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“First Position” — These Kids Can Dance! by Amy

This post originally appeared on my blog

First Position is a new documentary about the Youth America Grand Prix, the world’s largest student ballet competition which awards scholarships and job contracts to dancers age 9 to 19. I, along with lucky StyleSubstanceSoul giveaway winners, was treated to a sneak preview last week and can not recommend this film enough. If you love American Idol, The Voice and So You Think You Can Dance, this movie is for you.

I am the mother of a dancer, a long-time dance fan and avid consumer and patron of the arts, so I wasn’t going to miss this film even knowing nothing but the title. I must admit I don’t watch the above mentioned shows, as the competition is too much for me. I am more sad and devastated for the talented but disqualified than I am happy and uplifted for the “winners.” Angst and tears are involved by the first commercial break so, for my own sanity and that of my family, I resist the urge to watch. During the Olympics, I am often reduced to a tearful mess, unable to leave the couch, riveted to every athlete profile no matter the sport or the time of night it airs. It is a weakness of mine.

My reaction to this film was no different. I started crying at the introduction to Michaela DePrince’s story of adoption from war torn Sierra Leone and scenes of her suburban Jewish mother hand dying the undergarments and flesh netting of her tutus brown to match her skin. I winced at the barbaric devices still used to “enhance” and “train” the dancers’ feet to arch; I gasped and shielded my eyes when young dancers fell, crushed by the pressure to perform; and my heart broke for Joan Sebastian Zamora and his mother who use their precious phone card’s minutes to repeatedly say “good bye” and “I love you” over and over, neither one able to bear hanging up first. Granted, my reactions were extreme, but I share this information to illustrate that you will not be lulled to sleep in your seat by fanciful dance scenes and classical music. This is not a passive experience; it is competitive sport, high art, high stakes, high emotions. And the athletes and artists are children and young adults.

My favorite aspect of this film is not only the fact that it exposes the dedication to the art, the craft of ballet dancing and the athleticism and training of ballet dancers, but that it honors the tradition and history of the art form while at the same time exposing the process as completely modern in every way, for better or worse. The “worse,” you can imagine, is the pressure on these kids and their families, both emotionally and financially, as well as the reality of the lack of funding and the hard fact that there is more talent than there are positions available. The “better” is the changing shape and color of the dancers. Oh,sure, there was a “classical” ballerina featured in the film, but only one tall thin blonde beauty. The other dancers came in all shapes, sizes and ethnicities. I loved that the ballet companies of today and tomorrow have eyes and hearts wide open for dancers who are physically, ethnically and socio-economically diverse.

This is not your grandmother’s PBS ballet. The movie is extreme sports, prime time entertainment and reality TV all rolled into one inspiring, enjoyable movie theater experience. Don’t miss it! And take a sports fan — someone who doesn’t think they like ballet. They’ll thank you.

Better yet, go to the ballet. Help preserve this art form, and provide an audience for these dancers. It’s the least we can do.


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