Must-See Ballet Documentaries

This year’s documentary on Youth America Grand Prix, First Position, has been hogging all the limelight lately (understandably—it’s awesome! Read our take here.) But if you loved it as much as we did, you’re in luck because, over the last couple years, some equally captivating dance documentaries have been released. Here are two of my favorites:

Dancing Across Borders is a film about the development of a Cambodian boy named Sokvannara (Sy) Sar into a strong and powerful ballet dancer. And I mean powerful. You should see his tour en l’airs! In January 2000, Sy was performing a traditional Cambodian dance in his native country when American dance patron Anne Bass spotted him. She was captivated by his performance and asked Sy to audition for the School of American Ballet. After many conversations and lots of decision-making, 16-year-old Sy finds himself under the instruction of Olga Kostritzky (the embodiment of tough love).

As you watch him leave behind everything (including parents who don’t fully understand why he’s going) to dance in a foreign country, despite the fact that he has little knowledge of English and had never even seen ballet before, you can’t help but be truly inspired by his drive and work ethic. Check out the trailer here:


Only When I Dance is another one of my favorite inspirational international dance documentaries. It follows the lives of two aspiring teenage ballet dancers. Sound familiar? The major difference between this film and First Position is that the dancers in Only When I Dance are both living in poverty in the Favelas, or the slums, of Brazil. Despite prejudice, financial difficulty and doubt, these two are determined to beat the odds and dance in international ballet companies.

It won’t take more than a few seconds for you to fall in love with Irlan, a breathtaking dancer with so much heart and a smile that’ll make you melt. Although you’ll be rooting for him the moment he appears on the screen, his father is initially skeptical. Ballet is still seen by many in Brazil as an art form exclusive to wealthy, white elite, and is certainly not seen as a suitable career for boys. I felt like a proud parent as I watched him progress enough to attend the Prix de Lausanne in Switzerland, and couldn’t help but giggle at his excitement at seeing snowflakes for the first time.

Isabella is a beautiful, black ballerina with incredible passion and a twinkle in her eye. Unfortunately, the color of her skin and her weight (by professional ballet standards) work against her. Plus, her father works two jobs to barely make ends meet. She’s taken under the wings of former ballerina Mariza Estrella, founder of the Centro de Dança, who is determined to help her succeed. (She’s fierce!) Watch the trailer here:


I promise you won’t be disappointed. Sy, Irlan and Isabella certainly know how to inspire.

 

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