I think just about every young girl dreams about becoming a ballerina one day. I think it is those old school jewelry boxes with the spinning ballerina in them that fuels the fire. Even I took a kids ballet and tap class as a young girl. There are some of us who stick with it and it becomes more of a dream. It becomes a hard won goal that takes so much time, strength, pain, and determination to even touch the reality of actually becoming a professional ballet dancer.
First Position is a documentary film that enlightens those of us who never came close to pursuing that dream of being that ballet dancer. The film focuses on the Youth America Grand Prix (YGAP), a competition for young ballet dancers from ages nine to nineteen. It is the top competition, giving out awards as well as scholarships and contracts to the world’s top ballet companies. Although America is in the name of the competition, it is not limited to the US. Young, aspiring ballet dancers from around the world compete in the final round of the YGAP in New York City, while semi-final rounds are held in many different countries. YGAP accepts 300 finalists into the solo portion of the competition.
First Position follows six kids as they train to start the semi-finals of the YGAP. Those kids are Aran, age 11, Michaela, age 14, Joan Sebastian, age 16, Miko, age 11, Jules, age 10, and Rebecca, age 17. All six competitors are from different training backgrounds and household income levels. While each of those featured in the film are pretty fantastic ballet dancers, they do not compete with each other in the final YGAP because of age brackets and male and females do not compete against each other.
While the kids each have their own amount of back breaking work to do to train for the YGAP, the older the kids are, the more serious their goals become. Joan Sebastian from Columbia wants to become a professional ballet dancer to not only fulfill his dream, but also to support his family back in Columbia. Rebecca is from the suburbs and has a very supportive family who has been able to fund her dream. She is looking for a job in one of the many ballet companies. The YGAP is one of the best routes for Joan Sebastian and Rebecca to obtain their goals.
It is equally outstanding the amount of work the younger kids put into their training. Knowing they will not be able to be a part of a ballet company for many years, their determination is astounding. They basically have to give up being a kid to be able to be a great ballet dancer. Aran at only age 11 is astoundingly good at ballet. It is evident already how much talent he has and what the future will hold for him.
I found the film to be entertaining and enlightening considering that I do not know much about training to be a ballet dancer. While you may know it takes a lot of work to do ballet, it is made painstakingly clear in the film. It also discusses the financial strain it can put on a family to fund their kid’s dream. Each of the kid’s backgrounds and history is told and this makes it clear that just about anyone with enough talent and determination can do this. It is not all serious, as the kids themselves and even the coaches have their funny moments. It is clear that the kids love to do ballet, so all of time and effort put into the craft is worth it for them.
The film is well-rounded in that one of the kids, Jules, decides that it is just not worth it for him and gives up ballet. Not all of the featured contestants in the YGAP go on to win what they want. This is not a sugar-coated documentary, and I appreciated that. The results of the final YGAP are left for the end of the film. It builds up enough suspense to keep the audience on pins and needles to see if each kid makes it. I would like to know how the filmmakers chose each of the kids and how many they started with in the beginning.
First Position is another great documentary that I admittedly probably would not have normally given a chance. While most of us may think of ballet as boring, this documentary is not that at all. It has the hallmarks of any other sport or craft competition film, and I find it to be more interesting given how the film goes into the background of each of its subjects. We see how these young ballet dancers work, play, and what they give up to pursue their dreams. It is a documentary worth seeing, especially if you are a ballet dancer in training, the family of one, or you have a little one who wants to go down that road.
I give First Position 4 “Jewelry Box Ballerinas” out of 5.
P.S. Stay through the credits to see what happened to each of the kids after the documentary wrapped.
by Sarah Ksiazek