Kids that are Meant for Ballet
Today I spent a lovely morning in Carlton indulging in some of my favourite things. First, book hunting in Readings… for over 20 minutes …without kids or complaints. Then I moved on for coffee and a pastry at Brunetti (What? It’s not a fasting day!). Then it was time to join the impeccably groomed retired ladies for a bit of a flick at Cinema Nova.
I love going to the movies, especially something a bit less commercial, viewed in one of the tiny cinemas right down the end of one of Nova’s rambling corridors. So I turned left, then right, then left, then right and right again and found said cinema with only one other occupant – practically a private screening.
Now I am a fan of a good doco film. I read a glowing review about First Position some weeks ago. I was hopeful this piece would be packed with the wonderfully insightful and honest moments and engaging characters that we have come to expect from the very best modern verite style documentary films. I wasn’t disappointed.
This award winning film, by first time director Bess Kargman, follows the story of seven aspiring ballet dancers and their families as they prepare to compete in the prestigious ballet competition, the Youth America Grand Prix.
Surely this Director could not believe her luck? How could she have possibly predicted that the four girls and three boys she cast would have such gruelling and compelling journeys? Yet these scarily skilled children and teens were clearly on the verge of stardom. Despite their young ages, each had already been working at their craft for many years, displaying unswerving dedication and commitment at the expense of many other childhood activities, just to be offered a chance to train at one of the elite ballet schools and ultimately work in one of the world renowned ballet companies. These kids were meant for ballet.
It is a really wonderful film and it still makes me happy to think about the experience. I was excited before I even saw it and was immediately and totally engrossed in the stories.
I particularly learned a lot from watching the parents’ behaviour as devoted custodians of their talented offspring. It was fascinating to get a sense of the immense support it takes to guide and boost a child in a world where nothing less than perfection is permitted. I’m still not sure if it would be a blessing or a curse – probably both in equal measure.
Please try to catch First Position at the cinema or grab the DVD once released. If you are keen to show older children exactly what it can take to reach success in a chosen sport or activity, First Position is certainly family friendly, but kids under 10 might get a bit wriggly.
Ballet and Me
Me at about 10 years old. Not exactly Prima Ballerina material.
Of course this film caused me to reflect on my own stellar ballet career. From an early age I begged my mother to let me have ballet lessons. For years Mum resisted, citing something she heard on the radio once that stated for a fact that girls should not start ballet until at least nine years of age. Something about girls’ bodies needing to develop and the alarming risk of deformed feet, permanent injury, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.
Now I have no reason to doubt my mother on these points, but her theory sounds very much like some of the ‘loose truths’ I kinda sorta use with my kids when they are really into something, but I am really not. For example, ‘No kids, the Lolly Shop is closed on Saturdays’ or ‘Sorry kids, the park is being mowed at the moment’. See – just harmless little twists of logic that are a convenient quick fix for a moment and will surely have no lasting impact on my children?
Anyway, as soon as I turned nine I hotfooted it down to The Ashgrove School of Dance. For the next four years I tried valiantly to bring my mother’s vision of mangled tootsies to life in pursuit of the perfect pointe. I wore acres of tulle and eons of blue eyeshadow. I stretched and strained and imagined myself as the personification of gracefulness. I loved ballet – most of the time.
But then as high school approached and ballet lessons encroached upon every weekday afternoon, my father made a decision. He cut me off. No more ballet.
Now I’m sure he had his reasons. I’m sure the demands on my time – and his back pocket – meant that sacrifices had to be made. But all I heard at the time – and the thing that stays with me today – was one specific comment from my father. It was a thinly veiled reality check, intended certainly to lessen the hurt and numb the disappointment. ‘Leah’, he said. ‘You are simply growing too tall to ever be a prima ballerina.’ Way to let me down easy, Dad.
Funny thing was at 12 years old I was 5 foot, 2 & 3/4 inches – the exact same height I am today. But I’m sure it seemed like logical reasoning at the time.
So I guess my mother was right and ballet had indeed halted my development and stunted my growth. I guess the use of parental ‘loose truths’ is genetic. And I guess I thought ballet was meant for me, but – in the end – I was not meant for ballet.
What about you? Have you seen First Position? What did you think?