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First Position: Ballet Documentary


Nana Lily
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Ballet.coers we need to see this film in the UK!!!! They have a facebook page, is there anyway we can coordinate a "bring it to the UK campaign"? on their FB page, I'm not too good with FB, any ideas?

 

http://www.balletdocumentary.com/

 

"Follow in the inspirational footsteps of six talented ballet dancers (ages nine to nineteen) as they struggle to maintain form in the face of injury and personal sacrifice on their way to one of the most prestigious youth ballet competitions in the world. First Position is a feature length documentary about a love of dance and a drive to succeed that trumps money, politics and even war.

With unprecedented (and exclusive) access to the Youth America Grand Prix, the largest competition that awards full scholarships to top ballet schools, First Position takes audiences on a yearlong journey around the world. At a time when art, music and dance for children are severely under-funded, the film reveals the struggles and success, the pain and extraordinary beauty of an art form so many children across the globe are determined to dedicate their lives to…despite the odds."

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I really want to see it as well. My DD and her friends have been to RBS summer school several times with one of the young ladies in the film and she is amazing!! I have no idea how to get it over here. I know it nearly didn't get shown in America due to running out of funding at one point.

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I am (actually we are) planning to see this film today .....if I do I will try to give you my view of it - for what that's worth..... :)

 

It's a lovely sunny day here - in the low 70's - however - an afternoon spent in a darkened movie house. What price dedication!

 

(just kidding - couldn't resist)

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Have just returned from seeing "First Position," a documentary which follows seven young dancers as they prepare for and participate in the Youth America Grand Prix.

 

The contestants range in age from as young as ten to about 17. The amount of work, investment and sacrifice from everyone - dance students, parents, families - is an enormous burden placed on very young shoulders. For at least one of the students - a very engaging and talented young man from Columbia (who recieved a full scholarship to the RB Upper School ) - his family sees this as the only possible way out of difficult living conditions for him - and possibly a path to a better future for his younger siblings as well as for the entire family. He is aware of this burden every moment. He accepts it willingly which is so poignant in so young a person.

 

Another family - primarily the mother - will stop at nothing and is well into the extreme in stretching, work, dieting, and expectations of her daughter. Though the child is willing, the child is not of an age to truly understand that this is indeed extreme. The mother knows very well that she is certainly well beyond the norm with a much too thin 12 yr old daughter, the hours of work and stretching, Watching a "coach" and/or the mother stretch this little girl is almost sickening. When the child "only" ends up with a bronze medal - the mother says she will hire someone else to coach her daughter through even more extreme stretching. Yes, the mother does use the word "extreme" - this is not my word - it is her's. Though the child is willing - this really is into child abuse.

 

Another beautiful young dancer, born in Sierra Leone, was an orphan; a tiny little girl with a mottled black skin and therefore an outcast in her own society. She was adopted by an American family and lovingly raised. Having gotten all the way to the YGAP finals in NYC, she develops Achilles tendonitis. She knows that if she competes she risks tearing that tendon and never dancing again. Luckily she makes it and in fact wins a scholarship with ABT. But what if that tendon had torn?

 

Some of the things which are haunting....

 

The announcer as the medals are given out to the 10, 11, 12 yr olds -- calls the category a "woman's" group. Women? They are 10, 11, 12!! I know that is a picky detail on my part - but for me it demonstrates a complete loss of perspective.

 

I noticed that when the kids are on stage to receive their awards those who get bronze or silver medals looked so sad. In fact except for the very few scholarship winners - they all look sad.

 

Some of the Contemporary dances really do look almost like the floor exercise in gymnastics - no flips - but almost.

 

There were some oversplits in classical variations.

 

Several boys were costumed in black shirts and trousers against a dark background - will costumers never learn?

 

A number of the young dancers obviously had a pet trick which they used over and over again.

 

A couple of the teachers/coaches would in any other setting be accused of child abuse - slapping, pulling, jerkiing, twisting young bodies.

 

All of these youngsters are literally consumed (knowingly or not) by dance. One shows off his foot stretching device - reminiscent of the Spanish Inquisition - as he explains how painful it is. Torquemada would be proud.

