvert allow me to pursue dance with both intellectual interest and creative intent. I am always interested in learning new things, so doing research or working on a choreography isn’t a chore for me.
I think a true manifestation of my introvert nature is wanting attention when I want it rather than wishing to be the center of attention at all times. Dance performances satisfy this need at three to twenty minute intervals quite well.
I have had to learn how to negotiate the environment of haflas and some dance workshops. While in class, I often feel energized especially if I’m learning new material. In a similar way, preparing to go on stage gives my energy level a positive spike. However, after classes and performances, I often retreat. This means being alone to absorb new dance moves or quietly returning to a table far from the stage to let the next performer have the spotlight. Sometimes I find the culture of “perpetual celebration” at dance events to be overwhelming. I have a great appreciation for colleagues who understand that I’m not depressed when I retire to my room/table. I’m just recharging.
What advantage does being an introvert give you over extroverted performers?
I think competence, mastery and individuality are more important to me than acceptance and popularity.
I’ve observed that many people assume, because introverted individuals hold their cards close to their chests, that we don’t feel anything. I simply don’t think I have to express everything I feel. Meanwhile, I think introverts are more likely to work with music that truly resonates to us, employ movement that we choose for ideal interpretation and dismiss what doesn’t work for us. I have a tendency to work on personal projects for quite some time. The creative process is important to me whether or not I’m on stage.
What haven’t we asked that you’d really like to tell us?
Why is “strength” a bad word in the Belly Dance world? Belly dancers work hard for recognition, must be mentally adept to talk about their art form, and must constantly educate the uninformed or biased about what we do. Whenever I cite strength as an element I want present in my choreographies and performances, I feel as if I’m treading on unpopular territory. Like I’m going to go all ninja on people or something. I’m not just talking about physical strength when I say this. I think that intellectual strength is a great compliment for being able to shimmy for 5+ minutes. I am not an “accidental” dancer. I chose this style of dance because it can express a spectrum of emotions: pride, strength and courage among them. Perhaps, here, too, I am concerned more with my personal vision of Danse Orientale or Raqs Sharqi, rather than the images the general public wishes to paste on it.
Sekhmet, who began her career in the Washington, D.C. area, now lives and dances in New England. She has performed both as a troupe member and a soloist. In June of 2014, Sekhmet was chosen to perform at the Theatrical Belly Dance Conference in New York City during one of the open stage slots. She was happy to have been selected through a juried process for an original choreography, It’s Not Easy being Beat. Most recently, she was Featured Performer at the Moksa restaurant in Cambridge, MA in the month of September.
She can be contacted for shows, presentations, or lessons at her email firstname.lastname@example.org