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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Documentaries: First Position

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Our dd was home for a short week between Christmas and New Years and told me it was about time for me to watch it. Honestly, I know a great deal about several of the kids in the documentary and didn't feel that I would learn too much from it but dd reminded me that this movie was her life- just that she had lived it before a documentary was made. When she put it that way, I agreed to watch it with her. She was right, she had lived much of the process. I'm glad she didn't have a camera following her; there was enough pressure without the world watching. I hope that the kids who have lived under the ballet world's microscope through this documentary have enough support from rational individuals that they handle the publicity well now and in the future.


I was especially touched by Joan's story: such pressure to succeed to help his family. What a remarkable young man! Perhaps I've heard Michaela's story too many times as it's been published in several magazines and papers throughout the years and although compelling, it really didn't move me like Joan's story. She's actually one lucky girl to have been adopted by parents who have worked tirelessly for her to succeed in ballet. Joan, on the other hand, is working to send money home. DD dances with a couple of girls who do the same thing and she is so touched by their need to help their families. Yes, the documentary shows young children working very hard and yes, it shows the pressure of the YAGP and it highlights the scholarships and entry level jobs that some very talented and lucky kids win at the YAGP. It also showed the "tiger mom" AKA ballet mom. Honestly, I've seen worse. It's scary that this mom is giving such inaccurate information about diet to her daughter but this happens more than it should too.


I was glad that the documentary was not more sensational and thought it did a good job but I would strongly caution anyone who watches to understand that the documentary:

1. Promotes YAGP and competitions as the best way to forge a path to a professional ballet career and this is simply not true. There are many, many dancers who successfully gained and remain employed as professional dancers without ever having competed. This includes principal dancers. There is much discussion on this board about this.


2. Shows a few schools who do the YAGP as being the best training around. There are many schools not mentioned in this documentary that do a wonderful job training dancers and don't use YAGP as a primary training tool. The problem that I see with the documentary as far as schools are concerned is that it looks like the best schools do YAGP. When dd started ballet, her school limited their involvement in YAGP to the very top kids in the very top levels. She was one of the first very young kids at the school who were invited to participate in the junior level. When the young ones were asked to participate, it started a firestorm. I think that the older kids understood that not everyone could or would participate in YAGP and that was ok. The younger kids and their parents were a different story. The problem that we saw when schools get too involved with YAGP is that the training takes a back seat to the competition. At least at dd's school, this was parent driven at first but the school soon learned that money could be made through YAGP training so it took over the school. This isn't fair to kids who either don't want to compete or can't afford the steep expenses associated with YAGP. It's so important to understand that there are wonderful schools who choose not to participate and still train professional dancers!


3. Hints that the best way into the world's "top" training programs is through the YAGP. This is not true. DD was lucky and will always be grateful to YAGP for the opportunity to gain a very generous scholarship to a wonderful school but she also saw students who came to audition at the school and were awarded scholarships. She also saw some who came to the school with their own funding (private sponsors) who did quite well.

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I watched this for the first time recently as well swanchat - and was just as impressed as you by Joan's story. In fact, that is probably what I'll remember most from the film.


Thank you for reminding us of what was not in the film.

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  • 1 month later...

I watched the documentary and was impressed especially by the young dancers

the determination they have is amazing

what they all have

they dance so beautiful, they inspire me to keep getting better

I really want to watch it over and over again

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  • 2 months later...

After all the hype, DD and I saw "First Position" yesterday. It was released (here in Oz) in the cinemas on Thursday. I thought it gave an insight into the training, dedication and commitment that is required of young dancers if they want to pursue ballet as career. I was impressed by the cinemaphotography of the dancing and also the family shots. The over stretching, inaccurate diet information and the too young girls en pointe I found uncomfortable to watch. I knew nothing about Michaela DePrince and was blown away by her variation when she was in the white tutu, let alone her "story" and as for her mum dyeing all the undergarments and tutus etc, well it made me feel very humble.

Joan's story too I found moving, although I always worry when there is so much expectation put upon a young person to achieve so that they can then provide for their family, especially in the ballet world. It is however potentially an opportunity to change the life of Joan and his family.

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  • 1 month later...

We just watched it again on DVD, which also has bonus feature of full performances and highlights from YAGP other winners, in case no one has mentioned it. Since it is meant for general audience, I thought it did an exceptional job in its presentation. It is a window to the ballet world for young ballet students that never existed before. I don't feel it is commercialized at all. It did portrait the dancers like Jonas who fullfilled their dreams through YAGP. It never claims it is the only way. Actually it is hard to imagine dancers like Jonas with poor economic background could find financial support to audition cross ocean for his dream school/company.

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  • 8 months later...

I watched this documentary with one of my ballet friends, and we were shocked by all of the immense physical pain that those dancers went through! It definitely gave me another look at ballet and how intense it actually is.

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Welcome to Ballet Talk for Dancers! We'd love to know more about you, and a great way to do this is to go to the Welcome Forum and start a thread to introduce yourself. We look forward to your future posts!

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  • 1 month later...

I personally loved First Position! I felt it is one of the few accurate portrayals of what a ballerina's life is really like.

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Actually, dancers have to earn the title, "Ballerina". :wink: The movie was certainly an accurate portrayal of competition life. I wouldn't agree that it was an accurate portrayal of a professional dancer's life though.

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Couldn't agree more Clara76.

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