The “real” teacher, human or mirror?

Mirrors in dance studios are almost always a given. When the class size exceeds more than ten people, those who find themselves in the back row depend upon the mirror image of the instructor for demonstration. They allow for a constant check-in between student and teacher, allowing them to observe, integrate and execute movement.  

Staring at yourself while you learn something totally new is also a test of confidence and self-assuredness. You need to accept the image you see in that moment. Trust that you are capable of the task and eliminate any self-doubt if you really want to invest in your practice; be that dance, yoga or any kind of movement.

But then how do you deal with the moment the teacher tells you to turn around and face away from the mirrors? For myself it creates a tiny existential crisis, how can I possibly do what I’m doing without seeing myself doing it. If I don’t see myself doing it, then does it even exist?!

Many years of learning dance consistently from mirrors, and then studying professionally without them has made me skeptical of their benefits.

It’s true that dancing in front of mirrors can be a test of your confidence, but how you fare on that test varies from day to day. It can create body image issues. If left unchecked one might become obsessive, where you find yourself adjusting your hair and your clothing more than actually practicing.

Another downside of mirror dependence that a lot of teachers don’t realize is the dimension effect. When you look in a mirror, you only see your 2D self, when in fact, big surprise, you’re quite the three-dimensional being. There is so much more investment and possible range of movement in anyone’s body, regardless of skill level. When they dance with this reminder of their true dimension.

As dance and movement related instructors, we have a duty to see the potential in each student and use our knowledge to help them realize it. Reminding them of the little big ideas, like back space, is something a mirror will never do.