Mind Over Mirror: Staying Positive About Your Body

When was the last time you stood in front of the mirror and thought positively about your reflection? After hours in the studio trying to perfect every aspect of your technique, it’s easy to develop a love-hate (or even a hate-hate) relationship with your body. “Dancers’ bodies are central to their art and technique,” says Shantel Ehrenberg, professor of dance at University of California, Irvine. “If dancers don’t have a healthy relationship with their body and yet have to deal with it everyday, it will be more difficult to advance technique and pursue dance in a way that benefits the whole dancer—body and mind.” Here, we’ve compiled 10 strategies for maintaining a positive body image that will help you love the skin you’re in.

1. Feel your dancing. As a dancer, you have kinesthetic awareness. This means that without looking at the mirror, you can sense the alignment of your body. Continuing to develop this awareness will help you to trust your body, to feel more confident in your dancing and to spend less time staring at yourself. To hone in on your kinesthetic sense, picture your body executing a specific movement and then watch in the mirror to determine how closely it matches what you imagined. Repeat until your mental image becomes accurate.

2. Self-correct; don’t self-deprecate. If you find yourself looking at the appearance of specific body parts, you may be sabotaging yourself. “In my experience, dancers who don’t like the shape of their legs, for example, look in the mirror to self-correct, but only manage to see short legs or big thighs,” says Lucinda Sharp, a psychologist at The Australian Ballet School in Southbank, Victoria. “This use of the mirror is a waste of your class time, doesn’t assist technical or artistic progress, doesn’t make you feel good about your body and lessens your enjoyment of dance.”

3. Choose a focus. A technique class or a rehearsal means hard work punctuated by a slew of critiques. Even if you arrived with a positive attitude, it can be easy to get bogged down when you receive a lot of corrections in a row. “Often, dancers want to please their instructors and find it difficult to know which correction to focus on and what is best for them,” explains Ehrenberg. Pick one correction to work on in your next class. When you look in the mirror, instead of scanning for a variety of details, you can check for one specific goal. Change your inner dialogue from “Oh, no! I’m not turned out, my shoulders are tense and my jetés are sloppy” to “Am I gripping my quad in this développé?” Ehrenberg explains that this mindset will help dancers “do as much as they can for that class and that day, and be proud of whatever [they] accomplish.

4. Set realistic goals. Scenario: You’re doing a new adagio full-out for the first time, and when you look in the mirror, you’re irritated by your less-than-perfect execution. Next time you get frustrated by a new step, think about a movement that you feel confident doing, and remember that at one time it, too, was new and difficult. Don’t expect to look in the mirror and see perfection. Instead, acknowledge the things that you can do well and resolve to work harder at the things that challenge you.

5. Don’t engage in body-bashing. Dressing rooms are often abuzz with conversation before and after class. Some dancers, instead of discussing Orlando Bloom’s latest movie or The Decemberist’s awesome new album, stand in front of mirrors and talk about their bodies, what they eat and how much weight they want to lose. Sharp says that if this scenario sounds familiar, “keep out of conversations about food, dieting and body weight, or change the subject to something more interesting and more positive.”

6. Speak up. “If you feel negativity is coming from peers, it’s important to let the teacher know,” says Sharp. Your instructor may not be aware of the conversations that take place in the dressing room, and he or she can tell your classmates to refrain from discussing these matters. Talk to your teacher about putting a moratorium on body and diet topics for a specific period. “Students may be amazed at how much time they actually spend talking about food and [being encouraged to stop could] help them realize that it’s much more fun to talk about other things,” Sharp says.

7. Stop comparing. Watching your classmates is a great way to learn and pick up on what others do well. However, if you spend time disparaging yourself because your grand battement isn’t as high as your neighbor’s, then you’re taking time away from yourself. Take a cue from the old saying, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” If you can’t look around for constructive purposes, don’t look around.

8. Banish the mirror. When dancers look in the mirror, their thoughts and feelings can affect the way they see and respond to their reflections. For this reason, “the mirror is not an accurate reproduction of the body,” says Ehrenberg, whose research combines psychology and dance. Ask your instructor if the class can try a few exercises facing away from the mirror. You may feel disoriented at first, but if you practice continuously without a mirror, you’ll not only develop a precise inner awareness of your movements, but also feel more confident when you perform. After all, there’s no mirror onstage.

9. Dress for success. Does the following situation ever happen to you? Because you were running late to class, you grabbed your least favorite leotard and a pair of tights with a huge rip on the upper thigh. Now, instead of focusing on your switch leaps and pencil turns, all you think about when you look in the mirror is how you hate the way you look in this outfit. This is not a recipe for a productive and enjoyable class. You can’t avoid being late ever again—it happens to everyone—but you can make sure that your closet is only full of dance clothes that make you feel confident. Get rid of the purple leo that bunches in the waist or the neon green unitard that you feel obligated to wear because your sister picked it out.

