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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that A Ballerina's Tale examines the life and career of Misty Copeland, the first African-American principal dancer at New York's American Ballet Theater. Not only is Copeland a significant role model for any young girl who dreams of a career as a dancer, she's also emerged as a important example for the black community, showcasing the ways the rarified world of classical ballet is evolving and becoming more diverse. There's no swearing, drinking, strong language, or sex, just lots of amazing dancing, so the film is excellent for anyone who's a fan of ballet.
What's the story?
A BALLERINA'S TALE goes behind the scenes at New York's American Ballet Theater to trace the career of Misty Copeland, the first African-American principal dancer in a major international ballet troupe. What emerges is a portrait of a gifted, talented ballerina who overcame both adversity and ballet's taxing physicality to become one of the best dancers in the world, as well as a role model for the African-American community.
Is it any good?
Copeland's place in ballet history -- and American history -- comes to life in this engrossing documentary. The movie mixes beautifully filmed segments of Copeland dancing some of her biggest roles with interviews -- both with her and with those who know her on and off stage. The movie also explores ballet dancers' joys and sufferings and their determination in the face of physical and societal challenges (including racism) to perform to their utmost ability. A stress fracture that develops at one of the high points of Copeland's career is devastating to discover, especially (as she puts it) considering the importance of the path she's blazing; her subsequent long recovery elicits both worries and cheers.
All of that said, even though we hear from Copeland herself and get an inside look as she navigates the ballet world, at times there's a certain remove to the film. Some of the most emotional moments feel like they're unspooling at a distance, and the discussion of race relations in ballet deserves more time and footage. (A memorable scene, much too short, has Copeland running through dance movements with one of the important African-American dancers who blazed the trail for her, Raven Wilkinson.) But ultimately A Ballerina's Tale is not only instructive but inspiring.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about race and ballet. Much of A Ballerina's Tale focuses on Copeland's groundbreaking rise at American Ballet Theater. Why do you think there have been so few African-American ballet dancers? Is this changing?
How is the world of ballet similar to the rest of the world? How do Copeland's experiences compare with those of some of her predecessors -- the other African-American ballet dancers of years past who never made it as far as she did? What makes her a role model? Is it just that she's succeeded, or is there more to it?
How does A Ballerina's Tale compare to other documentaries that address racism? Is ballet special, or are race relations in the fine arts reflective of the rest of the world?
- In theaters: October 14, 2015
- On DVD or streaming: February 2, 2016
- Cast: Misty Copeland
- Director: Nelson George
- Studio: Sundance Selects
- Genre: Documentary
- Topics: Arts and Dance, Great Girl Role Models
- Character strengths: Integrity, Perseverance
- Run time: 88 minutes
- MPAA rating: NR
- Awards/Honors: Common Sense Seal
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