Mirroring a partner’s movement is a common exercise in dance, theater, and mime training. But doing it well is difficult. Delaying the mirror may provide more immediate and varied rewards.
Step 1. “Be” Your Partner. Participants choose partners and face one another. While one stands comfortably and naturally, the other observes, taking in as much detail as possible. The observing partner mirrors by “becoming” the partner: capturing the partner’s stance, carriage, weight distribution, and habits of positioning particular body parts. Then the observed partner makes very small movements, such as repositioning of hands or gradual shifting of weight. Still keeping focus on such qualities as stance and weight distribution, the other partner follows, reproducing the small movements as immediately and accurately as possible. Partners shake out and switch.
Step 2. Sequential Mirroring. The first partner improvises a short series of movements. When the phrase is complete, the second partner mirrors by repeating the phrase as closely as possible. They repeat this process three times, shake out and switch roles.
Step 3. Theme and Variation. The sequence follows the same pattern as step 2, but now the partner who follows intentionally creates a variation on the first partner’s movement. Repeat three times and switch roles. (The leader of the activity can suggest particular ways to make variations and/or ask the group for ways that movement could be varied: change levels, speed, body parts. Once participants have had the experience, they can share additional strategies.)
Step 4. Overload and Essence. The initiating partner does a phrase so complex that the follower is unlikely to be able to remember and repeat all of the movement. The follower repeats as much as he can remember. Reverse roles. Now the leader of the activity can ask the group to talk about the principles followers used to remember or choose movements. Repeat the step, with participants now attempting to use some of the principles suggested by others.
Throughout, Delayed Mirror is a powerful skill-builder for observation. Because the exercise advances gradually from basic to complex functions, it can be used to introduce several core concepts:
Theme and Variation: In step 3 the facilitator can ask participants to state what qualities they chose to vary and why. More repetitions of this step can allow dancers to experiment with some of the options others have tried, helping each dancer to develop a repertoire of possibilities in executing variations.
Memory: Step 4 calls on dancers to identify and share their methods for remembering movement. While the leader’s phrase in this step may be difficult to remember in full, the challenge of attempting forces dancers to create strategies (for instance, word association, segmenting the movement, creating a narrative or other logical progression). Delayed Mirror can be a powerful way to introduce movement memory for those new to dance performance and to senior adults, for whom the mental exercise of dancing can match the physical and creative benefits.
Essence and Editing: Step 4 also affords a chance to get dancers thinking about what makes the essence of a dance – what projects powerfully, what is meaningful to an audience – when they make their own choices about what to repeat and what to drop. It also engages them on the spot in a rudimentary form of choreographic editing. Particularly in the context of a community-based dance project, where much material may be generated before it is pared away to make a viable performance work, the exercise can help introduce a discussion of the principles that underlie the hard choices in editing.
Warmup: Because Delayed Mirror calls on dancers to perform a variety of functions, you may want to use a warmup that introduces some of its ideas in a more basic form, particularly if your group contains people new to structured dance experiences: Ask participants to move freely around the space on their own; then to freeze; then to continue moving. Have the group repeat this cycle, now asking them to observe what others are doing, especially the positions they assume in the freeze. In the next cycle, ask each person to assume the place and position of someone they observed during the last freeze. Repeat a few time and proceed to the start of the exercise proper.
Variation: In the activity description above, participants find a place in the room and work facing one another. Delayed Mirror can also be structured with dancers crossing the floor, moving in widely spaced columns, two or three abreast at a time. One partner initiates each step with a full cross, followed by the partner who mirrors. In this variation, it can be helpful to start the entire exercise with the initiating partner making several crosses, allowing the mirroring partner just to observe. This approach can be fruitful with dance students familiar with the habits of cross-the-floor warmup and phrase study.