What to Read Next

Review: 'First Position' stays elegantly on point

CHRISTY LEMIRE
1 May 2012
In this film image released by Sundance Selects, Rebecca Houseknecht is shown in a scene from the film "First Position." (AP Photo/Sundance Selects)
In this film image released by Sundance Selects, Rebecca Houseknecht is shown in a scene from the film "First Position." (AP Photo/Sundance Selects)

"First Position" is a welcome antidote to tawdry reality shows like "Dance Moms" and breathless competitions like "So You Think You Can Dance."

Director Bess Kargman's documentary follows a half-dozen aspiring professional ballet dancers at the Youth America Grand Prix, an elite competition for performers ages 9-19 where prizes, scholarships and contracts with prestigious companies await.

Structurally similar to the documentaries "Spellbound" (about the National Spelling Bee) and "Waiting for 'Superman'" (about public-school students hoping for chances at a better education), "First Position" reveals the home lives of these youngsters as they prepare and lets us get to know their families, all of whom have made huge sacrifices to foster their children's dreams. They come from varied backgrounds but they're all inspiring in their focus and discipline, as well as their willingness to embrace a childhood that is far from ordinary.

There's Aran, the 11-year-old son of a career Navy man whose work has taken the family to Italy, which means Aran must travel two hours every day to Rome to train. He's got a lean, fair-haired elegance about him as well as self-possession and finesse beyond his years. His bedroom is stuffed with baseball gloves and a BB gun as well as a device to help him define his toe pointe.

Fourteen-year-old Michaela was born in war-ravaged Sierra Leone and adopted by a Jewish couple from Philadelphia after her parents were killed. She's strong and muscular but hopes to defy expectations of what a black ballet dancer should look and move like by performing a delicate piece from "Swan Lake."

Soft-spoken Joan Sebastian, 16, came to the United States from a small, mountain village near Cali, Colombia. He lives in a sparse apartment in Queens and calls home when he can, hearing reminders from his parents about the importance of his time here. But he doesn't need any extra motivation: He's clearly a very serious, driven young man who dreams of dancing with the Royal Ballet in London someday.

Twelve-year-old Miko and her 10-year-old brother, J.J., are both dancers of half-Japanese, half-British descent living in the San Francisco Bay Area, although big sister is obviously the more talented and focused of the two. Like many advanced young dancers, she's home schooled to allow more time for rehearsal and travel.

Then there's 17-year-old Rebecca, a blonde, all-American, self-proclaimed princess from suburban Maryland who tries to maintain as much of a normal teenage life as possible (she attends public high school, has a boyfriend, was a cheerleader). She's got the body, looks and talent to be a star ballerina, but she also knows that time is running out and contracts with top companies are scarce.

Kargman gives everyone equal time and attention — she depicts no one as a villain or diva, nor does she lead us toward rooting for any particular dancer. Even Rebecca comes off as gracious and polite, wishing her competitors good luck backstage and wondering why others don't do the same. The director's tasteful, intimate approach features all of the theatricality of the art form with none of the backstage drama; "The Turning Point," this is not. Her film actually may be a little too understated, a little too safe.

But Kargman is both a former ballet dancer herself as well as a journalist, so she knows not only what's important but also how to stay out of the way and let the story tell itself in her filmmaking debut. Little girls (and some boys) will love "First Position": It's an ideal film for kids to see with their families, even if they don't know their plié from their grand jete.

"First Position," a Sundance Selects release, is unrated but contains nothing more offensive than some mangled toenails. Running time: 94 minutes. Three stars out of four.

Forget Your 401K. If You Own A Home Do This

Before you pay your next mortgage payment, you need to read this: The ingenious way to pay off your mortgage.

Golfers: Hit Straight Every Time

12-Time PGA Winner Shows You How to Hit Longer, Straighter, More Accurately,

A New Solution That Stops Snoring.

Snoring causes headaches, high blood pressure and fatigue. Each leads to something more serious. Here's a simple SOLUTION to a very serious problem.

Best Kept Secret to Cover Gray Hair

If you color your hair at home, do yourself a favor - ditch the generic drugstore box and try this new gray hair solution:

Finally, a snoring fix that beats CPAP

If left untreated, it can lead to very serious consequences. I found a cure that beats CPAP

Golfers: Hit Straight Every Time

12-Time PGA Winner Shows You How to Hit Longer, Straighter, More Accurately,_

Snoring is worse for your health than you think.

Snoring causes headaches, high blood pressure and fatigue. Each leads to something more serious. Here's a simple SOLUTION to a very serious problem.

20 Celebrities You Didn't Know Had Cancer

You won't believe how these celebrities were able to fight and beat cancer.

X800 Millitary Tactical Flashlight

Get 75% Off World's Coolest and Brightest Flashlight. Check it Out Today!

20 Danger Signs That You Have Hypothyroidism

Over 25 million Americans suffer from some problem with their thyroid, and more than half don't even know it. Do you have any of these signs?

G700 Millitary Tactical Flashlight

Get 75% Off World's Coolest and Brightest Flashlight. Check it Out Today!

Sexy - Masculine - Handsome Bands $50

Free Shipping and Great Selection! All Rings Under $50

Golfers: Hit Straight Every Time

12-Time PGA Winner Shows You How to Hit Longer, Straighter, More Accurately,…

A New Solution That Stops Snoring.

Closed airways lead to snoring and sleep apnea. Snoring and sleep apnea can lead to serious health and relationship problems. I found the fix.