Extroverted and introverted personality types are widely accepted nowadays.
Cartoonish images of social, adventurous, loud extroverts versus bookish, shy, homebody introverts skew our understanding of what this really means.
If you want to understand it better, I warmly recommend reading Quiet by Susan Cain. What can it mean as a dancer to be an introvert or to have introverts in your class when you’re teaching? Let me try to paint you a picture.
First, let’s punch a hole in the perception that introverts are shy. Some are, some extroverts are too, but an introvert personality and shyness don’t equal each other.
According to my mother I didn’t even reply when spoken to as a child, but I have never been shy. While a shy person fears but perhaps wishes to take centre stage, an introvert simply prefers to stay away from the attention.
To quote Susan Cain: ‘Shyness is the fear of negative judgement, and introversion is a preference for quiet, minimally stimulating environments.
An introverts tendency for inner thought and feeling makes expressing what they dance a challenge. We do not express outwards but inwards and often prefer the small gestures to the dramatic moments.
Personally, I must connect with the music emotionally before I can express something outwards. That can mean hearing the song until I know it backwards and practising the dance moves until my muscles hurt. It also means that even when I do express outwards my expression might seem big to me but look reserved to those looking on.
Introverts are not group-people. We need alone time, and although we can be very sociable, our preference is for one-to-one interactions.
This means that already in class, often a larger group, you have put me out of my comfort zone. The smaller the group and the better I know my fellow dancers the more I’m also comfortable but it isn’t a natural environment for me and it might take years in the same group to get to a reasonable level of comfort.
One of the aspects I struggle the most with in Belly dance is the preference and need to improvise. Introverts prefer to work focused, methodically and often slowly. We do our research, we analyse and practise….and practise, and would happily practise some more. Improvisation is the opposite of that.
My brain cannot work fast enough to do what it naturally does which often renders improvising doing the same move over and over or not being able to move at all. This often leaves me feeling that I failed the exercise. One thing for teacher to understand is that this analytical brain isn’t possible to merely turn off which is why the advice to ‘just go for it’ isn’t working.
Introverts tend to be fairy immune to wealth and fame. This may not tie in so closely to dance courses but we simply do not have a need to be seen and heard. We often actively choose to be the wallflower out of a preference to go unnoticed, and only go for the spotlight if there are other incentives, deeper motives to be fulfilled.
I love to dance, even perform, and have been taking dance classes and done performances since I was a child but as I have grown older I have also realised that the challenges I meet are not the obvious ones.
I struggle much more with finding my way to learn and improve in a way that suits me while in an environment that isn’t built to fit my needs. Simple things, like ‘just dance to this song you never heard before’ when you could happily practise the same move for an hour or getting the kick of your life doing the dress rehearsal, not during the performance when everyone else is having their adrenaline kicks. Sometimes it’s as simple as finding the motivation why you would do a performance at all, when you’re happiest learning for the sake of knowing.