Most people use the mirror on a daily basis and we all have a unique perspective on what we see in the mirror. Regardless of your feelings on your personal mirror usage, you should try to develop a healthy working relationship with the ballet studio mirror.
The most important thing to remember is that the mirror is a tool, and like any tool, it must be used properly for the best results! When you look in the mirror during a ballet class it should be to positively critique your position or the step that you’re executing. Looking in the mirror and allowing your internal narrative to take over is detrimental to your ballet focus and has no value for your ballet technique.
Allow your rational mind to take the lead. Think about what is being asked of you and use the mirror to see if you are moving correctly. During class, you will be asked to feel your positions and movements, but sometimes you will need a visual to understand how that position or movement should feel. Create meaning and connection between what you see and what you feel.
If your teacher gives you the opportunity to face the mirror for a specific correction, try to notice how it feels. The best dancers dance in their bodies and not to their reflections! Seeing the correction in the mirror is only half of the task, feeling it in your body is where the true value lies. Once you have understood how a correction feels in your body, you no longer need the mirror – your muscle memory will recognise the correct movement. When you can feel it in your body without looking for it in your reflection, the mirror has been used correctly.
When looking in the ballet studio mirror you should have a clear idea of what you are looking for. If your teacher hasn’t asked you to look for something specific, try to generate that for yourself. Are your arms strong and supportive with good shape? Are your legs and feet stretching through your line? Are you collecting up through your centre and standing as tall as you can? These are really good questions to ask yourself anytime, but especially when looking in the mirror as you have the visual to assist the physical.
If the mirrors run down the sidewall (or more than one wall) in your ballet studio, then beware the false perspective! You should always look directly at your teacher or the front of the studio to present to your audience. Looking through the mirror cannot only confuse your perspective in the space but also confuse your enchainements!
Unlike Alice, we are not going to fall through the mirror to Wonderland! But there are definitely times when you need to be able to look through your reflection rather than at it. This could be with a lift of focus, looking above your eye-line, or a turn of the head to complete your line. Mirror usage should never come before using your head and eye-line properly. This is a dangerous habit that creates internalised dancing. Remember that dancing is about connecting with your audience, not naval gazing in the mirror!
Whatever personal feelings you have towards the mirror, in the ballet studio it is a useful tool to improve your technique. Remember to use it positively and to let it go when the work is done.