Love 'em or hate 'em, whether they cover one wall or four, mirrors abound in dance studios. But are they a useful learning tool?

Sally Radell, a professor of dance and movement studies at Emory University, says, "That's a good question. Because the more research I do, I haven't found that yet." And she's done a lot of research.


Body-Image Blues

Radell's most recent study on the complex dancer/mirror relationship looked at how mirrors affected the body images of beginning and advanced female college ballet students.

At the end of the 14-week semester, the beginners said the mirrors made them feel more self-conscious, and they would use them to criticize themselves and compare themselves to others in the class. While the advanced dancers said they had tried to develop ways to avoid the mirror—feeling the movements rather than continually watching their reflections—their body-image scores also fell. This was a bad predicament, since they were even lower than the beginners' to start with.

Also likely due to the mirrors, beginning dancers felt their physical fitness dropped over the course of the semester. While advanced dancers felt more in shape—probably since they were enrolled in several dance classes at a time and exercised more overall than beginners—they also felt worse about their bodies as they became more preoccupied with weight.

"Even with the knowledge that mirrors are problematic, they can cause dancers to be overly critical and create lots of body-anxiety issues," says Radell. "If a dancer has a poor body image, it's psychologically damaging. It impacts their ability to be successful in the classroom. If you feel really bad about how you look, it's hard to perform your best."

Slowing Progress

Previous studies also show mirrors affect ballet education in other ways (and Radell is currently studying if and how they affect modern dance students, too). By removing the mirrors, or at least seriously limiting their use, students:

  • remember dance steps better
  • advance from focusing on body parts and individual positions to movement and flow
  • become less self-consciousness and more expressive

Removing mirrors also improves technique. Two of Radell's studies showed that, while learning a slow adagio phrase, students without mirrors progressed farther technically than those with mirrors. Why? They weren't preoccupied with staring at themselves.

This also links to proprioception, or the ability for a dancer to feel where her body is in space and what it's doing. If a dancer becomes visually reliant on a mirror, she doesn't learn to trust her other senses—which become essential during a performance, for example, when that crutch is no longer there.

Top Mirror Tips x 2

So when does mirror use make sense? With college-age students (the only age Radell has studied), she has found mirrors can come into play beneficially with lower-level beginners.

"A lot of them were drawn to ballet because it's a beautiful artform; it's graceful. So watching themselves in the mirror was part of the fantasy of living this," she says. On the other hand, "The higher-level dancers, the ones who are more skilled, saw themselves and could identify, 'Oh my gosh, my hip is out of place, my alignment is poor, I'm not having good turnout.'" This ability to self-criticize brought their body images down.

Radell also believes mirrors are useful as a last resort. If, for example, a student's leg is bent but she absolutely can't feel it, the brief use of a mirror can help a teacher point it out by sight.

Otherwise, Radell says, "I'm very cautious about the use of a mirror. I wouldn't say never, ever use it. But I would say really limit your use of it, big time."

The Conversation
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo courtesy of Hightower

The beloved "So You Think You Can Dance" alum and former Emmy-nominated "Dancing with the Stars" pro Chelsie Hightower discovered her passion for ballroom at a young age. She showed a natural ability for the Latin style, but she mastered the necessary versatility by studying jazz, ballet and other forms of dance. "Every style of dance builds on each other," she says, "and the more music you're exposed to, the more your rhythm and coordination is built."

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Success with Just for Kix
Bill Johnson, Courtesy Just for Kix

Running a dance studio is a feat in itself. But adding a competition team into the mix brings a whole new set of challenges. Not only are you focusing on giving your dancers the best training possible, but you're navigating the fast-paced competition and convention circuit. Winning is one goal, but you also want to create an environment that's fun, educational and inspiring for young artists. We asked Cindy Clough, executive director of Just For Kix and a studio owner with over 40 years of experience, for her advice on building a healthy dance team culture:

Keep reading... Show less
Just for fun
Via Instagram

Happy Father's Day to all of the dance dads in the world! Whether you're professional dancers, dance teachers, dance directors or simply just dance supporters, you are a key ingredient to what makes the dance world such a happy, thriving place, and we love you!

To celebrate, here are our four favorite Instagram dance dads. Prepare to say "Awwwwwwwweeeeeee!!!!!!"

You're welcome!

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Insure Fitness
AdobeStock, Courtesy Insure Fitness Group

As a teacher at a studio, you've more than likely developed long-lasting relationships with some of your students and parents. The idea that you could be sued by one of them might seem impossible to imagine, but Insure Fitness Group's Gianna Michalsen warns against relaxing into that mindset. "People say, 'Why do I need insurance? I've been working with these people for 10 years—we're friends,'" she says. "But no one ever takes into account how bad an injury can be. Despite how good your relationship is, people will sue you because of the toll an injury takes on their life."

