But in a dance studio, you are surrounded by mirrors, by your image reflected all over the place. It can be overwhelming for a lot of people who are new to dance. After all, how many people are in front of mirrors (in skimpy clothing, nonetheless) for hours at a time?
Dance teachers, by the way, have perfected the art of standing in front of a mirror and not actually seeing themselves. I can't tell you how many times I forget what I'm wearing or don't know if I have matching earrings on!
Mirrors in a studio are used for two purposes:
1. For you to observe your alignment.
2. For you to observe others.
Let's take the first one: yourself. This does not mean you stare at yourself (or your feet) while you're dancing. When you are at the barre, you use it to critically observe your form: are your hips lifted or tucked? Is your spine long and straight? Are your knees over your toes when you plie? Taking a quick look to the side of yourself will tell you what you need to know. But then it is up to you to feel it in your body. It does you no good to check out your alignment and then forget it. See that it's right - and then feel that it's right. Know what it means within your body to be properly aligned so you can do it without looking, just feeling and adjusting.
In the center, you may observe yourself insofar as you need to - again - see where you are in the space. Is your arm in the right place on a turn? Are you hiking your hip on the developpe a la seconde? Be careful of looking at yourself directly en face, as you run the risk of being too open and not working the proper lines (e.g. being in ecarte instead of arabesque). You can also splay the ribcage if you're staring directly at yourself.
It's kind of like the sun - only take a quick peek and be satisfied that you've seen it shine.
(photo Marco Ciofalo)
Now, #2 - watching others. If you are new to class, do not stand in the front. Unless the teacher has instructed you to stand behind her and follow her exactly, you will not get a sense of movement if you cannot observe the rest of the students. You may think, "Oh I'm new so I need to be close to the front and look in the mirror and..." No. Do not do it. There is an art to standing in the front of the room and looking in the mirror to see you behind you and it takes years to master. What usually ends up happening is that brand newbies stand in front and then actually turn their heads to stare behind them.
A better solution: stand in the back behind students who are more experienced and look in the mirror to see the front of them. You can observe them and follow them from the back by looking at them directly and then use the mirror to see their front.
Mirrors are intended for quick visual cues, not long stares. Traveling across the floor requires proper spacing and a glance at the mirror will show you if someone is too close to you, if you are too close to someone else, or if you are about to run into a barre or wall. The mirror will also tell you if you are not in sync with the others too which is important if you are rehearsing.