Happy March! I hope spring is making a welcome appearance in your part of the country / world!
We recently had an article on Mirrors in the Classroom, by Sally Radell, of Emory University in Atlanta, GA. The first
article was written more for the dancer — Sally has now written one for us which focuses on mirror use from
the teacher’s perspective.
It’s so important for teachers to understand the effect mirrors can have – both positive and negative – and how to best integrate them into classroom teaching, for the students’ best interests. As I mentioned in my intro for Sally’s
first article, I always remember the great Betty Jones (Jose Limon Company dancer and world-famous Limon teacher) saying, “mirrors put you outside your body, not in it” — good words to take to heart, and now we have recent research, such as Sally Radell’s, to give scientific support to them!
It’s easy to develop a “mirror addiction” when teaching dance. This is particularly evident when teaching beginning level technique classes. I primarily use the mirror as a classroom management tool to visually “bring all of us together” in the learning of new phrases. I usually have the whole class face the mirror. I stand in front, also facing the mirror, as I demonstrate the new material with the dancers behind me following along. This enables me to watch the students as I guide them through the phrase while simultaneously calling out movement cues to help them through the challenging portions of the material. This can be a particularly efficient use of time in short dance classes where I am always pushing myself to make it through my lesson. However, I have noticed a certain level of dependence on using the mirror in my teaching; too much reliance on the mirror can create problems that are detrimental to students’ technical development and body image.
What are the drawbacks of mirror use in the dance classroom?
- Especially when I work with beginning dancers, I see that the visual reflection of their bodies in the mirror is a more powerful experience than the proprioceptive muscular sensation of performing a movement. Under these circumstances, a dancer “removes herself from her body” to the point where she cannot learn to fully trust her proprioceptive self. Yet without full access to this movement information, a dancer’s growth can be impeded.
- Research shows that mirrors in dance classes can contribute to the development of a poor body image for dancers. Often more advanced students will be more critical of their body in the mirror because they have a more highly developed eye for identifying technical weaknesses. They struggle to negotiate between the two-dimensional reflection of their body in the mirror and their three-dimensional body in motion. This heightened self-consciousness may cause a dancer to see her body as an object to compare to others in the room. This whole dehumanizing process can cause stress, negative self-evaluation, and ultimately a poor body image.
- Teaching with mirrors can slow down the development of a dancer’s technical skills, especially in the slower adagio phrase where students find plenty of time for mirror-gazing. The more they focus on individual positions, the less likely they are to learn the flow of movement and the muscular connections a dancer needs for smooth technical advancement.
- Remember that not all students have the maturity and objectivity to use the mirror constructively. Dance counselor Julia Buckroyd, who is an emeritus professor from the University of Hertfordshire in the UK, reports that most teenage students are unable to see an accurate image of themselves in the mirror. They cannot detach themselves from their reflection in order to benefit fully from the information the mirror provides.
So what’s a dance teacher to do?
by Emily Kate Long
With March upon us, and no end in sight to Mother Nature’s blustery hostility, is it redundant to even mention winter weather? The aching cold of drafty studios, the slushy trudge to rehearsal, and the stale film of salt laying everywhere are enough to dampen anybody’s spirit.
For this late-winter installment of Finding Balance, I offer you a collection of dance humor. It’s my hope that these comic nuggets will bring some sunny distraction to your day. Enjoy!
First up is the “Mistake Waltz” from Jerome Robbins’ 1956 The Concert (Or, the Perils of Everybody). From start to finish, hilarious flubs in this five-minute dance for six women get me laughing every time. Every dancer can relate to wrong arms, wrong timing or that one member of the corps who never quite knows what’s going on. Do yourself a favor and watch all the way to the end—Robbins saves the best for last as the music ends and the mistakes continue.
The errors in The Concert will elicit laughs of recognition. The Ballets Trockadero give us another kind of laugh in this parody of “The Dying Swan.” The Trocks know how to do funny, and this piece stands out for just how far they take irreverence for the iconic Fokine solo. From the molting entrance to limb-by-limb paralysis and campy curtain calls, Maya Thickenthighya really hams it up. What’s best is that for all the silliness, his (her?) pointe work and port de bras are actually lovely enough to do justice to the original.
Last on the list is none other than Rudolf Nureyev and the Muppets in “Swine Lake.” I laugh at this clip for several reasons. I love the Muppet renditions of everything from Bizet to Queen, so of course I take delight in their customary butchering of a ballet. The irony of a life-sized pig dancing with an international ballet star is wonderfully ridiculous. The other irony here is time. As much as Nureyev revolutionized male ballet dancing, the feminine affectations of his style that some audiences in his time found objectionable stand out even more when compared to today’s best male dancers.
So there you have it, readers…some light-hearted treats to brighten up a winter’s day. If you have other funny favorites, please share them in the comments section!
Assistant Editor Emily Kate Long began her dance education in South Bend, Indiana, with Kimmary Williams and Jacob Rice, and graduated in 2007 from Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School’s Schenley Program. She has spent summers studying at Ballet Chicago, Pittsburgh Youth Ballet, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School, Miami City Ballet, and Saratoga Summer Dance Intensive/Vail Valley Dance Intensive, where she served as Program Assistant. Ms Long attended Milwaukee Ballet School’s Summer Intensive on scholarship before being invited to join Milwaukee Ballet II in 2007.
