I got started a little late during one part of the choreography section since my compulsive shaking was making it difficult to get my scimitar properly in place, and as I previously surmised, I definitely looked too stiff during the sword balancing segment. My range of motion is normally not that limited. The improv section was a little better and I did loosen up some, but you can still tell I was not really at ease up on stage. I can in fact layer a 3/4 shimmy over my Turkish but my body just wasn't cooperating that day.
I wish there was some way to simulate the presence of an audience during practice so I could work at surmounting my fears, but to my knowledge there is no such way other than actually dancing in front of live people. While there are strategies and exercises for overcoming stage fright and developing a strong stage presence, I think you can only truly "practice" performance by actually performing. There is no substitute for the real experience.
This brings up the dilemma of a dancer's readiness to perform versus his or her desire and intent to do so. A few other bellydance bloggers have posted recently about this issue (Tempest and Miischelle for example) and I think it is a worthy one. I agree with the other bloggers in that I do not think baby beginner dancers should be performing for the general public, especially without the explicit caveat that they are beginning or student dancers. In other words, beginners or even intermediate level dancers shouldn't be masquerading as professional performers.
However, once a dancer has gotten a fair amount of learning under her belt* and has the go-ahead from her teacher, I think it is beneficial to perform as a student at haflas or events for fellow dancers, friends, and family. Practice, both on and off stage, makes perfect, and amateur dancers should have appropriate venues to practice their performance skills so they can improve.
Just to clarify (and so I don't sound like a giant hypocrite), our performance at the DE Hafla was as a student troupe. Our non-professional status was noted as such both in the printed program and by the announcement immediately prior to our performance.
I don't think there is a hard and fast universal rule as to what the proper time period of study might be prior to performance at the type of events I suggest would be appropriate for amateur dancers — it would vary from dancer to dancer depending upon how long the dancer has been taking classes, how many classes per week he or she takes, how much time outside of class the dancer devotes to practice, the innate ability of the dancer to learn the movements.