7 ballet movies to keep you on your toes

We present seven films that help inspire people to become ballet dancers – or, at least, reveal the realities of what it takes to be the best in the industry

Charlotte Ames-EttridgeGinny Wong |

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Billy Elliot is not only an award winning film, but it has been adapted into a musical for the stage.

If you want to make your living as a dancer you would have been practising for years by now, taking on the physical and emotional demands of the constant search for perfection, living and dying on the whim of your fans. Even so, here are seven of the top ballet movies to inspire you to even greater heights.

Billy Elliot (2000)

The world of coal mining is the epitome of masculinity, dangerous, dirty and back breaking work. Set in 1984 Britain during the endless strike against the closure of British coal mines, this touching drama centres on 11-year-old Billy (Jamie Bell) whose widowed father enrols him in a boxing class. Much to his father’s chagrin, Billy starts skipping boxing class to attend the girls-only ballet class where he discovers an unexpected passion for dance.

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The Turning Point (1977)

Shirley Maclane stars in this ballet drama as DeeDee Rogers, a dancer who had to give up her dreams of becoming a prima ballerina to raise her child. Years later, her daughter, Emilia (Leslie Brown), harbours the same ambition to become a dancer, and goes to New York to join a ballet company. However, her daughter’s pursuit of dance stirs up old memories for DeeDee, and she has to come to terms with what she gave up.

White Nights (1985)

What happens when you mix politics and ballet? You get a near-unforgettable (for many reasons) story about the unbreakable friendship between a Soviet ballet dancer, who has defected from the then-Soviet Union (now-Russia), and an African-American tap dancer, who has defected to the Soviet Union. This drama film starred Mikhail Baryshnikov and Gregory Hines and followed the story of how Nikolai “Kolya” Rodchenko (Baryshnikov) and Raymond Greenwood (Hines) meet, become friends, and face adversity as they eventually decide to escape the Communist state. While the film met with mixed reviews from critics, it was a pretty decent success at the box office, and was praised for the fancy footwork the actors showed off. Distinctly average thriller bits aside, the film does actually show how much people all over the world have in common in their shared love of dancing, which is something at least.

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Mao’s Last Dancer (2009)

It can take years of arduous training to become a principal dancer at a ballet company and this was no exception for Li Cunxin who was hand-picked from a rural Chinese village when he was 11 years old by the Communist Party to study ballet at Madam Mao’s Dance Academy in Beijing. Set in the era of Mao’s Cultural Revolution, the film follows the incredible true story of Li, played by Birmingham Royal Ballet Principal Dancer Chi Chao, who went on to dance in front of 500 million people in China with the Houston Ballet.

Centre Stage (2000)

Centre Stage revolves around a group of teenagers from different backgrounds who enrol at the prestigious American Ballet Academy in New York. The story spotlights three young dancers Jody (Amanda Schull), Eva (Zoe Saldana), and Maureen (Susan May Pratt), and it doesn’t sugar-coat the personal challenges that a lot of real-life dancers have to overcome. As talented as they may be, they find that it takes much more than just talent to make it as a professional dancer.

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Ballet Shoes (2007)

Adapted from the beloved children’s book by Noel Streatfield, B allet Shoes follows the adventures of the three Fossil sisters, Pauline (Emma Watson), Petrova (Yasmin Paige), and Posy (Lucy Boynton), orphans adopted by their Great Uncle Matthew (Richard Griffiths) – affectionately known as Gum – and sent to live with his niece, Sylvia (Emilia Fox), in 1930s London. When Gum does not return from a long expedition, the household runs out of money, and the girls decide to help make ends meet by becoming stage performers. But as they grow older, they discover where their real talents lie.

First Position (2011)

Get a real-life look at what it truly takes to become a prima ballerina in this American documentary film, which follows six young dancers as they prepare for the Youth America Grand Prix in New York City. The Grand Prix is an annual competition for dancers between the ages of nine and 19 to earn a place at an elite ballet company or school. It’s not all pink tutus and satin shoes for those who want to dance across a stage, as this film reveals – it’s about pushing yourself mentally and physically to the very edge and beyond. The scenes where the young dancers cry, bruise, and injure themselves are tough to watch, but you at least get a sense of how dedicated they are to their craft.

Edited by M. J. Premaratne