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Symmetry: Balancing Shapes

This is an excerpt from Dance Composition Basics 2nd Edition With Web Resource by Pamela Anderson Sofras.




interpersonal space



reflection line



visual balance

URI SANDS and Edgar Vardanian dance a mirroring sequence

Uri Sands and Edgar Vardanian dance a mirroring sequence in the center of the stage while Nicholle Rochelle dances a solo around them in this section from Verge.
© Rolland Elliott

Introductory Statement

To reflect an object in dance means to produce its mirror image in relationship to a reflecting line that divides the space into two parts. On the stage, the reflection line may divide the space horizontally, creating an upstage side and a downstage side, or vertically, creating a stage-left side and a stage-right side.

Dance movements producing a reflection are called mirroring movements. While mirroring, each dancer or group of dancers claims one side of the divided space. In literal mirroring, a term coined for these lessons, dancers always dance the same movements, as if looking at each other in a mirror. In this case, the dancers face one another with one dancer following the lead of the other using opposite limbs or sides of the body (e.g., dancer A curves to her left; dancer B mirrors by curving his body to his right). Dancers move in exactly the same way and at the same time, as if only one person were moving. When dancers move both sides of their bodies together to create symmetrical shapes, they balance each other in space and produce visual symmetry. If they choose to move only one side of the body, the audience will see asymmetry because the body shape of both dancers is delineated on one side of the body only.

Dancers facing each other may also create lateral mirroring, another term coined for these lessons. In this case, each dancer does the same movement as the partner but uses the same arms and legs (e.g., dancer A curves to her right; dancer B curves to his right). When the dancers move the same side of the body, the audience will see a balanced, symmetrical shape made out of the two sides of the mirror figure. Each dancer becomes one side of the observed shape. In this kind of mirroring, symmetry is always observed.

Both types of mirroring provide a satisfying visual balance and use of space. Observers become aware of the concept of interpersonal space, or the space and spatial relationships activated between two or more people. In this lesson, dancers will explore literal as well as lateral mirroring.

Warm-Up: Mirroring

  • Select one dancer as leader to improvise a literal mirroring warm-up that may include material from the previous lessons: successions, isolations, body-part leading, and inward and outward rotation with gestures. The other dancers or followers should try to mirror the leader in terms of time, space, and energy. Music to complement the exercise should be in a tempo that will allow maximum dancer focus on the selected movements.
  • In pairs, explore literal mirroring with one leader and one follower. Dancers remain in one place but vary levels and speeds and find several still shapes. Music to accompany the exercise should now be varied. Try the improvisation with four different types of music. Both partner A and partner B should have a chance to lead.

Structured Improvisations

Improvisation 1: Drawing a Mirrored Shape

  • Study the sample graph reflection (see figure 2.5). Take a piece of graph paper, a pencil, and a ruler and draw a reflecting line down the center of the paper vertically. Draw a geometric figure on one side of the line and then draw its exact reflection on the other side using line segments, points, perpendicular lines, parallel lines, and diagonals. Study the symmetry of the figures. Turn the paper so that the reflecting line is horizontal. Compare how the figure looks from this vantage point with the original facing.
    Figure 2.5
    FIGURE 2.5 Sample graph reflection.
  • Share your graphs with the rest of the class. How might mirrored movement phrases be perceived by an audience? How do we as dancers perceive symmetry while moving? What makes something symmetrical?

Improvisation 2: Reflection Sequence

  • Individually, develop a 16-count sequence of movement that uses material from a previous lesson. For example, the gesture sequence from chapter 1, lesson 3, would be fun to use. Find your mirroring partner. Teach each other the 16-count phrases so that when finished, each pair has a 32-count phrase (16 counts from each partner). Partners should begin with the same arm and leg so that they are always using the same side of the body. Practice the 32-count phrase to make sure both dancers can perform it from memory.
  • Face each other and perform the 32-count sequence in a lateral mirroring fashion. Both partners will perform the phrase as they learned it, starting on the same side of the body. This time the movement will seem different because the partners are now facing each other. Symmetry is produced because movement on both sides of the figure is seen simultaneously when viewed front to back. Discuss the ease or difficulty of this exercise.

Chapter 2, Lesson 3A: Mirroring

In Verge, Dwight Rhoden created two lead characters: the Impulse, whom we met in chapter 1, and the Alter Ego. In this example the Impulse and the Alter Ego demonstrate lateral mirroring. The dancers are doing the same movement facing each other but are using the same arms and legs so that the shapes they make in space are symmetrical. Note the small and full body gestures.

  • Present each lateral mirroring sequence to the class. First, place the reflection line horizontally, dividing the stage space into upstage and downstage. Each dancer should stand on one side of the line facing each other. The audience will see the back of one dancer and the front of the other. Next, place the reflecting line vertically so that the stage is divided into stage right and stage left and each dancer faces a side wall. The audience will see the sides of the dancers. In the first instance the audience will see the movement from the front and the second instance from the side. Discuss with the audience how the reflections look with the different facings. Does the movement look different when facing front to back or side to side? How is symmetry achieved when facing sideways?

