e use mirrors every day when getting ready in the morning, making sure we look presentable throughout the day or to wonder how we can make ourselves look thinner, more tanned, smarter, more beautiful etc. Dancers use mirrors for similar reasons. Dance is a very visual art form and every dancer wants to make sure they look beautiful in all the shapes they make. But is it a beneficial tool?
For dancers, the mirror provides on the spot feedback and allows them to self correct their technique. For teachers, it allows them to watch many students at the one time from different angles in the studio, as well as teaching a combination facing in the same direction as the dancers whilst watching them in their reflection.
There are negative effects for a dancer using the mirror, however. Some dancers can become very focused on themselves in the mirror and can become obsessed with their body image which can lead to mental health and self confidence issues. Additionally, having a dancer look in the mirror can throw them off balance at times and ruin their “line”.
Additionally, using the mirror can affect a dancers proprioception, which is the awareness of your body in space. Something I noticed when I was a dancer is that people used to “cheat” with their arabesque (when your leg is in the air behind you) which is traditionally directly behind the shoulder. The dancers would bring their leg out the side so it would go higher and “look better”. We called this “seca-besque” because it was between second position (straight out to the side) and an arabesque. I think this was a big contribution from the use of a mirror because you weren’t able to see the leg placement in a 2D image. It wasn’t until you saw a dancer face on or from the back that you would notice. So from the audiences point of view, it was a beautifully high leg! This trains the dancers muscle memory in this position so every time they do an arabesque, it will go out to the side.
You might be able to see it here, but on the right, the dancer’s leg is much higher than on the left. This is because it is easier to lift the leg up in second position than it is when it is behind. It is much easier to see this from a front on view but from the side, it is difficult to tell.
Whilst training in front of the mirror is beneficial for visual feedback, it can be detrimental in the longer term. For example, without that trained proprioceptive awareness, a dancer on stage will not be able to see how their body is placed and won’t be able to fix their position as effectively. Improving a dancers muscle memory ensures that they have excellent kinaesthetic awareness which enhances a dancers artistic quality and expressive movement as they have a feeling for movement and don’t rely on themselves “seeing” the movement.
Without the use of a mirror, a dancer is able to train their muscle memory more easily as they are only able to rely on what they feel. However the mirror can be beneficial for older dancers in particular to perfect their technique as they have that kinaesthetic awareness. It also gives the dancer autonomy with their body position correction so they don’t then rely on the teacher. The mirror is mostly used in ballet and used less in contemporary dance as improvisations and contemporary technique tends to focus more on sensations of the body which is more kinaesthetic.
The mirror can also affect body image. Every time we look in a mirror we see our bodies and what we see may not be the image we would like to have of ourselves. Body image for a dancer is an important part of psychological health and wellbeing and it can affect how a dancer moves in the studio. Heightened awareness can cause a dancer to become overly critical of how she looks which can cause negative feelings towards oneself. Dancers spend hours in the studio seeing themselves in the mirror as they attempt to achieve the perfect “line” whilst being corrected by a teacher which as you can imagine, can cause negative feelings towards self image.
Research has found that dancers taught without mirrors had a better self body image whereas dancers taught with mirrors generally felt worse about their body image. Higher skilled dancers that have a greater developed technical ability to assess their technical progress can be more critical of their bodies than a dancer with less experience in self evaluation. Not only can using a mirror cause negative body image, this is tied in with wearing tight clothes, the desire to be thin and long and comparing one’s’ body to the others in the room.
Take away points:
- Without a mirror, only half of the students that were studied, missed it and some felt relieved not to have to address the relationship between their self-perception and the reflection of their bodies in the mirror.
- Educators are encouraged to find alternate strategies to help correct their students such as verbal imagery and include other somatic approaches so the mirror is not the only used tool in the studio. It should be emphasized the long term value of proprioception during teaching is imperative.
- The mirror can cause a dancer to be overly critical of how she looks and may develop a negative self image.
- The biggest stress point for dancers in the studio is the mirror and can become a crutch which then inhibits dancers from developing their body awareness which can inhibit their potential and growth.