First Position

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Short takes

Not recommended under 8, parental guidance to 10, due to some disturbing themes

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This topic contains:

  • overall comments and recommendations
  • details of classification and consumer advice lines for First Position
  • a review of First Position completed by the Australian Council on Children and the Media (ACCM) on 15 April 2013.

Overall comments and recommendations

Children under 8 Not recommended due to some disturbing themes
Children 8 - 10 Parental guidance recommended due to some disturbing themes
Children aged 10 and over OK for this age group

About the movie

This section contains details about the movie, including its classification by the Australian Government Classification Board and the associated consumer advice lines. Other classification advice (OC) is provided where the Australian film classification is not available.

Name of movie: First Position
Classification: G
Consumer advice lines: None
Length: 94 minutes

ACCM review

This review of the movie contains the following information:

A synopsis of the story

Bess Kargman’s First Position is a feature-length documentary following the journey of six young dancers as they prepare for a prestigious ballet competition, the Youth America Grand Prix.  Nine- to 19-year-old dancers compete through a series of rounds, with only 300 hopefuls making it to the finals in New York. Focusing on the stories of six individuals, the film offers a glimpse into the varied cultural and training backgrounds of the competitors.

Joan Sebastian Zamora is a sixteen-year-old from Colombia, whose parents sent him to American to train with a renowned dance mentor. Twelve-year-old Miko Fogarty and her younger brother both have dreams of becoming professional dancers, and have moved across the country to both train and compete. Michaela DePrince, a fourteen-year-old born in Sierra Leone during the civil war, is still haunted by the loss of her parents and the devastation she saw as a child. However, her love for dance has helped her cope, despite struggling through endless obstacles and injuries. Seventeen-year-old Rebecca Houseknecht has everything going for her, and hopes to skip college in order to go directly into working for a professional dance company, but the scarcity of jobs has made progressing in her career difficult thus far. Friends Aran Bell and Gaya Bommer have both travelled the world to follow their passion, and are equally determined to win their respective age categories and gain scholarships to exclusive dance schools.

Throughout the film, these six dancers face continual challenges, fight through exhaustion and injury, and sacrifice much of their childhoods in order to follow their dreams.


Children and adolescents may react adversely at different ages to themes of crime, suicide, drug and alcohol dependence, death, serious illness, family breakdown, death or separation from a parent, animal distress or cruelty to animals, children as victims, natural disasters and racism. Occasionally reviews may also signal themes that some parents may simply wish to know about.

Children as performers; physical and mental endurance; social stereotypes and racism.

Use of violenceinfo

Research shows that children are at risk of learning that violence is an acceptable means of conflict resolution when violence is glamourised, performed by an attractive hero, successful, has few real life consequences, is set in a comic context and / or is mostly perpetrated by male characters with female victims, or by one race against another.

Repeated exposure to violent content can reinforce the message that violence is an acceptable means of conflict resolution. Repeated exposure also increases the risks that children will become desensitised to the use of violence in real life or develop an exaggerated view about the prevalence and likelihood of violence in their own world.

There is no visual violence, but there are stories of violence in this movie including:

  • Michaela DePrince tells about her parents being shot during the civil war in Sierra Leone, which is why she ended up in an orphanage.
  • Michaela also talks about an incident when she tried to save her teacher, but the woman’s arms and legs were all cut off before she was left to die. Michaela says it is a miracle that her teacher managed to survive.

Material that may scare or disturb children

Under fiveinfo

Children under five are most likely to be frightened by scary visual images, such as monsters, physical transformations.

In addition to the above-mentioned violent scenes and scary visual images, there are some scenes in this movie that could worry children under five, including the following:

  • Joan Sebastian, a Colombian dancer, has chosen to be separated from his parents and live overseas in order to train and dance. He says he misses his mum and questions his decision at times, but he loves dance too much to quit. His parents also repeatedly tell him to stay in the US, because there are no opportunities for him back home.
  • We see the physical toll of dancing on the young competitors, including injuries

Aged five to eightinfo

Children aged five to eight will also be frightened by scary visual images and will also be disturbed by depictions of the death of a parent, a child abandoned or separated from parents, children or animals being hurt or threatened and / or natural disasters.

Children in this age group may also be disturbed by the above-mentioned scenes

Aged eight to thirteeninfo

Children aged eight to thirteen are most likely to be frightened by realistic threats and dangers, violence or threat of violence and / or stories in which children are hurt or threatened.

Children in this age group may be particularly disturbed by Michaela’s stories of what happened to her parents and teacher.

Thirteen and overinfo

Children over the age of thirteen are most likely to be frightened by realistic physical harm or threats, molestation or sexual assault and / or threats from aliens or the occult.

Children in this age group are unlikely to be disturbed by anything in this film

Product placement

None of concern

Sexual references

None of concern

Nudity and sexual activity

None of concern

Use of substances

Aran’s ballet teacher is briefly seen smoking a cigarette while teaching his class.

Coarse language

None of concern

In a nutshell

First Position is a compelling film that offers viewers a glimpse into the challenging world of ballet. It focuses on the stories of the six young dancers, the sacrifices both they and their families have made to allow them to follow their dreams, and their dedication, tenacity and determination. The dancers triumph over injuries and fatigue, and face stiff competition from around the globe. However, they do not always achieve the goals they set out to accomplish – whether that is obtaining scholarships to prestigious dance schools, or winning first place in their age categories. The film aims to present a realistic view of the world of dance, both in regards to the incredible satisfaction experienced by the dancers, but also the moments in which the young individuals question their choice to continue. 

The film is probably of most interest to children over 8, but includes some descriptions of violence in Sierra Leone and some scenes of the physical toll on the dancers that might disturb younger children. Parental guidance is therefore recommended for 8-10 year olds.

Values in this movie that parents may wish to reinforce with their children include:

  • Striving to achieve what you set out, and trying your absolute hardest.
  • The importance of accepting and dealing with failure.

Parents may also wish to discuss:

  • Gender stereotypes, and the problems they can create. The film details the struggles many young boys face, being bullied in school when they reveal to friends that they enjoy dancing, even frequently dropping out due to the relentless teasing.
  • Issues regarding racism within the ballet world. The film criticises the fact that dance costumes and accessories are only made in a pale cream ‘flesh colour’, causing African-American dancers to need to alter their costumes themselves. The film also depicts the stereotypes that exist - ‘black girls can’t dance ballet, because they have terrible feet, they’re too muscular, etc’ - and how wrong those stereotypes are.