Teaching Tips

Ask the Experts: Would You Recommend Removing the Mirror?

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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.

For Parents

Darrell Grand Moultrie teaches at a past Jacob's Pillow summer intensive. Photo Christopher Duggan, courtesy Jacob's Pillow

In the past 10 months, we've grown accustomed to helping our dancers navigate virtual school, classes and performances. And while brighter, more in-person days may be around the corner—or at least on the horizon—parents may be facing yet another hurdle to help our dancers through: virtual summer-intensive auditions.

In 2020, we learned that there are some unique advantages of virtual summer programs: the lack of travel (and therefore the reduced cost) and the increased access to classes led by top artists and teachers among them. And while summer 2021 may end up looking more familiar with in-person intensives, audition season will likely remain remote and over Zoom.

Of course, summer 2021 may not be back to in-person, and that uncertainty can be a hard pill to swallow. Here, Kate Linsley, a mom and academy principal of Nashville Ballet, as well as "J.R." Glover, The Dan & Carole Burack Director of The School at Jacob's Pillow, share their advice for this complicated process.

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Teachers Trending

From left: Anthony Crickmay, Courtesy Dance Theatre of Harlem Archives; Courtesy Ballethnic

It is the urgency of going in a week or two before opening night that Lydia Abarca Mitchell loves most about coaching. But in her role as Ballethnic Dance Company's rehearsal director, she's not just getting the troupe ready for the stage. Abarca Mitchell—no relation to Arthur Mitchell—was Mitchell's first prima ballerina when he founded Dance Theatre of Harlem with Karel Shook; through her coaching, Abarca Mitchell works to pass her mentor's legacy to the next generation.

"She has the same sensibility" as Arthur Mitchell, says Ballethnic co-artistic director Nena Gilreath. "She's very direct, all about the mission and the excellence, but very caring."

Ballethnic is based in East Point, a suburban city bordering Atlanta. In a metropolitan area with a history of racism and where funding is hard-won, it is crucial for the Black-led ballet company to present polished, professional productions. "Ms. Lydia" provides the "hard last eye" before the curtain opens in front of an audience.

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Higher Ed
Courtesy Benny Simon

It's safe to say that the 2020 fall semester was a learning experience for college dance departments and students alike.

While Zoom and socially distanced dancing had their obvious frustrations, professors met many of them with creative solutions that not only served as satisfactory replacements for "normal" learning, but also gave students valuable new perspectives that will last beyond the pandemic.

Dance Teacher rounded up four of our favorite examples:

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