Ms Long has been a member of Ballet Quad Cities since 2009. She has danced featured roles in Deanna Carter’s Ash to Glass and Dracula, participated in the company’s 2010 tour to New York City, and most recently performed principal roles in Courtney Lyon’s Sleeping Beauty, The Nutcracker, and Cinderella. She is also on the faculty of Ballet Quad Cities School of Dance, where she teaches ballet, pointe, and repertoire classes.
Dolly Williams, 27, currently works as Communications officer: PR and digital media at Northern Ballet. She is a former dancer and LIPA graduate. Dolly is also a dance writer and manages the ballet blog www.bulletinpointe.co.uk
1. Can you tell readers how you became involved with dance?
I started ballet classes when I three but not because I wanted to be a ballerina but because my brother got to go to karate club and I wanted a club of my own, it was that simple. My mum was always amazingly supportive of my interests and I got professional training until I was eighteen and then went abroad to work as a dancer for a few years. Due to injuries and some family illness I came back to the UK and I decided that I wanted to go into dance management. I knew I wanted a degree but there are no specific dance management degrees, so I went to Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts in the UK and studied Music, Theatre and Entertainment Management. This was an amazing course and the perfect choice, it gave me a wide variety of experiences and through that I got an internship in the communications team at Northern Ballet. After graduation, I was invited back to Northern Ballet to work as maternity cover for a year.
2. What do you find you like best about dance class?
When I am in class I completely zone out from everything else that is on my mind. I work full time and study in the evenings, so when I take class it is a little bit of me time to unwind.
3. What is the hardest part about dance for you?
I absolutely love working in the business side of dance now but I still find it strange and hard that I don’t perform anymore. I trained and performed for so long it just feels natural, but having been injured, I am restricted to what I can now do, I definitely miss it. When I watch dance, I end up twitching and looking like a crazy lady! I think it is that old saying: once a dancer, always a dancer.
4. What advice would you give to other dancers?
Dance for yourself and don’t give up. I had several people throughout my training tell me that I would never make it but they were wrong and I have some amazing memories and friends from dancing. No matter if you end working as a dancer or just doing it as a hobby, if you want to dance you should, dance is universal and for everybody.
5. How has dance changed your life?
I definitely think it has made me a more disciplined person. Having such a strict dance schedule as a child kept me focused and as I did dance training at least four to six nights a week, I didn’t have time to get in trouble. I am always very grateful for that.
Interview courtesy of Jessica Wilson0
This hour-long instructional DVD is a teaching tool from Magical Kingdom of Dance for use in preschool and pre-ballet classes. Developed by Mary Alpha Johnson over the course of 67 years of teaching, and continued by her daughter Tonie Johnson Bense, the curriculum in this DVD is designed to inspire young dancers with the use of characters, poems, and songs. There are games for learning right from left, using directions in personal and general space, and for basic ballet and locomotor steps. All the French ballet terms used are paired with a character to make memorization fun and meaningful: Saute the Bunny, Port de Bras the Octopus, and Bouree the Bumblebee are just a few friends featured on the DVD.
In The Magic of the Mat, Johnson Bense leads a group of sweet three- to six-year-olds through their paces on an illustrated 52” square mat. While the DVD and mat are designed to be used together, the exercises Bense teaches her young dancers could be easily adapted to any pre-ballet class setting. They would make an especially good starting point for someone new to teaching little ones. From putting on diamonds out of a jewelry box to buzzing around an imaginary front yard with bourees, The Magic of the Mat contains great strategies for a fun, imaginative, disciplined, and joyful pre-ballet classroom. The DVD and many other teaching tools, along with more information about the curriculum, can be found online at MagicalKingdomOfDance.com0
Both Nel and I have been working with Sumi Clements and Taryn Vander Hoop for a few years helping them with most of their dance photography and filming for Summation Dance.
We’re enjoying watching them grow. They’re very motivated and smart, and they really appreciate the value of excellent quality photo and video as a smart way to move their dance company forward. Summation Dance has a show coming up at BAM in Brooklyn and we wanted to have great dance images to use for promotion. Below you’ll see some more photos from our dance studio shoot.
He photographs dancers in the studio and in performance, for promotional materials, portraits and press, and he often collaborates with his wife, Nel Shelby, and her Manhattan-based dance film and video editing company Nel Shelby Productions (nelshelby.com). Together, they have documented dance at performances from New York City to Vail International Dance Festival.
Christopher Duggan Photography also covers the finest wedding venues in the Metropolitan and Tri-State areas, in Massachusetts and the Berkshires, and frequently travels to destination weddings.
His photographs appear in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, The Knot, Destination I Do, Photo District News, Boston Globe, Financial Times, Dance Magazine, and Munaluchi Bridal, among other esteemed publications and popular dance and wedding blogs. One of his images of Bruce Springsteen was added to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and his dance photography has been exhibited at The National Museum of Dance and Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival.
His Natural Light Studio (http://www.christopherduggan.com/portfolio/natural-light-studio-jacobs-pillow-photography/) at Jacob’s Pillow is his most ambitious photography project to date – check out his blog to see more portraits of dance artists in his pop-up photo studio on the Pillow grounds.