Resources: Only When I Dance

2010 Beadie Finzi

Only When I Dance is the story of two teenagers trying to realise an extraordinary dream. One girl and one boy, both black and poor, are planning to dance their way out of one of the most violent favelas in Rio de Janerio.

Granted scholarships to train at the Centro de Dance Rio, one of the most rigorous and prestigious ballet schools in Brazil, Isabela and Irlan’s natural talent for ballet is about to transform their lives. Having passed the Brazilian selection panel in October 2007, Only When I Dancefollows Isabela and Irlan as they prepare to compete at the prestigious international ballet competitions in Lausanne and New York, where they hope to be spotted by the ballet company talent scouts.

But is pure talent enough to overcome their circumstances and gain them a place at one of the best international dance companies, thus granting them access to the elite world of classical ballet?

OFFICIAL SELECTION Tribeca Film Festival 2010

Isabela’s family is desperately struggling to raise the money to be able to pay for the competition expenses and the flights to the US. They are falling into greater debt and the strain is showing. Irlan is lucky enough to have a mentor who will pay for his travel costs, but ironically his rigorous training and work schedule means that he can only attend school for a few hours a day and so may not be able to pass his exams and get the grades he will need to be able to join a foreign dance company.

This documentary follows them at a monumental turning point in their young lives. For Irlan at age 17 turning 18, he needs a break now or else the grinding poverty, drugs and violence or the favela will claim him back. The opportunities to dance ballet professionally are few and far between in Brazil and his best hope is to be spotted by a major international ballet company who could take him on and train him to the next level. Isabela’s situation is more urgent still: as a female ballet dancer, the competition is far fiercer, and the very colour of her skin means she will never be able to dance ballet in Brazil, where black ballerinas are unheard of. Her only hope is to win a place at a school in America or Europe where she will have a chance of a career, or to join the ranks of the favela’s unemployed and/or pregnant young girls.

Only When I Dance is Mad Hot Ballroom meets Billy Elliot, set in the favelas of Rio. A classic narrative of coming of age; it is about chasing a dream to dance the most perfect dance against all the odds of race and of circumstance. And of course the price you must pay for talent, for ambition and success.

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Poster for Only When I Dance