The No Mirror Movement: Redefining the Art of Dance
By Stephanie Padich--The No Mirror Movement (NMM) is a San Francisco-based nonprofit organization that promotes dance and wellness by encouraging others to “get out of the mirror and back into their bodies.” NMM uses the power of dance to combat mental health stigma, all while empowering individuals to positively transform their sense of self-worth and relationship with their bodies. By challenging deep-seated beauty and health ideals projected by society, the No Mirror Movement is helping others, especially dancers, lead more purposeful and joyous lives.
To get a sense of what NMM is about, we interviewed three enthusiastic dancers who are a part of this wonderful organization and believe that dancing should be celebrated for the sake of dance itself, and not for what dancers are supposed to look or be like. Take a look below!
Stephanie Padich: Tell us a little about yourself and how you got started with dance.
Louise Wo: I’m originally from Colorado and I’ve lived in San Francisco for 7 years. I love handstands, travel, burritos, community, indie movies about dysfunctional relationships, and of course, dance. I fell in love with movement at my high school freshmen homecoming dance. I was a quiet, shy person then (believe it or not!) and I remember being taken over by the music and dancing my heart out to the point where I didn’t notice anything around me. My family didn’t have money or prioritize the arts, so I didn’t take my first real dance class until I was in college (when I was already an “adult”). I used all my elective credits towards dance at my university and decided I would make it a part of my life moving forward in some way, shape, or form.
Celina Culver: I've been dancing basically since I could walk! I began ballet at the age of three, twirling around in fairy wings. Little did I know it would become the most important part of my life. I trained pre-professionally in ballet for 15 years before attending college and getting involved in two student-run dance companies as well as receiving a minor in dance.
Marco Martinez: I grew up in the Philippines and moved to America in 2011 when I started university at a small liberal arts college in Connecticut. I'm not a trained dancer—in fact, baseball was all I knew for most of my life and I was set on continuing that path when I was practicing with the university's baseball team. Back in high school, I discovered breaking and did it sparingly in high school. It was an excuse for me to spend time with my closest friends who were heavily invested in it. Fast-forward to college and I decided to take it more seriously. I started getting solos in pieces and the club I founded received recognition from the college dance community. Soon thereafter, I reached out to the breakers in Middletown and we started practicing and entering competitions together. By my junior year, I was a member of one of the main hip-hop groups on campus and ever since I've been trying to find my own unique voice in dance.
SP: The mission of the No Mirror Movement is to “get out of the mirror and back into your bodies.” What does “getting back into your body” mean for you, especially in regards to body image?
LW: I grew up being told that you needed to prioritize being in your head: thinking, being logical, and understanding things on an intellectual level. When I experienced dance and movement for the first time, all the “logical” messages were very loud: “Dance is silly and unproductive.” “People who dance have been training since they were little kids and you’re way beyond that.” For me, “getting out of the mirror” is about silencing those voices every time I take a dance class or step onstage—something that is still an ongoing journey.
Being in your body means feeling into your body and tuning out the outside voices from others and society. It means to cherish your body as a vehicle to express, experience, and connect. It might mean doing things that don’t “make sense,” like having a random dance party, doing cartwheels down the street, or running a marathon.
CC: The mirror is the harshest form of judgment for a dancer—a constant, scrutinizing judgment. "Getting back into your body" means letting go of this judgement, physically and mentally. Without a reliance on mirrors, dancers have the ability to rediscover the unadulterated joy of dance. It brings me back to those days of dancing as a child; letting the music be the source of movement.
MM: When I do guided meditations, I fully relinquish myself to moments when I am fully focused on the sensation of my breath and the objects I am in contact with. Much like in dancing, we get too caught up trying to "look good" in cyphers, showcases, and performances that we consequently surrender ourselves to doubt our abilities as dancers. Ultimately, we forget that ecstatic feeling when we're truly lost in the music and doing our thing as if no one was watching. In my own words, that statement means averting my thoughts away from the naysayers and reclaiming the art as my own with full confidence that the right people will continue to inspire and draw inspiration from me.
SP: As a dancer, what inspired you to be a part of this organization?
LW: I had been searching for a way to make dance more purposeful in my life and a community to share it with. No Mirror Movement checks all those boxes and it’s an honor to be a part of an awesome movement!
CC: Growing up as a ballet dancer taught me countless lessons: discipline, time management, artistic expression… to name a few. But it was also a cause of a lot of frustration and unrealistic strives towards perfection. In ballet class, dancers are constantly comparing themselves to those around them. They see another dancer's higher extensions, better turnout, flatter stomach, and impeccable turns. The mirror fuels unhealthy competition, as dancers look back at themselves and see an inadequate body. No Mirror Movement fights against this by emphasizing the unique beauty and abilities of all dancers. No one person is perfect and it is impossible to morph your body into something it is not.
