Parents' Guide to


By Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 10+

Poignant, inspiring doc about shelter kids who learn ballet.

Movie PG-13 2023 87 minutes
LIFT Movie Poster: A male ballet dancer is mid jump, and a little girl dancer looks at him

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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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