 

Bloody feet of both boys and girls are almost proudly displayed - distorted toes, blackened fungus nails, tender red bunions - they are teenagers!!

 

By the time a youngster is of an age to truly make an informed consent the investment is already consuming everyone involved.

 

Would I recommend this movie? Yes, I would. If you like the idea of competitions you will enjoy it. If you do not, or are ambivalent - this might help you to understand the process.

 

The above is my opinion - for what it's worth - nothing more. I don't pretend that it is free of prior bias.

 

There were times I found myself in tears - there's got to be a better way.

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Have just returned from seeing "First Position," a documentary which follows seven young dancers as they prepare for and participate in the Youth America Grand Prix.

 

The contestants range in age from as young as ten to about 17. The amount of work, investment and sacrifice from everyone - dance students, parents, families - is an enormous burden placed on very young shoulders. For at least one of the students - a very engaging and talented young man from Columbia (who recieved a full scholarship to the RB Upper School ) - his family sees this as the only possible way out of difficult living conditions for him - and possibly a path to a better future for his younger siblings as well as for the entire family. He is aware of this burden every moment. He accepts it willingly which is so poignant in so young a person.

 

Another family - primarily the mother - will stop at nothing and is well into the extreme in stretching, work, dieting, and expectations of her daughter. Though the child is willing, the child is not of an age to truly understand that this is indeed extreme. The mother knows very well that she is certainly well beyond the norm with a much too thin 12 yr old daughter, the hours of work and stretching, Watching a "coach" and/or the mother stretch this little girl is almost sickening. When the child "only" ends up with a bronze medal - the mother says she will hire someone else to coach her daughter through even more extreme stretching. Yes, the mother does use the word "extreme" - this is not my word - it is her's. Though the child is willing - this really is into child abuse.

 

Another beautiful young dancer, born in Sierra Leone, was an orphan; a tiny little girl with a mottled black skin and therefore an outcast in her own society. She was adopted by an American family and lovingly raised. Having gotten all the way to the YGAP finals in NYC, she develops Achilles tendonitis. She knows that if she competes she risks tearing that tendon and never dancing again. Luckily she makes it and in fact wins a scholarship with ABT. But what if that tendon had torn?

 

Some of the things which are haunting....

 

The announcer as the medals are given out to the 10, 11, 12 yr olds -- calls the category a "woman's" group. Women? They are 10, 11, 12!! I know that is a picky detail on my part - but for me it demonstrates a complete loss of perspective.

 

I noticed that when the kids are on stage to receive their awards those who get bronze or silver medals looked so sad. In fact except for the very few scholarship winners - they all look sad.

 

Some of the Contemporary dances really do look almost like the floor exercise in gymnastics - no flips - but almost.

 

There were some oversplits in classical variations.

 

Several boys were costumed in black shirts and trousers against a dark background - will costumers never learn?

 

A number of the young dancers obviously had a pet trick which they used over and over again.

 

A couple of the teachers/coaches would in any other setting be accused of child abuse - slapping, pulling, jerkiing, twisting young bodies.

 

All of these youngsters are literally consumed (knowingly or not) by dance. One shows off his foot stretching device - reminiscent of the Spanish Inquisition - as he explains how painful it is. Torquemada would be proud.

 

Bloody feet of both boys and girls are almost proudly displayed - distorted toes, blackened fungus nails, tender red bunions - they are teenagers!!

 

By the time a youngster is of an age to truly make an informed consent the investment is already consuming everyone involved.

 

Would I recommend this movie? Yes, I would. If you like the idea of competitions you will enjoy it. If you do not, or are ambivalent - this might help you to understand the process.

 

The above is my opinion - for what it's worth - nothing more. I don't pretend that it is free of prior bias.

 

There were times I found myself in tears - there's got to be a better way.

 

 

Anjuli, this is, indeed, very sad but it does seem to be a reflection on the dance world today - or at least that part of it which focusses on festivals and competitions. There seems to be a lot of emphasis, even on this board, on results, levels, achievements etc and one cannot help but wonder if that, for some people,is what it is all about, rather than the joy of dance!

 

Out of interest, did you think that any of the dancers featured in the film have the potential to go on to do well in BALLET in the future?

