Film Review: First Position

FirstPositionThe Youth American Grand Prix is the world’s largest ballet competition that awards full scholarships and job contracts to dancers ages 9-19. Each year over 5,000 dancers enter the Youth American Grand Prix semi-finals held in 15 cities around the world. Only a few hundred dancers make it to the finals in New York City. On the final day at the end of the competition 30 elite Ballet institutions awards scholarships, contracts, and medals to the most promising dancers.

Now, I know I am a little late joining the party since this film came out in 2012 but, First Position shows the dedication, determination, and pressures that young dancers face during their training. This documentary follows six dancers on their journey to the Youth American Grand Prix and some them have technique and talent that I have never seen at such a young age. Aran, 11, is by far my favorite in this documentary. He is a military kid who travels two hours to Rome, Italy for the best Ballet training at La Masion de la Danse. Being a boy, he faces the pressures of society and his peers with being a male Ballet dancer. He has coped with it by ignoring it because Ballet is something that he loves. The stereotype that Aran continues to fight doesn’t surprise me because most boys who get teased for it drop out of ballet by Jr. High School. Miko, 12 & Rebecca, 17 talks about how there friends don’t understand the disciple that is needed to be a ballet dancer. Besides going to school they have cross training, many dance classes, and rehearsals everyday to stay in peak performance form. Joan, 16 moved away from his family from Colombia to New York City to train and didn’t know the language at first.

The amount of sacrifice these children have for the love of dance is something to admire. Few people find their calling in life and even fewer people are willing to do what is necessary to reach success. Miko switched to home-schooling so she could spend more time at the studio. Micheala, 14 was suffering an inflammation of tendentious in her Achilles heel during the finals of the Prix. These kids are not the only ones who have to put in a tremendous amount of effort, the parents have to be just as supportive and dedicated as the students. The parents assist with costumes being dyed, created, and purchased. They pay for the lessons, private coaching, and transportation to and from the studios. And they are the rock when there is a mess up on stage and all you want to do is have a pity party and beat yourself up. I think Miko’s mother said it best, “When bad things happen on stage that is my fault, when good things happen that is all her.”

The documentary shows how a student’s dance that they have practice a hundred times can not go as well on stage as it did in the studio. Falls, stage fright, or a mis-step can throw off your whole piece and can take you out of the running for recognition. Then you have to start back at square one; proving yourself. Everyone that isn’t a dancer is probably asking themselves why do these kids put themselves through this? It’s hard to explain, but I best thought process is have you ever wanted something so bad that you would do anything to get it? That’s these kids. I don’t want to spoil anything so if you want to see what happens to the ballet journey of Miko, Rebecca, Michaela, Joan, and Aran I suggest you watch First Position. This documentary takes you backstage into a world of strength, heartbreak, and dedication of kids who are beyond their years.

Watch the documentary now on Netflix.  Click Here for the trailer.


Dance Studios – Choosing the Right One

Every dancer has a teacher that has inspired them to dance. From the time I was five years old to high school graduation at eighteen, I had gone to the same dance studio one town over. I had two teachers, who were mother and daughter that instilled my love of dance. Mary Carrow (daughter) and Joan Condlin’s (mother). Liverpool School of Dance was my second home. When I got into high school I was pretty much there every day of the week either taking class or helping as a teacher’s assistant.

Mary was the ballet, lyrical and jazz instructor. She had a grace to her that when she turned she could make it look easy and stop on a dime without any kind wobble. She had a knack for making dance patterns and phrases complicated, but they always looked beautiful on stage by intertwining dancers, developing levels and canons, and speed changes that brought in an audience. Joan had knowledge of tap that could rival anyone. She had been trained by the infamous Al Gilbert (professional tapper and choreographer). Lisa Henson was my lyrical solo instructor who believed I had a real talent and supported me where ever I was performing. We performed at dance competitions, traveled and participated in dance workshops, and developed a team orientated mentality with the other students I danced with in class.

