Make the mirror your friend
Lucy Christodolous advises on how to manage your relationship with that all-seeing mirror.
Do you ever consider whether the time you spend looking at yourself in the mirror is beneficial or harmful?
Dance is one of the few professions that requires a hyper-fixation on self-image, which in this case stems from countless hours gazing into the mirror. A dancer would typically spend four or more hours in a mirrored studio daily, scrutinising not only their dancing, but their entire physique and appearance. This creates a place for negative self-talk, poor body image and destructive thoughts to fester. From a very young age dancers are taught to self-correct and check their shapes, lines and technique in the mirror, but for a child, this can be risky. Yes, it encourages learning and discipline, but it also normalises analysing one’s self every time a mirror is in the vicinity.
Yes, a dancer should use the mirror for guidance on line and positioning, self-correction and occasionally to follow choreography from another dancer when learning. However, for the most part, a dancer tends to use the mirror for self-evaluation, self-critiquing and comparison.
Unfortunately this fixation on “correcting” what is seen in the mirror often extends to mirrors outside of the dance studio. Soon, the bathroom mirror becomes a place for correcting the face or the body; the bedroom mirror becomes one for judging the fit of clothes and the physique.
All dancers may want to reconsider the nature of their relationship with the mirror. Are you using the mirror to enhance your dancing, or are you using it to tear yourself apart? Are you watching your body, rather than your dancing?
Through my years of dance, I learnt to use several tools to improve my relationship with the mirror and how I used it as a friend, not a foe. The first step that may be useful for a dancer is to assess the current relationship through these questions:
What are the most common thoughts I have during dance class when looking in the mirror?
Do I feel critical of more than just my dancing when looking in the mirror?
What are my common thoughts when looking in other mirrors outside of dance? Is this negative and body image focused? Does it feel similar to what I experience in the studio?
From there, simple ways of implementing a healthier relationship with the mirror may look like:
Looking “through” – not staring directly at yourself, but rather looking through the mirror and emphasising the importance of an imaginary audience. You’re performing to them, not to your reflection.
Becoming aware of your thoughts – when you can see yourself beginning the critiquing and comparing game, actively turn your attention towards something more positive.
Reminding yourself that you’re in the studio to work on your dancing, and that whatever dissatisfaction you’re having with your body should be left outside of the studio. This is your critical improvement time! Using this time to watch and improve upon your line, refine your technique, watch your port de bras and ensure your posture is aligned and correct will be of much more benefit than picking apart your body!
Bringing your attention to your other senses and therefore guiding yourself back into the room and being present. This can help to alleviate anxiety and distraction, allowing you to regain focus and clarity.
Examples of how to do this within the ballet studio may include asking yourself, "what else can I see (colours, the barre, the teacher), what can I feel (clasp hands together to feel physical connection, squeeze hands, move toes), what can I smell, what can I hear (music, chatter)”.
The mirror is your tool, not your enemy. Choose to use it wisely and improve your dancing, body image and mindset!
Former dancer Lucy Christodolou is the founder of Beyond the Barre, a nutrition and mindset coaching service.