At this past weekend at Rakkasah East, the question I was asked most on Sunday (about a dozen times or so) was "Do you get nervous before performing? Do you get stage-fright?" I was scheduled to perform near the end of the day, so I had some time to think about it.
And generally, my answer is no. I don't get stage-fright, and I rarely get nervous before performing. Nowadays anyway. I actually don't think I have ever really had stage-fright in the classic sense, going all the way back to grade school plays. This is probably not surprising to people who encounter me in the classroom or on the stage, at events - as I tend to appear very extroverted. But I'm a true Gemini, and my normal state of being is Introvert. Something clicks over when I need to teach or perform, but I'm not a social butterfly and I prefer sincere interactions.
But I have in the past gotten nervous before a performance for both good and bad reasons. The "good" - there are people in the audience I greatly respect and value their opinion/feedback, and I want to do well for them. In this situation, it's not a matter so much of whether or not I will make them happy, but realizing because I respect them for very valid, solid reasons (and generally the feeling is mutual), then they will understand me, they want to see me do well, and they want to help make suggestions to improve the dance where I can. I still get the occasional butterfly when I dance before my dance heroes, but it helps lend energy to the moment rather than stifle it.
The "bad": psyching myself into thinking that a performance at a certain event can make or break my career. And I think I did my less-than-best performances in the latter category. For years, I considered myself a better teacher than a performer, and that's what I had to live with. But as soon as I stopped setting myself up against a large mainly-imaginary goal and worrying about what people I didn't even know/care for/respect thought of me - everything changed. Being immersed in the design world these last couple of years (aka "real world") 40+ hours a week helped too - it helped put everything into perspective. There will be other performances, this one performance in this one spot is not the end-all be-all, and you can't please everyone - because everyone has their own baggage that they bring to the table. Some people will like it, some won't, some will love and some will hate, and all are exposed to the same piece. It's their experience to your experience and you can't control it.
It is not a matter of "not caring" as so much it is giving respect to yourself and your dance. While you are on stage, exist for that moment in time, that point in your journey of dance. What came before and what will come after doesn't matter in that moment. There will be things that happen that are out of your control (costume malfunctions, bad lighting, music skipping, slipping, missed choreography), but these things do not define who you are as dancer. And most of all, don't forget: breathe and HAVE FUN!