Dancing in the Light: The Janet Collins Story

Movie review by
Tracy Moore, Common Sense Media
Dancing in the Light: The Janet Collins Story Movie Poster Image
Inspirational animated tale of famous black ballerina soars.
  • G
  • 2015
  • 17 minutes

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Educational value

Tells the true story of Janet Collins, the first African-American ballerina to perform at New York's Metropolitan Opera.

Positive messages

Perseverance; courage; dedication; practice; strength; bravery in the face of discrimination.

Positive role models & representations

Janet Collins persevered against deeply entrenched racism to earn a germinal spot for an African-American ballerina in the 1930s. 

Violence & scariness

Instances of racial hatred are discussed, such as a director asking Collins to paint her face white to fit in with the white dancers.

Sexy stuff
Language
Consumerism
Drinking, drugs & smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Dancing in the Light: The Janet Collins Story tells the uplifting true story of Janet Collins, whose dedication and determination led her to become the first African-American ballerina in the country to perform at the Metropolitan Opera House. The animated short movie addresses instances of racism, such as Janet being asked to paint her face white to blend in, but largely focuses on the significance of her success given the time period (1930s). It's beautifully animated, easy to understand, and a great introduction to African-American history for young kids.

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What's the story?

In the 1930s, Janet Collins had big dreams to be a ballerina, but none of the other girls looked like her. With encouragement from her parents, dedication, and practice, she earned a spot as the first African-American ballerina at the Metropolitan Opera House, even after being asked to paint her face white. Along the way Collins learned a troubling lesson about achieving success as a minority: that you have to be twice as good to even get a foot in the door. 

Is it any good?

Narrated by Chris Rock, this is an accessible, inspirational true story that can teach kids a lot about the lingering effects of slavery and racism in Jim Crow America. For girls and boys who are fans of ballet, this is a familiar story about the hard work, dedication, and practice it takes to be good at the art form. But it's also a story of unimaginable success and triumph during a time when the ballet was all white, all the more surprising given the fact that the recent success of Misty Copeland as the second-ever African-American ballerina comes 60 years after Collins paved the way. Some difficult moments tell the hardship of Collins' experiences but serve as a great primer on the realities of racism and discrimination.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about why ballerinas are so popular. What makes them such interesting figures?

  • Why was Janet Collins asked to paint her face white? How do you think that made her feel?

  • What made Janet Collins a success? Do you think you could keep dancing if you were her? Why, or why not?

Movie details

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For kids who love history

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