You may be tempted to cry a little at the beginning of Everybody Dance. Don’t. These young people don’t want your pity for what they can’t do.
Besides, you’ll need your tears for the end – when they proudly show off what they can.
A joyous celebration of art and ambition, patience and persistence, the documentary focuses on Ballet For All Kids, a studio in Agoura Hills, Ca. Its classes are open to all ages, all abilities.
All disabilities, too.
Your child is on the autism spectrum, or developmentally delayed? Uses a wheelchair? Has cerebral palsy? Or even some more complicated, still unspecified physical challenge? (“I’ve been a puzzle for the doctors my whole life,” one sweet, shy teenager explains.)
There’s a place for them at Ballet For All Kids.
Given the material, director Dan Watt could have made a simple, tug-at-the-heartstrings fundraiser. But what’s onscreen is far more accomplished — tightly edited, nicely scored and with a compelling narrative.
We meet the studio’s founder, Bonnie Schlachte, a dancer who early on realized she was “never going to be Gelsey Kirkland,” but found new joys in working with children. We meet her students, who range from grade-school age to early 20s.
And then we learn that their big recital is in four months — and the clock starts ticking. Will they be ready in time?
Honestly, there may not be a lot of suspense there; would anyone make a documentary like this in which the big show turned out to be a disaster? (By the time we get to the dress rehearsal, the drama has dissipated even a little more.)
But it’s still fascinating to spend time with these young people, and their families. And it’s inspiring to see how Schlachte meets every challenge. They’re all different, too, just as these kids are different from each other – while still being the same as us.
“We all have abilities and disabilities,” Schlachte says. “Some of us are just better at hiding them than others,”
Sometimes, of course, the dancers can’t hide them. Occasionally, their attentions wander in class. One little ballerina has a meltdown just before she’s about to go onstage. It takes all of Schlachte’s efforts – and those of dozens of volunteers – to keep things together.
But somehow, they do.
As emotionally satisfying as the documentary is, sometimes I wished it had a little more reporting in it. A few basic, but helpful facts (basic tuition for a semester starts at $300, and some scholarships are available) can be found online, but not in the movie itself.
Yet it’s hard to complain too much about a film that so celebrates children, and dance, and the joys that any child can take in dance. “It opens your eyes,” one mother says of the school’s professionally staged recital. “It opens up your heart.”
And any tears you shed watching it will be tears of joy.