I’ve seen three pretty good dance documentaries recently – two are about ballroom dancers, one was on ballet. For dancers, you get a glimpse into elite dance life and a fair amount of inspiration from the dance scenes themselves. For non-dancers, some parts may be more or less compelling, but these films still provide great insight into an unfamiliar, beautiful world of dance, revealing how much hard work gets put into this art form. Either way, they’re worth a watch!
Dance for Me
This new coming-of-age documentary aired on PBS recently as part of their POV series and is available to stream online here until August 20th, 2014. (If you are not in the US you can purchase it on iTunes.) The star is 15-year-old Egor, a Russian teen who has moved to the foreign country of Denmark for a partnership and elite Latin dance training. His mother is thousands of miles away in China and they rarely get to see each other, but Skype often. Fourteen-year-old Mie is his partner and new “sister”; Egor now lives with her and her family. The film follows them through the newish stages of their partnership, practicing, and attending a few big dancesport competitions. But the focus does really seem to be Egor’s adjustment to a new country with different norms and culture while being away from family. It’s also a character study into a quiet perfectionist with an intense drive and passion for what he does. He isn’t comfortable sharing his feelings with others, which contributes to some frustrations. I’m not sure how interesting this documentary would be for non-dancers, but it was pretty enjoyable to me.
Also by Danish directors, this documentary focuses on the famous Slavik Kryklyvyy’s attempt at a comeback with partner and girlfriend Anna Melnikova in the professional Latin division. He’s said by some to be the best male Latin dancer today. If you have kept up at all with these two, you know how the story ends already (more or less), but the journey is still compelling. Slavik is an unrelenting perfectionist. He’s tempestuous and demanding of Anna (an amateur world champion in her own right) in his pursuit of a professional Latin world championship – a title owned by his former amateur partner, Joanna Leunis. This film is full of interpersonal drama, but is also an intimate portrait of dancers, athletes, and artists in pursuit of being the best. Sometimes they talk a lot, other times everything is communicated through facial expressions and body language in silence. The studio rehearsal scene for their “Always On My Mind” rumba showcase is fantastic – moving, raw, intimate. I think it’s even better than the actual performance. You can watch the movie here. It used to be on iTunes but has apparently disappeared.
And now for something different! Ballet! First Position follows six young dancers (aged 10-18-ish) on their journey to the Youth American Grand Prix, a major international event that leads to apprenticeships, scholarships, and coveted jobs for young ballet dancers. This is where all the major ballet companies can see them and where talent can be discovered. We meet dancers from all sorts of backgrounds, but it’s clear that they have several things in common – dedication, passion, hard work, and unrelenting willingness to sacrifice. Their families must often do the same to support their children. Joan lives in the US, far away from his family in Colombia. Aran’s family commutes hours to his studio. Miko’s family decided to homeschool her so she would have more time from dance. Michaela was adopted from war-torn Sierra Leone, is one of few Black ballet dancers, and has to deal with an injury as the competition looms near. Each of the featured dancers has truly amazing skills, often surpassing those of the dancers you would typically see on So You Think You Can Dance. What’s nice is you see that while these dancers are amazing, there are some struggles – occasionally they do mess up, which can be very noticeable in the super-precise, technical dance form of ballet. Again, common in these three documentaries, is the strive for perfection. It is also striking how many of these kids know what they want to do for the rest of their lives at such an early age, while many of the rest of us have no clue. Naturally, you can expect lots of really beautiful dancing in this film! What’s nice is how they show other competitors, dancers, and parents as well, carving out a more complete depiction of this competitive ballet world.