irish dance_ready to feis_How to effectively use the mirror in dance class
Fitness and Conditioning

How to effectively use the mirror in dance class

Having a dance studio with a mirror can be both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because you can see what you are working on and make corrections, and a curse because if you’re not using the mirror correctly then you can become dependent on it, or worse, throw yourself off your game. The key is knowing how to use the mirror correctly to get the most out of it when you need it, and ignoring it when you don’t.

Craig Ashurst, TCRG at the Ashurst Academy of Irish Dance and a professional show dancer, rightly points out, “you are not provided a mirror for yourself at a feis so it is a good idea to know how to dance with one and also dance without one. Dancers need to ‘feel’ what the dance should be like and not always ‘see’ it.” Being able to feel what the dance should do is critically important – constantly watching yourself means you are relying on visual cues rather than knowing where your body is and how it feels to perform a movement using your inbuilt sensors (your proprioceptors).

But isn’t the mirror there so I can watch myself?

Yes and no. Ashurst says, “When I demonstrate something for a student, I like them to study what I’m doing prior to watching themselves copy it. Sometimes, very young students have a hard time taking their eyes away from the mirror when they dance, so close attention is needed by the teacher to make sure the dancers are looking at the right part of their body and not checking out their face or hair.” The mirror is great for helping to learn choreography so you can see things from all angles, but should be an extra tool and not relied on as the sole learning device.

If you’re going to use the mirror:

  • Use it to learn a step by watching your teacher or classmate
  • Use it to make sure your form is correct during drills and stretches
  • Watch yourself in short bursts to correct your posture or turnout

Do use the mirror for drills and breaking down steps. Don’t use the mirror to watch yourself perform full steps. Ashurst points out, “When performing a full dance, your body direction changes so frequently that it can be counterproductive to use the mirrors during this time as you have to change your alignment just to watch yourself in the mirror.” Attempting to watch yourself can create bad habits, like turning your head, or keeping your eyes down when you dance because you have trained yourself to look down at your feet.

It’s also counterproductive to rely on the mirror when looking at spacing and lines in ceili teams. If you’re dancing in the team and also trying to look in the mirror, then you’re not looking at it from an objective angle and your lines and spacing will be distorted. Ceili dancing is a great example of learning your spacing by feel and motion rather than by sight in a mirror. Using the mirror can be useful when you’re learning a choreography and establishing spacing, particularly for movements where the whole team is facing the mirror, but by using it all the time there is the risk of reliance. Remember, there are no mirrors on stage!

Do you have a mirror in your dance studio? Do you use it all the time or just for certain exercises? Share in the comments below or join the conversation on our Facebook page.

Ed note: updated to reflect Craig’s new school
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