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 didn’t realize all that went along with being an introvert until I read the book Quiet. After that, so many things made more sense. The book explains the difference between introverts and extroverts in terms of the level of sensory input at which an individual functions well. Introverts function better at lower levels of sensory input, or can be considered more sensitive to it, and will start shutting down when the levels get too high. New situations or large groups mean lots of information to process, so introverts tend to be more comfortable with the familiar and a few friends. Any situation that kicks up the stress and anxiety levels, like being in the public eye, is best handled with lots of preparation so there are fewer surprises and less demand for quick thinking. Introverts can operate out of their comfort zone, especially for something personally meaningful, but recharge time will be required. What this means for me is that I can talk readily about topics that interest me, but I do the classic think-before-speaking thing so I may not say much when in the company of extroverts. Social interactions or performing require energy, so I need to budget how much I do. I found out the hard way that taking workshops before a performance wasn’t usually a good idea. On the flip side, I have good attention to detail, which helps in so many situations. There are times when I’d like to be more of an extrovert so I’d have an easier time putting on a more outgoing dance persona, but I have to work with who I am.
How does being an introvert affect how you prepare for a performance?
Being prepared is really important so I can feel comfortable about the performance and don’t have too many things to think about when I’m in front of an audience. It helps to be familiar with the performance space, type of audience, expectations, and so forth, so I ask questions if the event is new to me or if the description doesn’t have much information (asking lots of questions is another hallmark of an introvert). I dance best (or with the most authenticity) when I find something meaningful to share. This means having a story to tell or picking music that I connect to emotionally. Having a costume and/or prop that’s visually interesting is also important, because that’s part of what I share. I like to arrive early enough that I can check out the performance space. If I can take a minute or two to experience how the space feels, how it sounds, what the floor is like for a few moves that I will do, then that space becomes more like a friend. I’ve found that some quiet (non-talking) time just before performing really helps me get into the right head space and make the switch to Kezmaya, even if it’s only a few minutes.
How does being an introvert affect your connection with your audience?
For me, connection is most intense one-on-one. I’ll usually do eye contact with a few friendly faces and ramp up or down depending on how that goes. Everything I’m doing is with the purpose of sharing with the audience, so connecting is key. I may be a bit reserved in my approach, but the intention is there. How much I try for one-on-one connection also depends on how much else is going on that is taking up my attention. If I’m trying to zill, figure out what the band is doing, and move through space in an interesting way, making eye contact just got relegated to the back burner.
If the audience is a large group (more than a table or two of people I know), the experience of performing depends on what I feel coming back from them. If I feel that they are coming along on the ride with me, that they’re making good noises, I’ll get a wonderful surge of energy that I can share back with them. If the group, large or small, doesn’t respond or pay attention, I have to work hard not to give out energy that won’t come back. It becomes a more contained dialogue. One of the most disconcerting performances I had was when I got nothing back from the few people that were in the room, and it felt like the space had turned into an energy vampire. I had to pull back a bit before I felt frantic, concentrate on the music for something that I could play with and find joy in, and proceed from there.
How does being an introvert affect your choices of things like makeup, costuming, props, venues you choose to perform in, etc.?
Putting on my external dance persona (belly dance armor) is important, because that sets the stage for everything else. I pick what fits the situation and is visually appealing and then practice in it so that I know it’s going to work. That way the conversation (so to speak) I’m having with the audience won’t be interrupted by inappropriate remarks on my part. I get the double introvert whammy of one less thing to think about plus the emotional boost, if needed, of “look at my wonderful costume”. I’m usually performing in venues I’m familiar with or at events run by people I know, so there are rarely big surprises. And having friendly faces in the audience or backstage helps keep the performance anxiety from kicking in.
How does being an introvert affect the other aspects of your performance career (i.e. marketing, networking, negotiating)?
Working a room is not something I’ll ever do easily. I touch base with people I know at events and shows, and quick bellydance conversations are easy one-on-one and in small groups, because dancing is something that I enjoy talking about. Facebook makes it really convenient to keep track of people and events. Written communication is often easier for me than conversation, another common introvert trait. There have been a few events where I didn’t get to perform, because I took too long thinking about whether it would be a good choice or if I had something interesting to contribute. For the rest, I’m not a professional level dancer, so this doesn’t impact me too much.
What advantage does being an introvert give you over extroverted performers?
I don’t know how extroverts view performing. When I’m dancing, I’m not thinking about me performing as much as I’m sharing how the music feels or finding snippets of music to express and trying to connect to the audience through that experience. If I’m telling a story or playing a part, then I’m trying to inhabit that place, physically and emotionally, as completely as I can. Dancing to a band adds an extra level of complication, because I also need to track what the music is doing. I try to keep the mental dialog simple and something that I can emote, like “this is fun”, or “my veil is beautiful”, or “the taxim will break my heart”. Dance as performance is something I came to later than most; bellydance still feels like a place of wonder mixed with a walk on the wild side.
What haven’t we asked that you’d really like to tell us?
As someone who often does more listening than talking when in a group, performing gives me the chance to be seen while doing something that allows me expression in a way that nothing else does. Even as Kezmaya rather than everyday me, I still have to work a bit at claiming space and attention. To do this, I remind myself that I am Kezmaya, I have on a beautiful costume (which usually changes my posture as soon as I think it), and this performance space is mine. If need be, I’ll make myself move around more, and zills are also a help as an attention claimer. I think that I probably have a more contained, less exuberant dance presence than some. My dance persona is still more daring and emotive than the person most people see.
Kezmaya, a Boston-based performer, began her dance journey on a whim with American Cabaret, shifted to Tribal Fusion and American Tribal Style, and circled back to American Cabaret. She has learned from and been inspired by The Goddess Dancing, Kareema, Phoenix Avathar, Melina of the Daughters of Rhea, Nadira Jamal, OmBellyCo, and Aslahan. She is the quieter half of the ATS duo Tassellations. As a soloist, she has come to embrace the freedom and joy of dancing to live music. Whether sequins or twenty-five yard skirts or something in between, it’s all bellydance.
See Kezmaya in action!