‘First Position’ DVD Review: This Dance Documentary Nails It

katieholland November 20, 2012 2
‘First Position’ DVD Review: This Dance Documentary Nails It
  • Child Stars
  • Filming Techniques
  • Interviews
  • More Dancing
  • Lackluster Ending

Director: Bess Kargman
Producer: Rose Caiola
Actors/Dancers: Aran Bell, Gaya Bommer Yemini, Michaela Deprince, Jules Jarvis Fogarty, Miko Fogarty, Rebecca Houseknecht, Joan Sebastian Zamora
Editor: Bess Kargman, Kate Amend
Cinematographer: Nick Higgins
Music: Chris Hajian



Due to my history in dance and the performing arts, I’ve always been eager to see films that are focused on the only art medium that tells a story through body movement, especially since I’m no longer a participant of dance.

First Position hit the nail on the head, creating a great look into the lives of young, aspiring ballet dancers and their fiercely competitive parents during the months leading up to the Youth America Grand Prix. It’s an awe-inspiring view of the dedication and effort it takes to reach for a goal that so few get to accomplish, and in such a cut-throat business you need to maintain your demeanor just as much as your skills.

First Position introduces six talented dancers from different countries around the world and records their intense training up until the Youth America Grand Prix held in New York City. Each dancer has their own method of practicing, their own style and technique, but they all have one thing in common: they each made huge sacrifices to be where they are now.

Not only do we get to watch them as they train their bodies as hard as olympians, we also get a glimpse of the relationships formed inside their world. Each works towards the hopes of winning a scholarship or a job offer in one of the major dance companies. Some will land the job, but for others it may be time to kiss their dreams goodbye.

The Good

Child Stars

As we peer into the dancers’ lives they begin to present their true colors; you can see how much they all want to succeed, everyone from 11-year-old Aran to 17-year-old Rebecca.

My favorite dancer was Michaela, the 14-year-old who was adopted from Sierra Leone and brought to America where she has been defying the odds ever since. Ballerinas of African descent are few and far between because they are thought to be less graceful due to bad feet. Fortunately, Michaela is here to prove everyone wrong with her perfect turnout and ease. Her drive and determination are apparent when she stumbles upon a small issue and pushes herself farther than most people would be willing.

Watching these kids dance gave me chills at how mature they become when performing on stage. You can see their love for it, and even when they make mistakes they are able to shake them off and come back to deliver jaw dropping routines full of confidence.

Filming Techniques

Dancing can sometimes be hard to capture without being boring or without the routine being lost amongst various cuts and panning. Cinematographer Nick Higgins approaches this dilemma in a wonderful way: he showcases the dancers’ moves by zooming in and following them just as your eyes would if you were sitting in the audience. By utilizing slow motion we are shown the raw power behind creating such beautiful moves and also the precision it takes to master turns and jumps. Along with the clips shot specifically for this documentary, Director Bess Kargman incorporates home videos to show the history behind each dancer.


The interviews with the dancers are what make this documentary great, as their honesty, youth and desire to win is truly inspiring. This documentary gives you a real sense of the pain and devotion from the dancers and the teachers to the parents, as dancing is a sport they all love.

The sacrifices that each has made to be in the world of ballet goes unnoticed by the outside world, but everyone of them feels the strain of the choices they’ve made. Through these very intimate interviews we, as viewers, are brought into their lives. It’s also interesting to see both the parents’ idea of their children’s aspirations and the children’s actual aspirations.

The Bad

More Dancing, Please!

The film would have been more interesting if Kargman had featured more dance sequences; we are shown snippets of their rehearsals and the performances, but there’s no solid shots of full routines or extended periods of them dancing. The movie is, after all, about dancing, yet we are given more of an exposé on the dancers’ thoughts and internal struggle versus their physical actions and performances. It felt like there was more footage of them preparing to dance than them actually dancing, which is the opposite of what I want.

A Lackluster Ending

At the close of this brilliant film we’re shown the results of the Grand Prix… and that’s kind of the end. I would have loved to see a bit of the aftermath of what each dancer was left with. Since some of them received scholarships and job offers, a follow up to see where the winnings put them would have finished it just right. Leaving us to imagine where they end up is unsettling. Plus, I want to see more of what these boys and girls have got in their future endeavors.

This did not take away from the rest of the film, as I was left with a strong urge to get up and practice my pirouettes while watching Center Stage three times and a few hours of ballet videos on Youtube.

Overall Rating: 3.5 Stars out of 5

First Position is an incredible nod to the performing arts and a beautiful glance into the lives of ballet dancers. Seeing young people perform with such adult-like demeanors is just outstanding and will make you feel disdain towards your own parents for never forcing you to attend those dance classes you never wanted to go to.

‘First Position’ Trailer

    • Dance Fan

      Did you not watch the epilogue at the end of the film that provides updates on all the dancers?

      • katieholland

        I did, but I want to see video updates, not just some text at the end. I hate it when movies and documentaries do that, seems a little like a copout but that’s just my opinion.