FIRST POSITION is a documentary that follows six young ballet dancers as they manage disintegrated toenails, scabby heels, and obsessive parents who show their love by tugging on their children's heads to make their necks look longer while also reminding them they've only got about 10 good years left. The kids are on their way to the Youth America Grand Prix, a competition that could either cement their dancing careers or obliterate their dreams.
Pushing 30 years old, this writer still stretches when watching gymnastics on TV because maybe it's not too late, right? Not so with ballet. It looks impossible. The featured dancers display determination and discipline that most people I know usually reserve for... nothing. Nothing can get an average person to work this hard.
Most inspiring is Michaela, a 14-year-old Philadelphia girl who was adopted from Sierra Leone after her parents were murdered during the civil war. Her adoptive mom spends evenings dying her tutu straps brown because those things come in "nude," which really just means "white people skin color." Michaela takes it all in stride because this is the life she dreamed about and very nearly didn't have. There's also Aran, a Navy brat in Italy; his manic Israeli pal, Gaya; alpha blonde Rebecca; Joan Sebastian, a Colombian whose family's future is riding on his ballet career; Miko, a tiny 12-year-old who is home schooled in order to fit in more time for dance practice yet insists she still has a childhood; and her little brother, Jules, whose clumsy leaps and lazy interest deliver adorable comic relief.
You do not need to have any interest in ballet for this movie to be completely engrossing. It's So You Think You Can Dance for the OPB crowd, swapping out crunking for a ton of elegant leaps and spins. Or it's Spellbound, if Spellbound had been beautifully costumed. And full of bloody feet.