You'll benefit most from an insurance policy that caters to the specifics of teaching dance at one or several studios. Here's what to look for:

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Getty Images

If you're a studio owner, the thought of raising your rates most likely makes you cringe. Despite ever-increasing overhead expenses you can't avoid—rent, salaries, insurance—you're probably wary of alienating your customers, losing students or inviting confrontation if you increase the price of your tuition or registration and recital fees. DT spoke with three veteran studio owners who suggest it's time to get past that. Here's how to give your business the revenue boost it needs and the value justification it (and you) deserve.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by World Class Vacations
David Galindo Photography

New York City is a dream destination for many dancers. However aspiring Broadway stars don't have to wait until they're pros to experience all the city has to offer. With Dance the World Broadway, students can get a taste of the Big Apple—plus hone their dance skills and make lasting memories.

Here's why Dance the World Broadway is the best way for students to experience NYC:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Margie Gillis (left); photo by Kyle Froman

Margie Gillis dances the human experience. Undulating naked in a field of billowing grass in Lessons from Nature 4, or whirling in a sweep of lilac fabric in her signature work Slipstream, her movement is free of flashy technique and tricks, but driven and defined by emotion. "There's a central philosophy in my work about what the experience of being human is," says Gillis, whose movement style is an alchemy of Isadora Duncan's uninhibited self-expression and Paul Taylor's musicality, blended with elements of dance theater into something utterly unique and immediately accessible. "I want an authenticity," she says. "I want to touch my audiences profoundly and deeply."

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Getty Images

Teaching arabesque can be a challenge for educators and students alike. Differences in body types, flexibility and strength can leave dancers feeling dejected about the possibility of improving this essential position.

To help each of us in our quest for establishing beautiful arabesques in our students without bringing them to tears, we caught up with University of Utah ballet teacher Jennie Creer-King. After her professional career dancing with Ballet West and Oregon Ballet Theater and her years of teaching at the studio and college levels, she's become a bit of an arabesque expert.

Here she shares five important tips for increasing the height of your students' arabesques.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Photo by Jennifer Kleinman, courtesy of Danell Hathaway

It's high school dance concert season, which means a lot of you K–12 teachers are likely feeling a bit overwhelmed. The long nights of editing music, rounding up costumes and printing programs are upon you, and we salute you. You do great work, and if you just hang on a little while longer, you'll be able to bathe in the applause that comes after the final Saturday night curtain.

To give you a bit of inspiration for your upcoming performances, we talked with Olympus High School dance teacher Danell Hathaway, who just wrapped her school's latest dance company concert. The Salt Lake City–based K–12 teacher shares her six pieces of advice for knocking your show out of the park.

Keep reading... Show less
Getty Images

Q: I'm looking to create some summer rituals and traditions at my studio. What are some of the things you do?

A: Creating fun and engaging moments for your students, staff and families can have a positive impact on your studio culture. Whether it's a big event or a small gesture, we've found that traditions build connection, boost morale and create strong bonds. I reached out to a variety of studio owners to gather some ideas for you to try this summer. Here's what they had to say.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Sam Williams and Jaxon Willard after competition at RADIX. Photo courtesy of Williams

Self-choreographed solos are becoming increasingly popular on the competition circuit these days, leading dance teachers to incorporate more creative mentoring into their rehearsal and class schedules. In this new world of developing both technical training and choreographic prowess, finding the right balance of assisting without totally hijacking a student's choreographic process can be difficult.

To help, we caught up with a teacher who's already braved these waters by assisting "World of Dance" phenom Jaxon Willard with his viral audition solos. Center Stage Performing Arts Studio company director Sam Williams from Orem, Utah, shares her sage wisdom below.

Check it out!

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Getty Images

Dance studios are run by creative people with busy schedules, who have a love-hate relationship with props and sequins. The results of all this glitter and glam? General mass chaos in every drawer, costume closet and prop corner of the studio. Let's be honest, not many dance teachers are particularly known for their tidiness. The ability to get 21 dancers to spot in total synchronization? Absolutely! The stamina to run 10 solos, 5 group numbers, 2 ballet classes and 1 jazz class in one day? Of course! The emotional maturity to navigate a minefield of angry parents and hormonal teenagers? You know it!

Keeping the studio tidy? Well...that's another story.

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox