Bess Kargman’s First Position is a feature-length documentary following six young dancers as they prepare for a prestigious ballet competition, the Youth America Grand Prix. Dancers aged 9-19 years compete in several rounds, with only 300 hopefuls making it to the finals in New York. Focusing on the stories of six young people, the movie looks into the varied cultural and training backgrounds of the competitors.
Joan Sebastian Zamora is a 16-year-old from Colombia, whose parents have sent him to America to train with a renowned dance mentor. Twelve-year-old Miko Fogarty and her younger brother both have dreams of becoming professional dancers and have moved across the country to train and compete. Michaela DePrince is a 14-year-old girl born in Sierra Leone during the civil war. She is still haunted by the loss of her parents and the devastation she saw as a child. But her love for dance has helped her cope, despite endless obstacles and injuries. Seventeen-year-old Rebecca Houseknecht has everything going for her and hopes to skip college to go directly into a professional dance company – but the scarcity of jobs has made this difficult so far. Friends Aran Bell and Gaya Bommer have both travelled the world to follow their passion. They’re equally determined to win their respective age categories and gain scholarships to exclusive dance schools.
These six dancers face challenges, fight through exhaustion and injury, and sacrifice their childhood years to follow their dreams.
This movie has no visual violence, but it does include stories of violence. For example:
- Michaela DePrince talks about her parents being shot during the civil war in Sierra Leone. This is how she came to be in an orphanage.
- Michaela also talks about when she tried to save her teacher, but the woman’s arms and legs were cut off before she was left to die. Michaela says it is a miracle that her teacher managed to survive.
Content that may disturb children
In addition to the violent stories and scary ideas mentioned above, this movie has some scenes that could worry children under eight years. For example:
- Joan Sebastian is a Colombian dancer who has chosen to be separated from his parents and live overseas so he can train and dance. He says he misses his mum and questions his decision at times, but he loves dance too much to quit. His parents also repeatedly tell him to stay in the US, because there are no opportunities for him back home.
- The movie shows the physical toll of dancing on the young competitors. This includes injuries.
Children in this age group might also be disturbed by Michaela’s stories of what happened to her parents and teacher.
Children in this age group are unlikely to be disturbed by anything in this movie.
None of concern
Alcohol, drugs and other substances
This movie shows minimal use of substances. For example, Aran’s ballet teacher is briefly seen smoking a cigarette while teaching his class.
Nudity and sexual activity
None of concern
None of concern
None of concern
Ideas to discuss with your children
First Position is a compelling documentary that offers a glimpse into the challenging world of ballet. It aims to present a realistic view of the world of dance, showing both the satisfaction the dancers get from their achievements, but also the moments when they question their choices.
It focuses on the stories of the six young dancers, the sacrifices both they and their families make so they can follow their dreams, and their dedication, tenacity and determination. The dancers triumph over injuries and fatigue, and face stiff competition from around the globe. But they don’t always achieve their goals – whether these are winning scholarships to prestigious dance schools or winning first place in their age categories.
The movie is probably of most interest to children over eight years. It includes some descriptions of violence in Sierra Leone and some scenes that show the physical toll of dance. These aspects of the movie might disturb younger children. We therefore recommend parental guidance for children aged 8-10 years.
Values in this movie that you could reinforce with your children include:
- trying your hardest to achieve what you set out to do
- accepting and dealing with failure.
You could also talk about the following issues:
- Gender stereotypes and the problems they can create: the movie shows how young boys often struggle with being bullied in school when they tell friends that they enjoy dancing. Many even drop out of dance because of the teasing.
- Racism in the ballet world: the movie reveals that dance costumes and accessories are made only in a pale ‘flesh colour’. This means African-American dancers must personally alter their costumes. The movie also reveals racist stereotypes – for example, ‘Black girls can’t dance ballet, because they have terrible feet’, ‘They’re too muscular’ and so on. The movie shows how wrong these stereotypes are.