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Introvert After the Show

Performance anxiety
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Being a shy dancer and talking to people

I’m an introvert. A common comment I heard while growing up was “You’re so quiet.” Being a mime in high school drama class was a cinch. So imagine the head-scratching when my family and friends found out I started taking Middle Eastern dance classes and performing with a troupe. How does an introvert do that?

Fairly easily, actually. I had to learn to stop looking down and biting my lips, but I love performing. What trips me up is after the music stops, I’m getting ready to leave, and audience members come over to talk. Gulp. Back to the introvert.

I’m lucky to be a shy person in a troupe and not a shy, solo artist who has to do all of her own promotion. But I’ve been a little uncomfortable knowing what to say to people who come up to me after a show. Recent experiences with audience members have helped me figure out some tricks:

1). Consider the source: I turned around while packing up and saw a father and two little girls approaching me. The youngest girl was obviously afraid to come any closer, but just as obviously really wanted to tell me something. I knelt to her level and she was still pretty shy, so her father picked her up. I stood up and talked to her gently until she told me that she had liked the show. How could I be shyer than that adorable little girl? Chances are that most adults who approach you will also be a little nervous. You can help each other get over the nerves of talking to a stranger and really connect.

2). This isn’t rocket science: most people who want to talk to a dancer after a performance want to say “Good job” or “Thank you.” Common questions include asking to take a picture with the dancer, when she started dancing, how long she has danced, and possibly something about the history of the dance. This isn’t the world of celebrity where you’ll get asked impossible questions and then crucified regardless of how you answer. Knowing the common questions you might get should help reduce any nervousness when you see someone headed your way.

3). Don’t ruin it: people find dance inspiring. I definitely do. I kept dancing and was drawn to performing because I admired the dancers and their energy. My closest friends are dancers. So when people approach you who obviously enjoyed the show, don’t ruin it by brushing them off and being rude. Remember that saying that you shouldn’t meet your heroes? I want to admire a person for her dancing and also for her character. I wouldn’t want to find out that she’s conceited and won’t give her adoring public the time of day if they attempt to talk to her. Practicing sometimes takes me to that place where everything else falls away and it’s just me and the music, but it more consistently happens at a performance. If people can’t stand to watch me perform, then I lose some of the enjoyment of the dance. And I miss out on the chance to possibly inspire someone else to dance and receive the same gifts that I have. It’s better for everyone in the long run if I resist the urge to run away after shows. I don’t practice talking to people nearly as often as I practice steps and choreography. But if practice doesn’t make perfect, it at least makes something easier to do.

Introvert or not, there are obviously times where I can’t hide and let someone else do the talking. My job, for example. I supervise a program that requires me to interact with strangers fairly regularly. It took me a while to realize that once I talked to enough people to come up with a rough script and know what to expect from the encounter, some of that introvert shyness went away. It took me longer to realize I could apply that same mindset to dance. I’m fairly extroverted while performing. I want an audience to watch and I want us both to enjoy ourselves. But the extroversion stops almost literally as soon as the music does, and then I don’t know what to do when people approach me. But remembering that I’ve dealt with this before at work and thinking through what people would probably ask should help me feel more comfortable interacting with audience members after the show.

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Updated Aug 12, 2017 1:50 PM EDT | More details

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