10. Enjoy your body. If all you do is eat, sleep and breathe dance, maybe it’s time to broaden your horizons. Once a week, celebrate your body outside the studio. Do something just for the fun of it and notice how strong your body is, whether in a demanding yoga class, riding a bike up a long hill or going for a strenuous hike. With no mirror to look at, you’ll see there’s no wrong way to enjoy being comfortable with yourself.

What’s your Image? 

To see if you have a positive approach to your body, ask yourself the following questions:

1. Do I focus on how my body moves and the shapes it makes when I dance (or do I get distracted by thinking about what my body looks like)?

2. Do I enjoy the sensation of moving through space?

3. Do I immerse myself in the sensation of dancing?

4. Do I treat my body well by, for example, seeking the right treatment for injuries, getting massages for tight muscles, eating well or luxuriating in long warm baths?

5. Am I generally healthy?

6. Do I have the strength to get through a class and finish strongly in the allegro section?

If you can’t answer yes to all these questions, it may be time to talk to your parents, dance teachers and even a counselor about what you can do to improve your body image.

Quiz adapted from a body wellness inventory created by Australian Ballet School psychologist Lucinda Sharp.

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What’s in Your Dance Bag—Based on Your Zodiac Sign

Sometimes our dance bags feel like portals to another dimension—we have no idea what half the stuff buried in our bags even is. (Note to self: Clean out dance bag.)

But have you ever wondered if there's a method to the madness? We're pretty sure there is, and as always, we're pretty sure it's something to do with astrology. That's right, your resident Dance Spirit astrologers are back with our best guess at what you keep in your dance bag—based on your zodiac sign.

Aries

You're always going 100 mph Aries (or maybe even more), so it's pretty much a guarantee that your dance bag is fully stocked with snacks to power you through the day. Granola bars, trail mix, yogurt, fruit. It's like a Whole Foods in there.

You've also usually got about six different pairs of shoes in your bag. As an Aries, you love adventure, trying new things and, most of all, a challenge. So when it comes to classes, you're all over the map. Tap, jazz, ballet, character, modern—you'll try them all.

Something else you won't go without? Your signature red lipstick, obv. How else are you going to show off your fiery personality? (And look amazing while doing it, TYSM.)

Taurus

As a child of Venus, you always want to look your best, Taurus. So your dance bag is a hair salon/makeup station, all in one. If your dance besties need to borrow a hair tie, or are looking for a fun accessory to spice up their bun, they know you're the one to go to.

Also important to you? Smelling your best. Taureans love comforting, luxurious scents, so your dance bag is typically equipped with a favorite perfume or deodorant. (Or both.)

But what's most important is the bag itself—admit it, you've been using the same dance bag for years. We get it, Taurus, nobody likes change, and least of all the stubborn bull of the zodiac. But if your dance bag is really starting to smell like feet (or if your bobby pins are starting to slip through the holes in the bottom), you might want to consider investing in a new bag.

Gemini

Gemini, you love to switch it up. So you're pretty much guaranteed to have at least three different dance fits in your bag at any given time. And your dancewear is always on point. You love to keep up with trends and try edgy, new looks.

Ever the intellect, you usually have a book in your bag, as well. You're always making book recs to your fellow dancers, and you refuse to be bored between rehearsals or backstage.

Though you might act carefree, Gemini, we know that at heart, you're ruled by Mercury—and you have more in common with your sister sign Virgo than you'd like to admit. That's why you always have a toothbrush, toothpaste, and some floss in your dance bag. No way you're getting caught with food between your teeth (or bad breath during partnering class).

Cancer

Not to be obvious, but as a water sign, the first and foremost thing a Cancerian keeps in their dance bag? A water bottle, of course. (Preferably a Hydroflask, S'well or any bottle that comes in a fun color.) No dehydration here, please and thank you.

Your dance bag also functions as a de facto vending machine for your dance besties, since you always come prepared with the best snacks, and you're always willing to share. As a bonus, your snacks are almost always homemade, since you're practically a five-star chef.

And while we're wary of zodiac stereotypes, there is a pretty good chance your dance bag is stocked with tissues. And there's no shame in that—because, really, who can get through a performance of Romeo and Juliet without shedding some tears? Props to you for being in touch with your emotions, Cancer.

Leo

We'll state the obvious, Leo. You love to look at yourself, and sometimes the studio mirrors just aren't enough. So, naturally, you always keep a compact mirror in your dance bag, just in case your makeup or your bun needs an extra touch-up.

You also love bright colors, and you're not afraid to wear more daring dancewear than any of your besties. You've usually got a couple of leotards packed in your bag, just in case you need to make a fashion statement, and they're always fun. Bright colors, loud prints, stylish necklines—you'll try anything.

But something not everyone knows about you? You're an amazing friend, and incredibly loyal, Leo. That's why you've usually got something in your bag for your dance bestie, be it her favorite brand of granola bar, a fun sparkly pin for her hair, or a note reminding her she's a star, on and off the stage.

