I found a meme picture with a cute dog to soften my annoyance.
We've all seen and heard this one a lot, right? It's sometimes attached to a few other things, like living like there's no tomorrow and loving like you've never been hurt, etc etc. This can all be great and inspiring for normal life, but as a dancer I get so sick of seeing "Dance like nobody's watching."
Now don't get me wrong. There are times when it IS appropriate to dance like no one's watching. They include:
1. When you're a newbie in class and you're super nervous and you have to just tell yourself no one else is watching you.
2. When you have a new song you want to dance to, and you want to just FEEL it and see what movements work with it, before sitting down to really formalize your choreography or structured improv.
3. When you've got some emotions you need to work out, and you just turn on some music and dance so freakin' hard until you've danced it all out.
4. When you're at a party or a club and you want to just get down (but even then you have to be careful, because if you've told people you're a bellydancer, you don't want them to say "Oh, she claims she's a dancer but did you see what she was doing with her arms at Aunt Jane's wedding?").
However, there is a place where you should not "dance like no one's watching" and that is on stage. Once you've made the decision to be a performer, whether as an eternal amateur or a someday pro, you have made a commitment to always be "on" when you're dancing for other people. You've chosen to perform, so that means you have to perform. That means acknowledging the audience. That means that if you DON'T acknowledge the audience, it's because of a deliberate artistic choice*, not because you just felt like dancing for yourself. That means that if you're terrified of making real eye contact with the audience, you learn the tricks of faking eye contact.
If you get up on stage and dance like nobody's watching, you'll likely find that they aren't watching. Because if you don't dance for the audience, then they don't feel engaged. Likewise, if you're not dancing for the audience, you're probably not thinking about proper angles, and taking up space, and moving around the room/stage so that everyone gets a chance to see you in your full glory.
When you dance like nobody's watching, you do both yourself and the audience a great disservice. So if you've decided to dance for other people, then dance for other people! Acknowledge the audience. Share with them. To sum up the concept that I've heard from numerous great teachers, your dance doesn't have to shout "look at me!" but it should say "Hey, I know you're watching."
*Also if you're presenting a form of spiritual dance that isn't normally a performance art, and acknowledging the audience would be inauthentic, you should obviously make the authentic choice.