“This is a warning: if I ever hear you say that in my class again, you will be dismissed for the day. Do you understand me?” Six young faces regarded me with varying degrees of shock. Though not shocked at the reprimand. I’m a firm instructor and I make it very clear that disrespect for the rules, other students or myself will not be tolerated. My students understand that inappropriate behavior will be met with immediate consequences. I think the raised eyebrows and open mouths resulted from surprise at the severity of the discipline for a seemingly harmless offense. Is it really a big deal if a girl looks at herself in the mirror and pronounces that she’s ugly?
For the dancer, the mirror is a training tool. It allows us to see the flaws in our technique that we’ve not yet learned to feel in our bodies. Looking in the mirror is a corrective process. The mirror shows us what is wrong and enables us to correct it. Unfortunately, for many dancers this becomes the purpose of any mirror. Eventually the flaws are all that we see. Imagine spending several hours a day with a 6′ x 8′ reminder that you’re not good enough. It’s no wonder that ballerinas are frequently associated with vanity and eating disorders. I’m not saying that these problems arise solely from a training habit. Lack of identity is a much deeper issue than that. But from my own experience, I know that it can be like throwing gasoline on a fire.
For that reason, six pre-teen girls found themselves lined up in front of the mirror. I asked them to take a good look at their reflection and tell me what they saw. No one spoke. Several shrugs, one frown, no words. So I told them what I saw. They’re beautiful. I was met with more frowning, some confusion and a tear. They didn’t believe me. Perhaps they believe that I meant what I said. But I don’t think they believed that it’s true. It’s going to take a lot more to convince them.
I know. I used to be of the same opinion. Used to be. But since this post has become long enough, I’ll save that story for tomorrow. Until then I’ll leave you with words borrowed from Barlowgirl’s “Mirror” :
Mirror, Mirror on the wall, Have I got it?
‘Cause Mirror you’ve always told me who I am
I’m finding it’s not easy to be perfect
So sorry you won’t define me
Sorry you don’t own me
Who are you to tell me
That I’m less than what I should be?
Who are you? Who are you?
I don’t need to listen
To the list of things I should do
I won’t try, I won’t try
Mirror I am seeing a new reflection
I’m looking into the eyes of He who made me
And to Him I have beauty beyond compare
I know He defines me
You don’t define me, you don’t define me