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Anjuli, this is, indeed, very sad but it does seem to be a reflection on the dance world today - or at least that part of it which focusses on festivals and competitions. There seems to be a lot of emphasis, even on this board, on results, levels, achievements etc and one cannot help but wonder if that, for some people,is what it is all about, rather than the joy of dance!

 

Out of interest, did you think that any of the dancers featured in the film have the potential to go on to do well in BALLET in the future?

 

I agree with - and rue -- the fact that for many it becomes about the contest itself rather than long term goal because the contest seems to them the only path to the goal. The children did talk about how much they loved to dance - and I believe them but I wonder if they've ever done much of anything else?

 

How informed is their consent?

 

As to if I think if any of the featured dancers have the potential to go on....yes, they all have the technique - or they wouldn't have gotten to that level of the competition. The movie featured the winners - but one wonders if they will burn out having become so intense at so young an age. The brother of the little girl who's mother was into "extreme" stretching (and other regimens) did - when his mother thought to ask him - admit to her that he didn't enjoy it and wanted to quit. She let him quit but it was evident that she was not happy with his decision and he was feeling that unhappiness from her.

 

So - while the movie dealt with the stresses of the winners, one could see on the sidelines other dancers who were not featured - sitting on the floor crying (over what we don't know), or others mentally flogging themselves. Many discussed their injuries - and these bodies are so young.

 

What I didn't see - and this can be very subjective on my part - was much happiness. There seemed to be more immediate happiness from the parents. Even the winners were so wound up in emotional knots it took a while before they actually realized they had won and began to rejoice.

 

I'm not saying the whole thing is an unmitigated emotional dark cave - but it is for everyone a roller coaster and one does have to wonder about those for whom the trudge up is too costly and the whipping ride down is too much.

 

And they are all so young. The 17ish students, I can understand (not agree with but understand) - but 10? 11? 12?

 

Well, I'm rattling on - I hope I answered your question, Jellybeans. And I hope I've disuaded no one from seeing it. Perhaps it will come out in DVD.

 

Please note - this is all my very subjective opinion.

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Whenever there are films and documentaries like this, I can't help wondering how much of the footage ends up on the cutting room floor because it doesn't fit in with the message the producers/editors are wanting to convey. They are naturally going to want to make their programme as dramatic and controversial as possible.

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Probably a fair amount, but you can't film something nonexistent, so obviously a lot of what was shown did actually happen. It's a bit like someone on a reality tv show saying they were badly edited, but obviously the statements shown did actually come out of their mouths in the first place.

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Whenever there are films and documentaries like this, I can't help wondering how much of the footage ends up on the cutting room floor because it doesn't fit in with the message the producers/editors are wanting to convey. They are naturally going to want to make their programme as dramatic and controversial as possible.

 

This is probably true of most of what we see and hear which is produced by another human being. We don't even know if the tree makes a sound when it falls and we are not there to hear it.

 

I just looked at the YAGP page and the ages accepted for the competition are 9 to 19. I would feel better about this if the age limit was something like 16-19.

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The young age is interesting- I remember when DS was young and an exceptional swimmer for his age I read a lot about swimming competitions and the opinion of the ASA was that children under 12 shouldn't really compete at any high level, as at this age children process 'failure' as indicative of an inherent (and global and permanent) lack of ability. Whereas as they grow up they are more able to recognise that other external factors which can potentially be altered (peak fitness, sleep, stress, training method, having an 'off' day etc) are equally important. Hence under 12 competition only serves to make children believe they are worthless...(oh unless of course they always win!).

When DD was a competition diver there were some young girls in her squad who at an early age (9, 10 etc) consistently came first in the novice (countrywide but lower level) competitions. As they started competing in higher level competitions they started to do less well (not because they were any less talented but because the competition becomes fiercer at this age) and a high proportion of them gave up diving at this point (they were still pretty young- e.g. under 12). Also it was interesting to see that many who showed early exceptional promise faded at an older age- making it even more imperative to try and achieve balance in the child's life.

Whilst any child who wants to aim for a profession ballet career will have to learn to pick themselves up after perceived failure I can't help thinking this should be put off for as long as is feasibly possible.

