Monthly Archives: March 2015

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Kezmaya, Introvert and Performer

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Our latest performer to write for the Introverted Performer Project is my friend and fellow lover of the book Quiet – Kezmaya!

Kezmaya, photo by RT2 Photo

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.

About Kezmaya:
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!

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Aslahan, Introvert and Performer

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Welcome to my own entry in the Introverted Performer Project.

Aslahan, photo by Pixie Vision

How does being an introvert affect how you prepare for a performance?
When I am planning for a future performance I generally do it solo, sitting down by myself to select music and ponder my costuming, staging, etc (I seldom choreograph). If I need to work through ideas or brainstorm, I’ll scribble my thoughts out in a notebook rather than talking it through with a friend or colleague. Sometimes I want to run an idea by someone for feedback, but I can’t then work it out collaboratively – I need to drag what I get from that conversation back to my mental lair to finish processing it alone.

As far as getting dressed and putting on makeup for the show – given the option, I will take that as “alone time” also, to ramp up my energy. The defining characteristic of introverts vs extroverts is that extroverts get energy from social contact, whereas introverts, even if we enjoy being social, are energetically drained by it, and need solitude to recharge. So I’ll paint my face and glue on my eyelashes alone with a cup of tea and possibly some music playing in the background. For me it isn’t a social time, but a chance to draw inward in preparation for projecting outward onstage. When necessary, it doesn’t bother me to get ready in a crowded dressing room (some of the funniest conversations I’ve ever overheard have been in theatre green rooms), but at the very least I do usually pull into myself in the last few minutes before it’s my turn to take the stage.

How does being an introvert affect your connection with your audience?
This is one area where I really had to think about how to turn something I can’t change about myself (my introvertedness) into something I could leverage. To some degree we do have to overcome introversion, ramp up our energy, and project it out to our audience, especially as we enter the stage. But – introverts excel at one-on-one connections. We have the ability to grant our attention to an individual in the audience, and make them feel truly seen, truly connected to us. Spending an entire performance like that (as opposed to shining our attention on the audience as a whole) is not a great strategy, but using it strongly during parts of our performance adds a great deal of warmth to our stage presence, and it’s something that comes to introverts naturally – giving audience members that isolated moment that belongs to them alone.

How does being an introvert affect your choices of things like makeup, costuming, props, venues you choose to perform in, etc.?
I don’t know that being an introvert affects my makeup and costuming, although it took me several iterations to get my performance makeup ramped up enough, especially for a large, lit stage. It does affect the types of gigs I take. I am not a “life of the party” type, and therefore bellygram-type gigs are not my strength. I dance at private events in function halls where there is a stage or dance floor, but I’ve stopped accepting events that occur in people’s living rooms because, as fun as they can be, that’s not where my strength lies. For the same reason I generally don’t dance in restaurants where there is no designated “stage area” and the dancer is expected to dance among the tables. Venues with no “dance space” give me no chance to draw back a bit and bring the audience to me, which is a dynamic I like to utilize as an introvert.

How does being an introvert affect the other aspects of your performance career (i.e. marketing, networking, negotiating)?
I think introverts are actually amazing at networking. Many of us think we aren’t because we have a different idea of what networking should look like. We think we are supposed to go to an event and meet lots of people, exchange business cards, boldly introduce ourselves to that dancer we admire but have never met before. And that’s fine, if you’re an extrovert. You create a network with lots of nodes. Introverts are the ones who go to an event and spend the whole evening talking to one or two new people in a corner. We don’t meet that dancer we admire until we’ve met someone who knows someone who knows someone who knows her. Sound like bad networking? It isn’t, at all. We (introverts) create networks with fewer nodes but stronger connections. There’s a depth to our interactions in social settings that balances out the smaller number of people we connect with. And because those interactions are deeper, we get introduced to people who care about the same things we do, so our networks tend to develop organically in the directions that are important to us. I actually suspect that we are better networkers than extroverts are…

Negotiating, on the other hand, can be problematic. Introverts tend to be best at written communication (like email and texting) because we get a chance to compose our thoughts. (We, by nature, work our thoughts out before speaking rather than “talking through” an idea.) This makes in-person and over-the-phone negotiation a challenge – most of the introverts I know don’t like to talk on the phone at all, never mind when it’s a business negotiation. I learned years ago that I could mitigate some of this “phone stress” by keeping my trusty notepad next to me and writing as I talk. I scribble down everything I’m saying, even my own name and address if I’m giving it to someone over the phone. My notes probably look like that of a crazy person, but it seems to work to keep me from grinding to a halt. In-person negotiation for me involves rehearsing a few scenarios by myself and crossing my fingers. If all else fails “I’ll have to get back to you on that” allows me to withdraw and collect my thoughts.

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?)
It’s always been a part of my nature, and one that I accept as a feature, not a flaw. But – when I first decided to seriously pursue a career as a dancer it kept me awake at night, worrying that perhaps as an introvert I just wasn’t cut out for the business aspects of being a professional performer. I’ve long held the belief, though, that strengths and weaknesses are always two sides of the same coin, and if you get creative enough with your perspective you can make almost any personal trait work for you as a strength. So I set my mind to figuring out how to not just overcome my introversion but to use it. Pondering this idea, and talking about it with some fellow introverts in the dance community, planted the first seeds for this blog series. Which, itself, is a pretty good example of making my introversion work for me.  🙂

What advantage does being an introvert give you over extroverted performers?
I did mention the introvert advantages of networking, and I touched a bit on it talking about audience connection: I suspect the dynamic of drawing our audience to us, instead of always going to them, comes a bit more naturally to introverts, and creates a nice give-and-take that adds depth, especially to longer performances.

What haven’t we asked that you’d really like to tell us?
One area where I do think introverts are behind is in collaborating and/or asking for help on projects. We learn early on that the first responders to calls for assistance or partnership are, for obvious reasons, extroverts. And they mean well, but the help they offer often doesn’t fit well with the way we work. They want to sit down next to us and work through something with us. We want to exchange nuggets of ideas or information and then go back to our caves to process the work solo. And it feels ungrateful to say “gee, thanks for the help, but I need you to go away now” so we stop asking. Extroverts reading this – it’s not you! Introverts just don’t work effectively unless the processing can happen inside our own heads. Introverts – I think we need to learn to be OK saying “Thanks for your help – I need to take this idea and go process it myself, and check in with you later.” Reaching out to each other will allow us to more fully realize our potential. But we have to honor our nature and do it introvert-style.

About Aslahan:
Aslahan is an award-winning Turkish Oryantal dancer based in Boston, MA, who hates writing bios about herself. When not dancing she can often be found nose-in-laptop, geeking out about the intersection of topics like neuroplasticity, dance history, trade routes, and the difference between klasik and karadeniz kemençes. She drinks a lot of tea.

You can find her on the web at: aslahan.com

See Aslahan in action!