Q: I’m having such a love-hate relationship with mirrors right now. They can be distracting, as well as cause emotional distress for my students. At the same time, they’re a really useful tool. I know some teachers remove theirs altogether. Is this something you recommend?
A: I too have mixed feelings about having a mirror in the dance studio. When teaching a technique class by myself, where I need to model the dancing, it’s an indispensable tool. It allows me to face away from my students so they can shadow me (as opposed to mirror me) while still being able to see what the students are doing. When my grade-school students come into my studio for creative movement, though, the mirror is a distraction. This age goes right to entertaining themselves with various antics performed for their little audience of one. Teenagers (and their developmentally appropriate preoccupation with their appearances) are also distracted as they constantly check themselves.
My other issue with mirrors is that a dancer can’t take them onstage to make sure they’re performing well. In this way, the mirror can become a hindrance to developing a knowledge of one’s body in space, which needs to come from within the dancer. This knowledge allows them to perform the dance anywhere.
If you don’t want to use mirrors, there are solutions. I teach in one studio that has curtains to cover the mirrors. This is my preferred way to deal with them. When I do need them I can reveal them, but otherwise I can keep them hidden. In another studio where I teach, this isn’t an option. If that is also your situation, you can always just have the students face away from the mirrors. I recommend finding a middle ground. When I need to teach facing the mirror, I follow up whatever we do with a few runs facing multiple directions. By having the students face different directions, they have to use their own bodies as a reference and not the room.