Learning to Love My Reflection 

By: Emily Goldberg  |  May 2, 2024

By Emily Goldberg, Publication Manager and Layout Editor

If you open up my highschool yearbook, way towards the back, right under a picture of a girl smiling happily, are the words “I always knew that in another life I could fly, which is why in this life I dance.” – Tara Webster, Dance Academy

I have been a dancer ever since I was little. Dance has always been a way for me to channel my emotions without the need for words. Dance is a part of me, a part of who I am as a person, and a part of how I express myself. When I dance, I am able to access a part of my mind that I cannot reach through any other medium or in any other way.

While dance has always been a significant part of my life, I didn’t realize that it was also becoming something that hurt me. 

Going to dance class every night was both exciting and intimidating. I love to dance with all my heart and I felt supported walking into the welcoming studio of my hometown. However, when class began each night, I would turn from the ballet bar and look right in the mirrors that surrounded me. 

For those of you who have never been inside a dance studio, at least one entire wall in the room is a mirror. The intended purpose of that mirror is for one to be able to see their form, posture, and body, so that they can make corrections to their technique. 

In the studio, those mirrors were extremely beneficial for my growth as a dancer. Many times I indeed did have to work on pointing my toes or straightening my knees. Making those corrections helped improve my pirouettes – a series of turns that require immense training in order to be able to perform multiple gracefully. Mirrors were a tool that I learned to use to improve my dancing. I would look at my reflection and find all the things that I needed to change to become a better dancer. 

The only thing was, that mindset then came home with me.  

After dance class, outside the confines of the supportive dance studio, I would continue to look in the mirror and still think, “How can I correct myself?” 

This had an extremely detrimental effect on my relationship with mirrors. I was trained to think that mirrors were a tool I needed to use to fix myself. Everytime I would look in the mirror, I would continue to pick apart all the flaws of my appearance that I thought needed correction. Just like I did at dance each night. 

The consequences behind this intended purpose for mirrors in the dance world – one brimming with struggles of body-image and eating disorders – is not a novel issue. A review published in the peer reviewed journal PLOS ONE found that, “The world of dance is a competitive culture inclusive of several environmental elements including mirrors, dance attire, costumes, and the image associated with the ideal dancer’s body.” 

Specifically, the findings of this paper expanded upon the role of mirrors in the dance world. “Mirrors are a powerful teaching tool in the world of dance that draw an extraordinary amount of attention to the body. Dancers train in front of mirrors for hours each day to observe and evaluate their technique and skill.” The paper continued, “Participants consistently explained how they would look in the mirror and scrutinize every inch of their bodies. This constant scrutinizing and examining would generate negative thoughts and produce hate.”

The words of this article couldn’t describe my feelings more accurately. By looking in the mirror, not only did I begin to find faults in my outward appearance, but I began to doubt my inner-self too. The struggles that I faced from my experiences in dance were only a microcosm for the doubt I grappled with in my life at large. Everything in my life that I engaged in became one big self-doubting question. 

Sitting in my room, staring at myself in the mirror, I found that the critical thoughts would not stop flooding my mind. Yet, hidden deep within them came a tiny glimmer of understanding. That despite the challenges I face, “God created man in His image, in the image of God He created him” (Bereshit, 1:27).   

To this day, I cannot say that the critical thoughts have completely rid themselves from my mind. Looking in the mirror now, doubt and self-criticism still remain. Yet, I can begin to push them aside with an appreciation for the fact that the image on the other side of that glass is not just my own. Reflecting on the meaning of this pasuk in Bereshit, I recognize that there is a reflection of God inside me, much greater than myself, always watching over me. 

Despite these challenges that I face, I would not trade them for the world. This great gift of life that I have been so fortunately granted would be entirely incomplete without dance. 

Dancing is an exhilarating experience. When the lights are dim and the room is silent, save for the music in the background, it feels as though there is no one else in the world except for you. You are left alone with just your mind and emotions. The music becomes a part of you, it lives within you. There is no other feeling in the world like being able to let go without fear. 

Without those endless late nights spent in the studio, without dance, there would be a hole in my life, a yearning for something greater that nothing else would be able to fill.