So how do you know the studio you chose for your child is the right one? Firstly, I think a lot of parents push their kids into dance because they want a dream for them that they didn’t have as a child. At least these are a lot of the stories I hear from parents being a dance teacher. I think you as a parent need to first figure out if this is a commitment your child wants to make. Kids know what they like and have a lot more brain power then adults give them credit. Next comes the hard part – the research.

In small towns or big cities you would be surprised how many dance studios there are in thirty mile radius. I cannot stress this enough. Do your research. Check out the websites of the studios. See what kind of experience the instructors have that will be teaching your child not only currently, but as they get older. Go check out a class. In many cases studios will have open houses where instructors will be teaching classes throughout the day, you can meet and talk with the studios and faculty, and you have the ability to view the venue. These are all important aspects to consider when choosing a studio location.

Finally, every studio that you view is going to be expensive and it is a year commitment for not only the child but the parents. Unlike classes at a YMCA or a Boys and Girls Club where the sessions are ten or twelve weeks long, studio classes run from September until June. There are perks to being in a studio instead of a community facility, like consistency of the same children in class so the kids can form friendships, there is a recital at the end of the year along with various viewing days in class, and the student also begins to feel comfortable being with instructors they know and a facility that doesn’t change.

Finding a dance family that fits the needs of your family is important and that dance family can be a support system if your child decide to go to college for dance or make a decision to dance professionally. Also, know that if anything happens tragic or happy in your life that dance family will be there to help you pick up the pieces or join in the celebration. Either way it is important for you as a parent to do your research in the beginning.

Dance Moms – Where to Begin…

Where do I start about dance moms, and no I do not mean the TV show.  Anyone who is a dance instructor knows all about the types of mothers and/ or fathers that are over barring and think their kids are the next Sylvie Guillem or Mikhail Baryshnikov.  Don’t get me wrong, I think parents should be supportive and take an interest in their children’s hobbies, but when you come into my classroom and are yelling at your five year old to pay attention, it is neither productive or helpful.  There are two types of parents, “parents who want their kids to be a dancer,” I’ll call these parents “forceful parents” and “helicopter parents.”  These parents may sound like their the same, but personally I think the helicopter parent is worse.

First you have the “forceful parents.”  These parents makes their kid take dance class even though they do not want to be there.  For example, lets say you have a daughter named Lucy.  Every time she steps into ballet class she cries, or she sits in the corner and pouts until it’s time to go home.  Not only does this disrupt the class, but Lucy is not having fun because she doesn’t want to be there.  Now you may wonder why I call these parents “forceful parents.”  Anytime I have a conversation with these types of parents they always tell me how they wished they were in dance classes when they were little or as an adolescent and they want to be able to give their child that experience.  Newsflash – Your kid hates it and doesn’t want to be there.  Lucy would rather be in soccer.  Want to know how I know that?  Because I asked her.

Second you have the ‘helicopter parents.”  Helicopter parents are those parents that are trying to give their kid an edge in someway.  Whether it is becoming buddy buddy with the dance studio owner or the instructor so your kid gets a good part or taking the blame when your kid forgets something of vital importance for a competition and you expect another kid to give up theirs because their child has a bigger part in the dance piece.  Dear helicopter parents, your kids are going to become the most dependent babies and/ or continue to make stupid mistakes their entire lives because you have never let them fall flat on their face.  Without failure their is no learning process.

My parents were supportive people in any thing we did.  They had three very different children, one that was into music, one that was obsessed with baseball, and me – the type A personality that had to have control of everything all the time dance fanatic.  While we were growing up, my parents were firm believers that kids needed to learn to fight their own battles at an early age, which is why when something was unfair at an activity we were involved with they stayed out of it and let us handle it in our own way.  My parents were also the type of people to ask us if we were still interested in an activity at a young age.  We were never allowed to quit something in the middle of a season or year, we always had to finish the activity out.  Your children are smarter than you think.  Let them be involved in the decision on whether or not they want to be in dance class and don’t be so involved that they never fail at that activity, your children need to learn and grow, and the only way to do that is with failure.  As the saying goes if you have never failed than you have never succeeded.