Must Watch: First Position
The career of a dancer starts at a very young age, at around seventeen or eighteen, although it’s not unusual for prodigies to join professional companies as young as fifteen (um, Gelsey Kirkland). So, even though you are watching children(!!!) as the focus of the ballet documentary, First Position, their dancing is fantastic and the stakes are high as they compete in the Youth America Grand Prix, the largest competition that awards full scholarships to top ballet schools and contracts to prestigious ballet companies.
Now, I have a little personal history to share with you. I was a ballet dancer once upon a time. I attended the High School of Performing Arts in NYC (the FAME! school) and trained at what is now called Ballet Tech, starting at age nine. Even though I never became a professional dancer, ballet shaped my childhood life and my experiences as a ballet student made me the person I am today. Luckily, I am still involved in the dance world and dedicate my time as a board member with the Dance Theatre of Harlem.
I share this because in First Position we follow the lives of six aspiring ballet dancers (aged 9 to nineteen) as they train looking to get to NYC to the finals of the Youth America Grand Prix. And, boy-o-boy, this is how it really is when you’re a dancing teen. You go through a pair of pointe shoes per day (they cost $80 now– they were $35 in my time), you do eat a lot because you’re always famished from burning so much energy, you have scrapes on the tops of your feet and blisters and gashes on your toes, and you pirouette as you wait for the subway to arrive because your body can’t stop dancing, it loves it that much.
The documentary also follows the families of the ballet dancers, who much like the families of Olympic athletes, are extraordinarily dedicated and make great sacrifices to help advance their children’s dreams. And, of course one of the families featured includes the stereotypical stage mom who sticks out like a sore thumb in this movie where the other parents are devoted, but not obsessive like she is. Luckily, her kids seem somewhat level-headed and I hope her daughter won’t be injured along the way (a stretching coach– really!?!). Honestly, I could have done without this family’s (the Fogartys) inclusion in the film. I never met a family like them in the nine years I trained as a dancer, even though I’m sure families similar to them do exist. Yes, ballet is a demanding passion and profession to pursue– and the movie doesn’t gloss over that– but it’s also a beautiful art form. And, so I wish there the documentary showed more dancing footage, and it could have benefited from tighter editing.
BUT, what I love most about this movie is that it’s an opportunity for other children to get an intimate peek into the lives of aspiring dancers and the hard work and dedication it takes to achieve mastery of their craft. In an age where reality TV stars are made famous for nothing other than their willingness to overexpose their lives (and themselves), I think our children need to see more of this reality.
Last week, a mom at my son’s school told me how her young daughter (in the second grade) had come home jumping up and down, so excited. She had recognized a star walking along the streets of Manhattan. She had seen Michaela De Prince one of the featured students of First Position.
This made me very, very happy.
I want our children to be inspired by those who become famous the old-fashioned way, they earn it.
First Position is in theaters now and is appropriate for all audiences. Here’s a listing of the select movie theaters in which it’s playing. It is also currently being released on Video On Demand via most cable providers and the DVD will be available for purchase in October/November 2012.
Here’s the official trailer for First Position: