Sunday, February 23, 2014


 We dancers certainly spend a lot of time in front of the mirror.  Heaven only knows how many hours of pre-performance mirror time we rack up slappin’ on our stage faces and getting glittered up.  But the main place we fix our gaze upon our reflections is in the dance studio.

 The mirror is an amazing tool, and there are plenty of good reasons to use it.  In class, the studio mirrors allow us to see our teachers from the back and the front, and for this reason, many instructional DVDs are shot into the mirror- it gives the home viewer the same view they experience in class.

In rehearsals or during home practice, the mirror never lies. It provides us with an instantaneous and unbiased evaluation of our work. Using a mirror aids dancers by letting them make an immediate assessment of movements and for self-correcting technique, bodylines, and spatial relation to classmates or troupe members. It allows for any adjustments to be made in the now, as opposed to waiting for critique from an instructor, or getting notes from a troupe leader or show director. Because of this, mirrors have become integral to the growth of dancers as artists.

 But sometimes, the mirror can become a crutch.

 Relying too much on mirrors can actually hinder a dancer’s development by blocking proprioception. Proprioception is the innate sense of fully inhabiting the body and being conscious of exactly where  and when movements initiate, as well as an awareness of where your physical being is in time and space…especially in relation to  our own performances and in  proximity to other dancers!

Though it’s a big fancy word, proprioception is actually an instinct that we all possess…although some people may have more access to it than others.  The way most dancers "inhabit" their bodies is evidence of a heightened sense of proprioception. 

A great example of our collective human capacity for proprioception is indicated by many of the  field sobriety tests that law enforcement officers conduct on drivers whom they assume to be “under the influence”.  Aside from having you say the alphabet backwards (which most people probably couldn’t even do sober!) most of the tests focus on motor skills and proprioception. Walk a straight line by setting one foot in front of the other? Proprioception. Stand on one foot with your eyes closed and touch your nose? Yup, that’s your proprioception at work.

 If a dancer becomes overly dependent on the mirror, she risks losing connection to her sense of proprioception. It’s advantageous for any dancer, at any level to practice facing away from the mirror, or with covered mirrors to ensure that all movements are instinctual as well as ingrained into the muscle memory, and not thought of only in a visual sense. By relying only on your mirror image, you will not be nurturing   your proprioception, which is absolutely crucial for dancers. And we all know that once we’re on stage, the only thing we’ll be seeing in a larger venue is darkness, or the audience all up close and personal in a smaller club or restaurant- so constant use of mirrors provides a false sense of security in that it doesn’t replicate our performance environments.

 At the beginning of my career, I worked often in a club that had a row of large mirrors, which directly faced the stage. They were mounted on the wall over the booths in the back, and served to make the venue look larger, by reflecting the stage.  Many dancers   who performed there regularly had an uneasy relationship with those mirrors, because they were so tempting to look at!  One dancer in particular was so entranced with her own reflection; she became a minor legend among the club’s wait staff and the other performers. Seriously, every time this dancer set foot on the stage, she practically made love to her mirror image, posing, preening, and checking herself out. It was as though she was performing only for herself, and the audience didn’t exist…at all… and everyone in the crowd sensed it!

 So, whether your practicing at home, rehearsing with a group for a show or teaching a class, give the mirror a break, especially before full cast dress rehearsals, and let your body take over. Your inner dancer needs to come out and play!


 Princess Farhana’s “The Belly Dance Handbook: A Companion For The Serious Dancer”  is available on,  or you can get a signed copy of the book here:

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