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.

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Securing the correct music licensing for your studio is an important step in creating a financially sound business. "Music licensing is something studio owners seem to either embrace or ignore completely," says Clint Salter, CEO and founder of the Dance Studio Owners Association. While it may seem like it's a situation in which it's easier to ask for forgiveness rather than permission—that is, to wait until you're approached by a music-rights organization before purchasing a license—Salter disagrees, citing Peloton, the exercise company that produces streaming at-home workouts. In February, Peloton settled a music-licensing suit with the National Music Publishers' Association out-of-court for an undisclosed amount. Originally, NMPA had sought $300 million in damages from Peloton. "It can get extremely expensive," says Salter. "It's not worth it for a studio to get caught up in that."

As you continue to explore a hybrid online/in-person version of your class schedule, it's crucial that your music licenses include coverage for livestreamed instruction—which comes with its own particular requirements. Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about music licensing—in both normal times and COVID times—as well as some safe music bets that won't pose any issues.

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Teaching Tips
A 2019 Dancewave training. Photo by Effy Grey, courtesy Dancewave

By now, most dance educators hopefully understand that they have a responsibility to address racism in the studio. But knowing that you need to be actively cultivating racial equity isn't the same thing as knowing how to do so.

Of course, there's no easy answer, and no perfect approach. As social justice advocate David King emphasized at a recent interactive webinar, "Cultivating Racial Equity in the Classroom," this work is never-ending. The event, hosted by Dancewave (which just launched a new racial-equity curriculum) was a good starting point, though, and offered some helpful takeaways for dance educators committed to racial justice.

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Higher Ed
The author, Robyn Watson. Photo courtesy Watson

Recently, I posted a thread of tweets elucidating the lack of respect for tap dance in college dance programs, and arguing that it should be a requirement for dance majors.

According to onstageblog.com, out of the 30 top-ranked college dance programs in the U.S., tap dance is offered at 19 of them, but only one school requires majors to take more than a beginner course—Oklahoma City University. Many prestigious dance programs, like the ones at NYU Tisch School of the Arts and SUNY Purchase, don't offer a single course in tap dance.

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