Virgo

You're incredibly hardworking, Virgo, so you've always got the tools for success in your dance bag. TheraBands, foam rollers, tennis balls—you're the one dancer your teacher can always count on to be stretching between classes.

You also love to be prepared, so you've usually got a makeshift first-aid kit in your bag. The thought of suffering a blister or floor burn without the appropriate salves or bandages makes you shudder, and, hey, it's always better to be overprepared, right?

What's most noticeable about your dance bag, though, isn't what's inside of it. It's what it looks like—your bag is pristine. It never smells like feet, and you've got a hard-core system for what you keep in each little zip pocket or compartment. And TBH, all of your dance friends are jealous, though they'd never admit it.

Libra

Like your sister sign Taurus, appearances are important to you, Libra. You like to look good (no shame in that), so your dance bag is always stocked with the essentials: extra hair spray, lip gloss, concealer, bobby pins and a spare leotard, in case you get just a bit too sweaty.

You also love to socialize, so if this were the 1950s, we would say that you always keep your date book in your dance bag. As it is, you always have your phone with you, and it's usually blowing up with texts from your dance besties asking to make plans.

Your dance bag wouldn't be complete without your secret supply of chocolate. But to be clear: This isn't your average Hershey's bar. Libras aren't afraid to indulge, so you keep a bar of luxury dark chocolate tucked away for when the cravings hit.

Scorpio

You can't fool us, Scorpio—the contents of your dance bag aren't some big mystery, like you'd like us all to believe. In fact, they're pretty basic: For starters, you always have a black leotard or two in your bag. After all, black is your signature color.

One thing that isn't in Scorpio's dance bag? Toe pads. You love to look tough, so you'd never be caught dead wearing toe pads with your pointe shoes. However, this does mean you need a hefty supply of Band-Aids for the inevitable blisters.

You also love all things mystical and, dare we say, witchy. You're the Halloween queen of the zodiac, after all! So it's no surprise you always have a crystal or two in the front pocket of your dance bag. Let us guess…moldavite?

Sagittarius

You're an explorer, Sagittarius, and that applies to your dancing. You're always trying new dance styles, and that's reflected in your dance bag. You always have the trappings of your latest obsession in your bag: heeled shoes for ballroom, kneepads for contact improv, sneakers for breaking, the list goes on and on.

But on all of your adventures, there's one consistency: You love making memories. And that means literally—you document everything. At each performance or recital, you're bound to be the one with a Polaroid or disposable camera in your bag, and you can usually be found snapping backstage candids of your dance besties.

Your other favorite form of documenting? Writing it down. You love to learn, so you're always taking notes. You can usually be found after class scribbling down your dance teacher's latest piece of wisdom. Your dance bag is crammed with half-filled notebooks, and you wouldn't have it any other way.

Capricorn

You like to be prepared, Capricorn. And we mean prepared—for every bad scenario imaginable. That's why your dance bag is a mini survival kit. The first Capricorn dance bag guarantee? A stitch kit, of course. Losing a ribbon on your pointe shoe mid-rehearsal is your worst nightmare.

You also always have at least three spare leotards handy. After all, what if you spill something, or get too sweaty or, worst of all, show up to an audition in the same leotard as your dance rival? No, thank you. As a Capricorn, you're expecting the best and preparing for the worst.

Another key to your survival kit? Headphones, so you can drown out the noise around you and focus on your dancing. And before anyone asks, the answer is yes, you have the perfect playlist—for each and every occasion.

Aquarius

Aquarius, you love helping others. That's why it sometimes seems like your dance bag isn't even for you—it's filled with stuff you bring for your friends. Snacks for one dance bestie, Band-Aids for another, and tampons, of course, just in case anyone needs one.

But when it comes to you, you're all about originality. That's why you always have tons of fun accessories in your bag: striped legwarmers, colorful socks, tie-dyed sweats and more than a couple of fun additions to your ballet bun, just to make it a little more interesting.

You're also a rebel at heart, Aquarius, which is why there's usually something in your dance bag that just borders on breaking the rules. Maybe your studio is strictly black leotards only—and yours is gray. Or phones are completely banned—and you just put yours on vibrate. We see you.

Pisces

Like your fellow water sign Cancer, you're big on hydrating during dance class. But as a Pisces, you're a little more imaginative (and a little less practical), meaning you're usually carrying your water in something aesthetically pleasing, like a mason jar, a tumbler, or one of those fancy water bottles with a crystal in the base.

Unlike Cancer, you're a mutable sign, meaning you can adapt to just about any situation. Counterintuitively, this actually means your dance bag is pretty sparse. Unlike other zodiac signs who feel the need to overprepare in case of disaster, you're comfortable in most situations, and your dance bag reflects it. You like the basics, nothing else.

Something most people might not know about you, though, is that you get cold easily. We're not sure why, but it's a Pisces staple. That's why if you keep anything in your dance bag, it's the coziest of warm-ups.

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