Dancers spend hours every day in front of mirror, analysing their reflection. It can be easy to become overly critical and obsessive about what you look like. How do you prevent such negative thinking? Lucinda Sharp advises.

FIRST you need to consider why the mirror is in the studio. The mirror can play a positive role in a dance class by helping you correct yourself. But it can also have a very negative impact. It can interfere with your kinaesthetic awareness (the way you “feel” the shapes and movements). It can also interfere with the images you or your teachers use to help you feel a movement. And, perhaps worst of all, it can have a powerful influence on the way you view your body, or your “body image”.

Some recent research has shown that dancers can become more obsessed with how they look in the mirror than with the act of dancing! If you’re insecure about your body shape, the mirror certainly might not help you improve your relationship with your body.

Ask yourself: what do I really see when I look in the mirror? Am I correcting myself or am I just looking at the appearance of specific parts of my body? In my experience, dancers who do not like the shape of their legs, for example, look in the mirror to self-correct but only manage to see “short legs” or “big thighs”. This doesn’t make you feel good about your body and lessens your enjoyment of dance.

Train yourself to use the mirror in a positive way. Try to be constructive about your corrections. Remember to create a shape or movement first without using the mirror, then glance in the mirror to check it corresponds with what you think you look like.

Teachers can also help by regularly facing the class away from the mirror so students can really concentrate on feeling rather than seeing themselves.

Lucinda Sharp is the psychologist and counsellor for the Australian Ballet School.

This article was first published in the December/January 2007 issue of Dance Australia

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