How We See Ourselves

Sarah Doudna

Ballet studios all have mirrors to help us learn to dance. When you look in the mirror, be kind to yourself no matter what vision you see staring back at you. Even if you are a professional or you have been at this for years, or feel you should “know better” or “look better” or “be better” than you perceive yourself to be, calm those voices, turn their volume down, change the channel. Even if you are brand new, unsure, scared, still learning, or think you are too old for this, it’s going to be okay. You risked the subway, the highway, and made your way here. Trust me, if you feel called to dance, you belong.

Believe it or not, the mirror is there to help you, it is not a instrument of torture. Use the mirror to remind yourself of the choreography. Use it to watch the teacher, or your fellow dancers until you are more sure of yourself. Watching the movments is one of the best ways to learn how to do it. Use the mirror as a tool to look at yourself and to to be honest, not critical. Be kind, and fix what you know you can fix. Is your leg straight, are your hips level? Are your elbows lifted, your fingers reaching, your shoulders down? Are your arms a smoothly curved line? Is your head lifting your body tall and is your lower belly pulling in to support you? Are you furiously biting your lip? Relax your lips and jaw. Maybe even smile.

When you see these small changes you make in the mirror, register that feeling in your body. That way you will begin to recognize that sensation even if you aren’t facing the mirror.

Know that this is a process, that it takes time, even if you don’t see progress right away. Give yourself permission to be a student, to get it wrong, to fail. It is no reflection on you as a person. (See what I did there?)

If you can’t look at yourself in the mirror because it is upsetting, I understand. For many years I stood in the back of classes because I couldn’t stand the sight of me. I developed the habit I often still use of looking into the mirror but just over my head. Or watch your friend in the mirror, copying the shapes she is making.

If it’s still overwhelming, remind yourself that your individuality is what makes you relatable. Your individual expression of the shapes and lines that make up the choreography, that communicate meaning in the silent art form of ballet — your individuality — is what tells the story. You. While of course we all try to match our movements to ballet’s highest standard, it is our unique bodies and the individual ways each of us move, even our tiny imperfections within the impeccable ideal, that draw people to us. Incidentally it is also what makes us beautiful.

I’m not saying don’t try to turn out or point your feet, and claim that they are your individuality. Sorry. They do point, and you have turn out, and yes it is hard, and yes, you can do it. It takes time and paying attention and lovingly reminding your knee to straighten every time, and keep your alignment, and all the other things. I know you are thinking “When?? How long does this take?” My best answer is, “Longer than you want, but shorter than you think.” The most important thought is that change is possible, that it will happen. Keep telling yourself this in your tiny voice no matter the screaming torrents of voices storming around inside your head. You are the one taking the teachers instructions and distilling them down until somewhere it clicks. Relax your expectations and allow yourself to be where you are. Look in the mirror. Just like spring, you will slowly notice a small chamge and at the same moment connect with how it feels in your body, and that quiet little win is all yours to keep.

~ Sarah

Excited for Spring? Me too. To celebrate, I’m choreographing a dance to a violin solo and teaching it to live violin accompaniment on Tuesday, April 30th, 2019 7-8:30pm. 

I teach Tuesday nights, 7-8:30pm and Saturdays 12-1:30pm at Liberated Movement. 380 Broadway, Buzzer #5. Classes are donation based, suggested donation is $10.  I also teach privately. If you want more information, email me at sarah@onthewaytothebarre.com.

 

14 comments

  1. Sarah, this brought tears to my eyes. In the year that we have been friends, you have taught me so much, about life and patience, about beauty and love and forgiveness. This is a beautiful post. I love how in writing about ballet, you also are also writing about life. Your wisdom is not just for dancers, but for everyone. I am so grateful and lucky to have you in my life. Our friendship has made me a better person. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I discovered this post from Stories from the Edge of Blindness. As a middle-aged dancer, with a long love-hate relationship with the ballet mirror, it is really hard to make friends with one’s reflection. As a young dancer, I was too dependent upon the mirror. Now, I use it as a tool and, as you say, it now reflects improvement.

    Liked by 1 person

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