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The young age is interesting- I remember when DS was young and an exceptional swimmer for his age I read a lot about swimming competitions and the opinion of the ASA was that children under 12 shouldn't really compete at any high level, as at this age children process 'failure' as indicative of an inherent (and global and permanent) lack of ability. Whereas as they grow up they are more able to recognise that other external factors which can potentially be altered (peak fitness, sleep, stress, training method, having an 'off' day etc) are equally important. Hence under 12 competition only serves to make children believe they are worthless...(oh unless of course they always win!).

When DD was a competition diver there were some young girls in her squad who at an early age (9, 10 etc) consistently came first in the novice (countrywide but lower level) competitions. As they started competing in higher level competitions they started to do less well (not because they were any less talented but because the competition becomes fiercer at this age) and a high proportion of them gave up diving at this point (they were still pretty young- e.g. under 12). Also it was interesting to see that many who showed early exceptional promise faded at an older age- making it even more imperative to try and achieve balance in the child's life.

Whilst any child who wants to aim for a profession ballet career will have to learn to pick themselves up after perceived failure I can't help thinking this should be put off for as long as is feasibly possible.

 

That is very interesting, CeliB. The mental/emotional stress beginning at so young an age is just that many more years of stress normally experienced in the process of living. Same with the body - just that many more years of taxing the body to its limit whilst it is growing and changing. I also wonder how many at that early age are doing it as much to please the parent and confusing that (seeing it as the same thing as) pleasing oneself.

 

I remember reading an interview with a young man who had a marvelous voice (think opera) who won Australia's Got Talent. During the interview discussing the possibility of an opera career, tours, lessons, etc., he said "But I'm also a kid and I need time to ride my bike." Smart young man!

 

The other thing which stood out was that so many believed that the answer to almost any dance problem was stretching and more stretching. Most of them in the film were already pretzels. In one scene a young girl was standing while someone took that child's leg up to second - to the ear - past the ear - well past the ear - and on - until the child's derriere was now pulled up and facing the wall of the room. It was really grotesque. Other scenes of bending the spine beyond belief while a little boy (10) is groaning.

 

The lilttle Israeli girl (12) danced a delightful solo - I think it was from Coppelia but I could be wrong. She gave it a delightful lighthearted sweet character - with lots of epaulement - eyes dancing - not overdone but full of nuance. She "only" got a bronze trophy and looked sad. But her mum was very happy and cheered her up - hugging her and getting her to smile and laugh.

 

Most of the others seemed to have a trick which especially in their contemporary solo they did again and again. It was kind of like in ice skating - the quad jumps have taken over the sport.

 

Only one dancer was named who got a job with a company - she, of course, was among the older of the participants. Others may have, too, but it was not mentioned. Her job offer came a couple of months after the competition. Otherwise, as I recall, she didn't get any prize.

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I don't think competitions are inherently a bad thing. In fact I think the "no competition, everyone's a winner" ethos that seems prevalant in a lot of British schools at the moment does our youngsters no favours at all. Unfortunately real life is competitive, whether we like it or not.

The problems with competitions arise from people's attitude and behaviour. Even at the fairly small dance competitions that my daughter does I've seen tears, screaming and tantrums backstage, and that's just the parents! But on the other hand there are plenty dancers (and parents) who turn up and have fun whether they win or not.

Obviously I've not seen the film, but I suspect that one of the problems with big competitions like YAGP is that the stakes are so high. If some people can get their knickers in a twist over a medal at a local festival it's not surprising that some will go OTT at a competition that could be literally life changing.That seems to me like unreasonable pressure foryoung children to bear. Prizes of high value can bring out the worst in people as well as the best.

Edited by Pups_mum
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Re competition I suppose it was more a comment about the age at which children should be exposed to competitions, not whether competitions are inherently bad. I agree anyone wanting to be a dancer is going to have to learn to deal with setbacks probably more than in most other walks of life- I just wonder about the merits of having to face this at an age where the research evidence is that they don't have the emotional maturity to interpret 'failure' in a non damaging way....

As with most fly on the wall documentaries about high achieving children it sounds like yet again it is the parents who are the most terrifying part of the package.....

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