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Documentaries: First Position

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I, too, have not yet seen the film and look forward to the opportunity. As I think further on my discomfort with this particular piece of reporting by ABC News ... I think the public perception that concerns me is probably not the audiences, so much as dancers and parents who will want to elevate the competition as the critical "benchmark" of success.


I think all of us on this board understand the multilayered aspects of good training and some of the value of a competition such as YAGP, even for those who do not place. I just wonder, with the competitive nature of the ballet world which already exists ... will this misguided perception turn the YAGP into a different kind of experience for all who participate and feed some already negative competitive energy in the world of ballet training? Does that make sense?

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Yes, that makes sense djeowmom. I also have concerns about the way such changes in perception, should they come about, will affect the training of future students. When success at YAGP is considered an imperative by a school, it seems as though the focus shifts from perfecting classical technique to perfecting technique within a given variation. It has been mentioned before, and was noticed by dd in her first experience this spring at YAGP, that the top performers on the stage are not necessarily the ones who stand out in the classroom.

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Perspective. Artistic Directors can see right through whether a dancer actually has the chops or has been simply coached to the nth degree for performance sake. Quite honestly, many ADs are wary of dancers who spend the majority of their time preparing for events such as these, because it means the dancer will lack the tools necessary to be able to be in a company situation.


So, are there some ADs who, with a bit of a publicity-saavy mindset, might hire a dancer who has received tons of attention already? Yes. That is a possibility. However, with YAGP in particular, full company union contracts are not a direct result. Kids do get wonderful training opportunities if they win, absolutely. And some degree of exposure. Yes. But is this a true "leg-up" into an automatic job as a professional ballet dancer? No. Definitely not. Especially when you factor in the sheer number of participants in that particular comp.


I won't argue the merits or whether a child should or shouldn't participate here, because this thread is about the movie. I do want to dispel the myth though, that participation in this comp will equate with professional success.

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Thanks for that perspective, Clara76. It helps to understand that.

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I have not seen the movie yet but do plan on going as soon as it comes to our area. I do think this movie might give some parents of DK's and the general public a warped perspective on what it takes to become a professional dancer. DD has not participated in YAGP but has had many friends who did every year. It's a tremendous amount of pressure, especially for the younger DK's. We have seen dancers "burn out" by 16 or 17 years old who were considered prodigies when they were 12. It has been DD's experience that the long road to a professional career was slow and steady - always working to her potential at that moment in her training. I hope the movie does not lead people to believe that competitions are a "must" for a career. That has certainly not been the case for my DD.

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I haven't seen this movie yet and haven't decided if I really want to. We know several of the featured dancers personally and I'm glad they are getting their "15 minutes of fame." It seems that this flurry of news coverage is based on the promotion of the film and the stories of these young dancers. Some of the stories are perfect soundbites for the news. Michaela DePrince's story has been covered for years. Good Housekeeping covered it years ago; it's a human interest story that's hard to beat. Her mother is well aware of that and has worked tirelessly to promote the story and according to the recent article in the Philly Inquirer, is writing a book.


I think it's helpful to put the movie and the news coverage into perspective. The movie is about YAGP and will put the competition aspect of training into the spin that promotes them. The articles about any one specific dancer will highlight the hard work and dedication and how special that aspiring dancer is. The interest in kids doing all this hard work and sacrifice is interesting to readers. When reading these articles, insert your own dk's name into the sentences that talk about the hard work, dedication, hours in the studio, sacrifices,etc.... For those of us who have been around aspiring dancers for years, the fact that these kids are talented, hard working and ambitious just isn't that newsworthy. I'm glad that the public has the opportunity to understand the work that goes into becoming a dancer. Unfortunately, the news loves a feel good story that is easy to understand so the coverage simplifies the process to: talented kid, trains hard, wins competitions, becomes a dancer. We all know that there is much more to being professional. I know "competition kids" who either burned out or as Clara76 described, couldn't attract the interest of a director to secure a contract. The article about DePrince in the Inquirer points out that DePrince's future is "still up in the air." The only thing that will ensure a long and successful career is the same for the kids in the movie as for everyone else: good solid technique, attention to body maintenance, artistry, hard work and if the moons align, a director who utilizes their talent in ways that promote growth as an artist and a little luck never hurts either.

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I am excited to see it! It is coming to our little cow town June 1st! And, more than that.....my dance kids are primarily jazz comp kids who are EXTREMELY excited to see this movie. I appreciate all that these YAGP kids to in dance, regardless of how they do/place at this competition. I think my competition kids can relate to these kids and how you are judged on those few minutes on stage (though they are also judged on how they participate and execute in class as well...to the best of my knowledge).