MM: I auditioned knowing that I was going to be a part of a dance collective. I am not pursuing dance to be the best in the scene (although I really respect everyone who is trying to make it as a professional) because that is not why I got into dance in the first place. Prior to becoming a dancer, I remember having an unseated energy whenever a funky song came on, yet I never acted upon it because I knew people were watching me. Once I brought together a community of breakers, I had an epiphany that I wanted to share my passion with others for the rest of my life. My goal is to inspire others to enjoy dance as a universal language that bridges gaps between people; it is a shame that we live in a society where barriers built upon hate and prejudice exist to divide us. I believe that unlearning these biases begins with embodying a community-focused mindset and promoting body positivity towards the people around us—we have no idea how much impact we can have on one another when we really put ourselves out there.
SP: What do you hope to gain from the No Mirror Movement? What do you hope others gain?
LW: I hope that by being a part of No Mirror Movement, I will learn to use my voice and feel empowered to share a message that makes a difference in others’ lives. I hope to show others that you are never too old or not good enough to be creative, playful, or expressive. I hope that others will feel inspired through our message and I also hope to grow as a dancer, both technically and as a performer.
CC: I hope to continue to gain a better appreciation for my own unique body and dance style. I hope others gain an understanding of what this movement is all about. It's more than just dancing without mirrors—it's about an entire community's obsession with how they look and appear to others. Dance is so powerful and can bring so much joy to people's lives. We should strive to create a community that accepts rather than criticizes.
MM: Greater self-acceptance of myself. I still continue to have doubts in my abilities as a dancer, but I know that I have found a place in this community of inspiring movers. Through my participation in NMM, I want adults and children to understand the importance of movement as part of a healthy lifestyle. One doesn't need to be a skilled dancer to take something away from the art; I believe that one just needs to shut down the nagging voice that prevents them from having fun in the moment. You must do away with it and instead, choose to fully embody the amazing feelings that you experience when your favorite song comes on.
SP: Do you think dancers are put under extra scrutiny when it comes to body image? Do you think it’s harder for dancers to develop a positive body image compared to other groups of people?
LW: We are living in an amazing time where dance is getting more attention (deservedly so!) as an art form and it’s become more prominent in mainstream media, like TV and film, as well as online media like YouTube. But with that comes the possibility that dancers compare themselves to the dancers they see on the screen. Dancers also have a stereotype of looking fit and thin, when in reality, there are dancers of all body types. That is why it is so important that there are people and organizations (just like No Mirror Movement) that are sharing a message that you can look unlike the stereotypes out there and still be a badass dancer.
CC: Yes, absolutely.
MM: Absolutely. The medium is aural-visual so one's body is the material, the canvas and the commentary. Once the body is out and performing it becomes the "visual property" of the audience. Because we humans are conditioned to make snap judgments of people by their appearances, the stigmas attached to certain body types and skin tones will pervade even if we are witnessing a unique piece of art. We as dancers cannot hide from the gaze of the audience and our success depends on putting ourselves (and our bodies) out into the community and competition. By that token, every dancer has at some point developed a negative opinion of their body.
SP: How do you practice body acceptance and self-care? What advice do you have for other dancers out there who are struggling with their body image?
LW: Self-care means taking care of the most important thing that has been gifted to you: you and your body! If you don’t take care of yourself and your body, you are robbing the world of showing up fully. I practice self-care by eating well, moving my body in whatever way that feels good, whether that be dance, yoga, running, or other activities, and feeding myself emotionally with positive relationships and community like the No Mirror Movement dancers and my fitness community, November Project - San Francisco.
For any dancers who are struggling with their body image, I would tell them to focus on what their body can do versus what it looks like. I would tell them to write down and celebrate 10 things they are grateful for about their body. I would also tell them to read the stories of role models with unconventional body types who are making a difference in the world through their message, such as Amy Purdy, Ashley Graham, Kyle Maynard, Noah Galloway, Sean Stephenson, and Kacy Catanzaro. I would advise that they get help from a counselor or therapist if it is a persistent issue in their lives.
CC: I get out of the mirror! I take classes that challenge me, but don't discourage me. I advise other dancers to do the same. Try not to compare yourself to dancers around you—instead, keep in mind what is special about your own body, work hard, and love the art!
MM: I meditate every morning and ensure I am moving through workout classes. I remind myself that my body is a temple. Always ensure that you make time for yourself and your thoughts and never get too caught up in what other people are doing. This is the story you are writing, and you are the main character of this story. And finally, think about the reasons why you are doing certain things. Make sure that your motivations are meaningful and not for the sake of an expectation that you've drawn up in your head.