"You must be extroverted!" I heard the director of our ballet school proclaim to us. It was the first time I remember hearing the word 'extroverted'. I understood that this meant we were supposed to be expressive and uninhibited (within the approved emotions and behaviours) and that the way I was (introverted) was wrong.
Times have changed considerably, and introversion has become more recognised and appreciated through literature and Ted talks like "The Power Of Introverts" by Susan Cain. But still, in many areas of life, being an introvert proves challenging in a world where extroversion is seen as the standard.
Authenticity Amid The Mask
Many artists have introverted personalities that can be difficult for others to understand. Despite what some may assume, going on stage is not always about expressing oneself and seeking admiration. It is about portraying a character rather than oneself but most importantly, when on stage one does not have to interact directly with the audience.
It is the interaction with people that can be overwhelming for introverts, which is often misunderstood, not seldom for being arrogant.
It does not mean that introverted performers pretend or hold back. They can genuinely share an emotional part of their personality and embody their stage persona while simultaneously hiding behind it. The term "persona" originates from the Latin word "persōna," meaning "mask" or "character." According to The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, it represents the 'role one assumes or presents in public and society—a person's outward image or personality, distinct from their inner self.'
In an interview with Sylvie Guillem in 2015, she says: "You put me in a room with people and I hide in the corner; put me on stage and I’m different. It’s difficult to explain.” (theguardian.com/stage/2015/feb/22/sylvie-guillem-interview-dance-nureyev)
Ballet As A Refuge For Introverts
Ballet is an especially suitable art form for introverts because of the non-verbal expression of emotions, the solitude of ballet training, and the stylised movements that allow emotions to be fully felt within without the need to express them outwardly. This makes me wonder why there is (or at least used to be) such an emphasis on young children being outgoing, bold, and energetic when entering ballet schools.
Because I was quiet and serious, at the age of 6 and 7 I preferred barre work to improvisation, like 'being a leave in the wind', my very first teacher said that I'd never succeed as a dancer. Her background was in Ausdruckstanz (expressive dance)!
Strengths of Introverts
Introverts possess a range of strengths that contribute to their unique perspectives and abilities. Here are some commonly recognised strengths of introverts:
• Reflective and introspective
• Thoughtful and analytical
• Creativity and innovation
• Listening, empathy and observers
• Concentration and attention to detail
• Independence and self-motivation
These strengths are generalisations. The above list is neither exhaustive nor does it mean all or only introverted people possess these qualities. No matter what, we need all facets of people: introverts, extroverts, and ambiverts (outgoing introverts!) Imagine a group, a class, a workshop, or a meeting with only extroverted or only introverted participants!
The Spectrum of Personality
It is essential to understand that being shy is not the same as being introverted. Shyness is a fear of social interaction, while introverts need time alone to regain their energy (whereas an extrovert gains energy by being with people). Human personalities are diverse and complex. We all possess a unique combination of traits and qualities that shape our individuality. We might be:
• shy and introverted (double whammy) This combination can present unique challenges as it may involve a natural inclination toward solitude and reflection, alongside feelings of apprehension in social situations. • shy and extroverted (tough) Being shy while possessing extroverted tendencies can create a unique internal conflict. These individuals may have a genuine desire for social connection and interaction, yet find themselves struggling with self-consciousness or anxiety in social settings.
• confident and introverted (misunderstood) Introverts can be confident and self-assured, despite their preference for solitude and introspection. However, their quieter demeanour may lead to misunderstandings or assumptions about their abilities or level of engagement.
• confident and extroverted (generally considered leader's qualities) Extroverts who exude confidence and possess natural leadership qualities are often admired for their ability to engage with others and take charge in group settings.
Did you recognise yourself in one of the categories above? The above categories and the chart are only landmarks. The spectrum of personalities runs on a fluid spectrum. Yet, knowing your traits can help you own who you are and handle life better. Ideally, you want to be able to choose when you can be fully in your natural element and when you may have to adapt to situations that come less easily to you. Engaging with people, especially my adult ballet students, did not come naturally to me. I had to train myself to project my voice in class and to interact with you before and after the class. It was not that I had to persuade myself to do so, it simply did not occur to me to 'chat'.
Now, I genuinely enjoy connecting with my students, also because I realised how this helps make others feel appreciated, welcomed and included. Although there are moments when I still need to remind myself to initiate conversations. And I always need quiet time (that is me + Herbert) after socialising with more than three people.
Whether you are an introvert, extrovert, or somewhere in between, embracing your true self is key to a more fulfilling life. If you feel stuck and need help getting unstuck, do get in touch!
If you're an extrovert, I'd love to hear examples of your life that I could share in a future blog. Meanwhile, you may find this personality test interesting: Take The Test.