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A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that First Position is a winning dance documentary that will have you on your feet cheering and clapping for its young subjects, all of whom are vying for prestigious scholarships and contracts after years of hard work, practice, and dedication (not to mention painful injuries). Not everyone gets to win the big prizes, but given how committed and giving all of the featured dancers are, they're definitely all winners. First Position will make you believe that hard work really does pay off, which is a great lesson for kids of all ages. While even younger kids will find much here to enjoy and inspire, the subjects' laser focus on their goals will be more relatable for tweens and up.
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What's the story?
Every year, about 5000 ballet dancers between the ages of 9 and 19 scramble to reach the finals of the prestigious Youth America Grand Prix. The prizes are immense: scholarships to career-making, life-changing ballet schools, and even a lucrative contract with a renowned dance company. In FIRST POSITION, viewers meet the likes of Aran, an American boy blessed with the grace of Baryshnikov who lives with his military dad and mom in Italy; Gaya, his friend from Israel who fuses modern dance and classical ballet with the confidence of a person twice her age; Michaela, a 14-year-old adopted from war-torn Sierra Leone who still remembers the most haunting moments of her childhood and wants to show that black girls can dance ballet. There's also Joan, a powerful dancer who lives in New York City, far away from his family in Colombia, to seek a better, brighter future, and Miko, who, at 12, is already determined to leave her mark in the ballet world. And then there's Rebecca, a teenager who wants a storybook ending to her dancing career but a balanced life, too.
Is it any good?
This movie makes us want to dance and it makes us think, and that's a good thing. A good documentary transports you someplace you might not be familiar with but are grateful to visit; a great documentary makes you care so much about its subjects that you can't fathom how you never knew about them before. First Position is always good and often great -- a portrait of dancers so driven that their youth or background matters not a whit. Filmmaker Bess Kargman approaches her subjects with empathy and a palpable respect for their work ethic. But she doesn't shy away from asking questions, either, whether by letting vexing moments like a young woman's late-breaking injury linger or by juxtaposing a little boy who's having fun dancing (but clearly isn't motivated to perfect the moves) and his doting mother, who, also clearly, won't see that he isn't likely to end up wanting to truly pursue ballet.
And, oh the dancing! Whether you're a ballet fan or not, it's impossible not to be impressed by the grace and athleticism of it all. Ballet here isn't genteel; it's tough on both mind and body and will push you to your limits. It's also astoundingly beautiful to watch. One minor gripe is how Kargman elects to view some dancing scenes at a remove or from the wings, dulling a dancer's effect a little. (Though only a little.) And the ending feels abrupt, given the careful wind-up and the time spent with all the characters (thankfully, though, we do find out how each of these interesting young dancers fared). But ultimately First Position will leave you questioning your own ability to commit fully to a passion.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the kids who are followed in First Position. Is all their hard work worth the trouble? What do they get from dancing?
How does the movie depict competition? Does everyone approach competition in a positive manner? How do you cope with losing even when you try your best? How does losing teach you to be strong? And how might winning help you become more generous and sympathetic with other competitors?
Parents, talk to your kids about the importance of hard work and how to tell the difference between a hobby and a passion/calling.
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