First Position: A Delicious Dance Documentary

A Review of First Position, a documentary by Bess Kargman

By REBECCA, May 21, 2012

First Position: a dance documentary   First Position: a ballet documentary

The Red ShoesWe all love dance movies, right? Center Stage, Dirty Dancing, Step Up, The Red Shoes—the interpersonal competition, the amazing costumes, the tawdry dance-sex, and the use of dance to express the characters’ innermost dreams! Well, I just saw First Position, the ballet documentary that I’ve been looking forward to seeing, and it did not disappoint! But . . . not for any of the reasons that I love over-the-top dance movies.

First Position follows six ballet dancers between the ages of 10 and 17 as they compete in the Youth America Grand Prix, the biggest award- and scholarship-granting competition for young dancers. The documentary follows a dramatic form similar to elimination competitions and the delightful documentary Spellbound, which followed eight kids during the 1999 National Spelling Bee: we meet the dancers, learn their back stories, and follow them through the semi-finals around the world, and the finals in New York City.

First Position: a ballet documentary


The film was totally charming! There are the sweet 11 year-old Aran, the son of a naval officer living in Italy, who trains all day and feeds goats on a mountainside, Joan Sebastian, the 16 year-old Colombian dancer living in Queens who hasn’t seen his family in over a year, Miko and Jules, a brother and sister with a hilarious coach and a very involved mother, and the 14 year-old Michaela, adopted from Sierre Leone as a child, who dances through intense pain, and 17 year-old Rebecca, a blonde high schooler whose car and room are emblazoned with “princess” in glittery pink letters. Then there’s the amazing Gaya, Aran’s Israeli friend who drops in about halfway through the film and kind of steals the show.

Unlike most dance movies, which highlight the drama among dancers,First Position focuses entirely on the personal journeys of the dancers and their individual relationships with dance. I know that I, like many other YA enthusiasts, appreciate when young adult characters are portrayed as the inspiring, amazing, flawed people that they so often are. It was really inspiring, for that reason, to see these teens (and younger) showing such totally wicked commitment and dedication to their art! They were so poised and focused, so mature and just . . . joyous about dancing.

First Position: a ballet documentary


The dancers come from all different backgrounds, so we get to experience many different approaches to ballet, from Miko, who is home-schooled to allow more time for dancing, to Rebecca, who was a high school cheerleader. (Also, some of the dancers’ back stories are amazingly poignant, but I won’t spoil them.) Along the way there are snippets of hilarious dance instructors, clueless/very invested parents, and, best of all, a bit of commentary about the roles of race and gender in the ballet world.

What sticks out the most, though, is the inspiring dedication that these young adults are putting into their dance! My sister and I basically stumbled into the movie stuffed full of an indulgent Amada tapas dinner and a few cocktails and we left weeping with admiration and dancing in the subway.


Bunheads Sophie Flack

Bunheads by Sophie Flack (2011). This dance novel by a former bunhead follows a year in the life of one dancer in a New York ballet company who has to choose between dancing and having a different kind of life.  You can read the full review here.

Say Goodnight Gracie Juie Reece Deaver

Say Goodnight, Gracie by Julie Reece Deaver (1988). Shy Morgan and outgoing Jimmy have been best friends since they were little kids. Now, in high school, they support each others’ dreams—Morgan’s of acting, and Jimmy’s of dancing. Say Goodnight, Gracie follows their friendship through auditions and skipping school—but can Morgan survive without Jimmy?

Every Little Step A Chorus Line

Every Little Step, a documentary by Adam Del Deo and James D. Stern (2008). This amazing documentary follows the casting of the Broadway revival of A Chorus Line. Again, I saw it with my sister and if I made an infographic representing the way we spent the movie it would look like this:

weeping: 50%
laughing: 20%
staring in slack-jawed awe: 25%
sobbing/clutching each other to stifle our sobs: 5%

So, have you seen First Position? What did you think? What’s your favorite dance movie/book?!



  1. I just watched this last week and it was so good. Thanks for giving me the heads up so I wouldn’t miss it. I want Aran and Gaya to start a modern dance troupe together. I thought it was hilarious how the foam letters spelling “Princess” in Rebecca’s car had transformed themselves into “Princes”. I hope Michaela takes care of herself. I want a stretching coach of my own… so many things to take away from it.

    • Glad you liked it! I know—aren’t Aran and Gaya the absolute cutest! Dude, I totally saw that “princes” snafu and died laughing; why did the one named Rebecca had to be the lamest, sigh. “At school they call be Barbie—I think it’s because I’m so bendy!” No, Rebecca, I really don’t think that’s why.

  2. loveyalitem

     /  May 21, 2012

    AHHHHHH! LET ME WATCH THIS NOW!!!! (it’s not showing anywhere near me. oh sadface)

  3. Margalit

     /  May 21, 2012

    I can’t wait to see this!!!! A well-timed opening, since this Thursday is the return of the amazing “So You Think You Can Dance”!

  4. Liana

     /  May 21, 2012

    I wanna see! I hope it’s on netflix instant view one day. This is the real version of the Prix de Fonteyne in Dance Academy. Hopefully you have seen Dance Academy. If not prepare for your life to be changed forever. All eps are on netflix instant view.

    • Liana, yes—I totally LOVE Dance Academy! That moment in the first episode when Tara holds the baby kangaroo melted my heart.

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