A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Promotes idea that, given the same opportunities as those with more privilege, kids from underserved communities can learn to dance ballet and succeed at it. Shows that with perseverance, discipline, compassion, and empathy, kids of all backgrounds can express themselves through the performing arts.
Positive Role Models
Steven cares deeply about the LIFT program and how to recruit and reach the students in it. He wants the kids to see that they have options and that dance could possibly help them see the world and change their circumstances. He checks in on the ones who've stopped attending regularly and encourages them -- not just about dance, but about school and friendships. Diane cares about her LIFT students and advises them about the opportunities and realities of professional performing arts. Featured parents sacrifice their time to make sure their kids can attend the program. The kids are all eager to learn to dance and interested in participating in Steven's dance.
Most dancers in the LIFT program are Black and Brown, but classes also include Asian and White dancers. Documentary centers on kids and families who live in family shelters or low-income/affordable housing, explores their challenges in an empathetic and respectful manner. Girls like Yolanssie and Sharia are curious and intelligent.
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Violence & Scariness
Scary scene when Steven passes out while visiting the shelter where he lived as a child. He's disoriented after he regains consciousness. Discussions of how Yolanssie's family is being investigated by child protective services because her little brother was in a bike accident with her but teachers reported the bruises as suspicious. A couple of disturbing conversations with Yolanssie about her propensity toward violence, how she was suspended for accidentally hitting a teacher during a fight with another student.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Joke during a pair's dance that the male dancer has accidentally held the female dancer by "the boob" instead of the side.
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One extremely quick "I don't f--king know," as well as "oh my God," "stupid."
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that LIFT is an inspiring documentary about housing-insecure kids who are offered free ballet training through a program at the New York Theatre Ballet School. Over several years, it follows professional ballet dancer and choreographer Steven Melendez as he recruits kids from the same shelter where he lived as a young boy -- and it explores how, with dedication and commitment, kids can become successful, empowered young dancers. There's one quick use of "f---ing," a jokey comment that a dancer needs to make sure he's carrying his partner by her ribs not her boob, and discussion of a middle-schooler's violent behavior. The documentary is aimed at older preteens and teens who can discuss the film's context with their parents, but younger viewers who just want to see dancing will enjoy the ballet scenes. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
This moving, insightful documentary shows how providing equitable access to the performing arts can change kids' lives. Filmmaker David Petersen doesn't shy away from the more heartbreaking difficulties of offering housing-insecure, under-resourced Black and Brown children ballet training: They have to spend hours on public transportation; they go to schools where the fine arts aren't prioritized; their parents have more important day-to-day issues to consider, like whether they can afford utilities or find a job, place, situation that will allow them to exit the family shelter where they're living; etc. But the kids still shine in the ballet studio. In addition to Melendez, who's shown in archival footage as a young NYTB dancer, there's a promising young LIFT dancer named Victor Abreu, who's followed from age 10 onward. He's such a natural that Melendez and LIFT founder/NYTB creative director Diana Byer are certain that he'll succeed in professional ballet. But as he gets older, he struggles with adolescent insecurity and irresponsibility, which cost him a paid job -- and forces him to recommit to ballet.
Not all of the stories are about superstars like Abreu and Melendez. Some of the students just need the NYTB's after-school program to provide structure, opportunity, and a safe place. Yolanssie Cardona, for example, shows a great deal of promise at 11, but by 13 or 14 has quit the program and is dealing with a suspension and the possibility of not graduating from middle school. Because Melendez checks in on students who've stopped attending, she's worked back into the fold for a special autobiographical dance that Melendez choreographs for an NYTB gala performance. And then there's Sharia Blockwood, the littlest dancer highlighted in the documentary. Melendez recruits her from the shelter, and, though they have many responsibilities, her parents manage to get her to practices and rehearsals. LIFT is a tribute to this important program, but it also shows how uncomfortable and triggering it can be for Melendez to revisit the trauma of his own childhood -- and how LIFT, while empowering, isn't enough to undo the impact of systemic oppression. But it gives the children an artistic outlet and, in some cases, the chance to imagine new futures.
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