Improvisation 3: Looking in the Mirror

  • Create a variation of the lateral mirroring sequence with literal mirroring. In this variation, both partners will use the same arms and legs while doing the movement phrase facing each other (horizontal reflection line). The dancer who is following will have to reverse beginning sides when starting each movement. Practice your 32-count sequence from the lateral mirroring exercise in this manner. Each partner must do the movement with the opposite arm and leg. This process will produce spatial asymmetry because only one side of a figure in space will be observed.
  • Present each literal mirroring sequence to the class. Next, place the reflecting line vertically so that each dancer faces a side wall. Dance the same literal mirroring movements just danced with the horizontal reflecting line. In the first instance the audience saw the movement from the front, in the second instance from the side. Discuss how the reflections look with the different facings. Does the movement look different when facing front to back or side to side? How is symmetry achieved when facing sideways?

Improvisation 4: Side by Side

Using the same 32-count movement phrase created for improvisation 3, dance it standing side by side, both dancers facing the audience or front. To achieve symmetry, each dancer must begin with the opposite side or limbs of the body. The reflection line is vertical, dividing the stage in two halves, left and right. In this relationship, the dancer on stage left will begin with the left foot and the dancer on stage right will begin with the right foot. Is it easier or harder to remain in unison? How does this exercise relate to the graphed forms drawn earlier?

Example: Chapter 2, Lesson 3B: Opening and Closing Duet

Alonzo King uses the compositional device of mirroring in his work Dreamer. In this example, we can see lateral mirroring front to back, side by side, and back to back. The reflection line is always horizontal, however. Watch how the relationship between dancers evolves as facings change.

Improvisation 5: Back to Back

Using the same 32-count movement phrase previously explored, dance it while standing back to back. First, perform it as a literal mirroring sequence using the opposite arms and legs, then try a lateral mirroring sequence using same arms and legs. Perform your sequences for the class. Place the reflection line horizontally, dividing the stage into upstage and downstage halves. One dancer will face the front, the other will face the back wall. Discuss with classmates which of the two types of mirroring, literal or lateral, is most interesting visually. How might a choreographer use this type of back-to-back mirroring?

Example: Chapter 2, Lesson 3C: Back to Back

In this example from Verge, watch the two dancers in the center dance the same movement with the same arms and legs but starting back to back. The reflection line is horizontal and the dancers face away from each other. This relationship gives the illusion that the dancers are moving away from and toward the center of the stage. One dancer moves toward the audience as the other moves away.

  • Perform the different mirroring variations from improvisations 2 through 5. Each pair should choose one or more of the variations to perform. With your partner, decide how to place the reflection line to divide the stage. Discuss with classmates which of the mirroring variations is most interesting and why.

Problem Solving

Example: Chapter 2, Lesson 3D: At the Bull's-Eye

In Verge, the Alter Ego mimics the movements of the Impulse, especially as he enters the center of the target. In this example, we see both characters performing a mirroring sequence that begins with symmetrical arm, leg, and body movement followed by literal and lateral mirroring gestures. The stage is bisected by a horizontal reflection line so that we see one dancer from the back and the other from the front. They are standing as if looking in a mirror.

Reflection Duets

  • In partners, design a Reflection duet inspired by the movement material explored in improvisations 2 through 5, which can serve as a starting point for a new series of 32 counts.
  • Design the sequence using literal mirroring (section A). Repeat the sequence using lateral mirroring (section B). Perform the phrase a third time, mixing and matching literal and lateral mirroring (section C). Try the sequences facing each other, back to back, or side by side. Decide which facing is appropriate for each sequence. Also decide where the reflection line should be for each group of 32 counts so that the material will appear the most interesting to the audience. At least one section should show the stage space divided horizontally, one vertically, and one a combination of the two. The study should be at least 1 minute long.

Sample Phrase

A = Literal mirroring, 32 counts, horizontal reflection line, dancers are face to face

B = Lateral mirroring, 32 counts, vertical reflection line, dancers are face to face

C = Lateral mirroring back to back and side to side, 32 counts, horizontal reflection line

Discussion Questions

  1. When we look in a mirror, do we see ourselves as others see us or are we reversed?
  2. To mirror someone, what must we do?
  3. What happens when mirroring partners do the same movement starting with the same-side arms and legs? How is this different from traditional mirroring?
  4. Are some kinds of movements easier or harder to do with a mirroring partner?
  5. Is it possible to make mirroring shapes?
  6. How is symmetry achieved in mirroring?
More Excerpts From Dance Composition Basics 2nd Edition With Web Resource



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