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Just a comment that it would be very hard being one of those young dancers who will now have eyes on them from everywhere, watching. A few of them had already had the experience of publicity, and perhaps have had parents helping get publicity going initially, as frequently some ballet parents seem to do. Also true is that a competitor, by nature, has to have a thick skin to keep going back in front of the critical eyes of the public and their peers, so they may be able to handle the pressures that a spotlight brings. But the movie and the TV coverage that has pounced in response has to add an enormous amount of stress and distraction for these children who, in the end, just want to have good jobs as dancers with a company someday. The path to that, itself, is so confusing and undefined by formula, that to add the media coverage that the film has inspired on top of it and expect a young person to process it gracefully almost seems incredible. DD is friendly with one of the featured dancers in the film and has expressed her awareness of how confusing on so many levels the media attention has been for this dancer, whether it was initially encouraged by a parent in the past or not. This is a student who dd has seen change and grow up over the past few years in the spotlight, while recently pursuing her training with humility and hard work, striving to improve her technique. This is despite these years of publicity about her successes in the past and, now, as a result of the film hoopla, her name being tossed about the world for all to discuss. There is so much debate now about the film's focus, about her participation in YAGP, about the training and scholarships she has received and what they will really mean for her future. I hope she and all of the others will be able to move beyond their association with this competition and the scrutiny they currently have around them and just be able to work on their craft in peace.

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Your empathy for these kids in the spotlight is very much appreciated. It's wonderful that your dd is able to understand the pressure of the media attention on these dancers. I'm certain that it's difficult to maintain focus during the media blitz and that one or more of the featured dancers may be wishing for peace and quiet but their names being tossed around the world for all to discuss is a product of the venture. Debate about the film, the training and competitions is a good outcome for the documentary IMHO. For those of us with dancing professionals or aspiring professionals, it's good to critically assess any piece of information that pertains to the training of a dancer. I certainly think that those of us with aspiring dancers are interested (as evidenced by several threads on this board) to see how participation in a competition and/or being a sort of child celebrity helps or perhaps, even hinders the actual gaining of a contract in a classical ballet company and so these kids will be watched by the public to see what happens.


Each dancer (and their parents if they are underage) must have signed a release and in the process should have considered that they were signing away their right to privacy and opening themselves up to scrutiny. You raise a valid concern for anyone whose child is approached for this sort of publicity.

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Agreed that releases had to have been signed and also that the topic is certainly of interest on the board as to whether the movie and its focus on competitions will impact in some way, as well as if competitions are an important path for success. While in our seats, waiting to see the film, this was just a comment. Many decisions by adults have been made to different degrees, no doubt, for each of the dancers in the film both before and since it was made. But because the fish bowl is in place before the students have finished their training, I doubt that, as young people, they would have understood the impact that was personally in store when sitting with their parents who signed releases. This is an old story, of course, for many kids in spotlights. It just seems challenging enough for a really desirous ballet student to navigate their path, without all this added to it. Just stating the obvious here and extending some empathy that we all have for some of the possible downside of the media hoopla.

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I agree that life in the fish bowl is a difficult one, especially for children/teenagers. Your point is well taken and hopefully will help to enlighten any parent who desires to see their dk highlighted to the extent that these young people are being highlighted. Before a parent signs a release and relinquishes their dk's right to privacy, they should read and re-read your post.


As far as the young lady I mentioned, she has had years of life in the fish bowl related to her unique circumstance and yes, I have personally witnessed the efforts of her media savvy parents. If their daughter isn't handling it well, I'm sorry, but they've been down the media path before; they knew what they were getting into. It's a cautionary tale, isn't it? Last year, there was a media blitz surrounding another young lady in different competition and life in her fish bowl included a personal blog and a part on a national show. Things worked out differently than she had planned and I'm sure it wasn't comfortable to be in the public mind as her year unfolded. It's not that she's not finding success, it's just not the fairy tale that was being suggested with all the PR. Auditioning and career management are hard enough without everyone watching to see the result.


Your point also raises the question: Who benefits from all this publicity? The young dancers? YAGP? The affiliated training programs?If an organization benefits way more than the kid who is being publicized, is it a bit exploitative? I had this same concerns when dd was in training when her school highlighted any one of the kids. Did publicity that focused on a dancer help the child being highlighted or was it being used primarily for PR for the school? Clearly a school wants to show it's training through talented students but when a student loses privacy or ability to go about their life without constant scrutiny, I am just not comfortable with it. I think it's a fine line and that line will be different for different families and you are right to raise the red flag.

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I completely agree with the concerns being raised with respect to the appropriateness of shining a spotlight on a child, and whether, in the end, the spotlight truly remains on the child or on the institutions which appear to be promoting (or advertising?) that child. I think that parents of minor-aged children should be extremely cautious about whether to draw such wide open media attention, and yes, by signing releases toward that end, they are absolutely contributing to drawing it. I am not against a student's participation in YAGP or any other competition, per se; however, I am against allowing a student to become a "chronic competitor," wherein their training focus is heavily weighted towards mastering variations, often at the expense of the time needed to simply focus on developing fundamental technique. The impression is that if a student "perfects" a group of 2-3 minute pieces, a contract will one day be offered. My concern about this film is in how commercialized everything appears to be. I think one needs to observe it through a mindful lens and remember that in the end, the children being highlighted are still children, ballet is an extremely demanding pursuit, competitions are not the "best" or "only" way to "be seen," and as parents, we are raising WHOLE people - not just dancers. Synonymous with balance is harmony, defined as: a state in which various parts form a satisfying and harmonious whole and nothing is out of proportion or unduly emphasized at the expense of the rest.

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Me too!!

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