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Billy Elliot: Coming of age, on his toes

Billy Elliot: Coming of age, on his toes

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Billy Elliot

Jamie Bell and Julie Walters in a scene from “Billy Elliot.”

Billy Elliot (2000)

On Amazon Prime, et al

Grade: A

Life is an act of faith.

First, we listen carefully for our passion.

Next, we follow our calling wherever it leads us.

And doors will open.

That’s a message I’ve shared with my students and my daughter, and one I follow myself.

Is chasing dreams really a viable life plan?

The life of Billy Elliot says it is.

“Billy Elliot” is a story of an 11-year-old boy from working class England in 1984 whose dad wants him to become a boxer, like his granddad. Billy tries, but usually ends up on his butt.

“You’re a disgrace to your father and to the club,” shouts his coach as he leaves.

But one day, as he’s leaving the gym, he hears piano playing in a back room. He peeks in, and sees girls in tutus, arms on a bar dancing on their toes.

He inches forward towards them. The instructor, a chain-smoking stage mom named Sandra, spots him.

“Want to join? Grab the bar.”

So begins Billy’s love affair with dancing, a choice opposed by his dad, his brother and almost everybody else in this blue collar town, paralyzed by a union strike.

Billy is teased, ridiculed and nearly disowned.

But he persists, thanks to encouragement from Sandra, his loving mentor who wants him to reach the dream that eluded her. Her greatest dream is for her students to surpass her.

“Billy Elliot” is wonderful on so many levels – as a portrait of a dancer, learning his craft; as a tale of a father learning to love his son; as story of a teacher changing the course of a child’s life; and as a portrait of a boy who lost his mom, working through his grief, knowing she’s watching over him.

“Do you miss your mom, then?” inquires a sweet soulmate who has takin’ a liking to Billy.

“Don’t really miss her as such,” he replies, sitting innocently on her bed, sharing deep thoughts. “It’s more like just feeling sad. Especially when I remember her all of a sudden, after forgetting she’s dead.”

Billy visits his mom’s grave, cleaning the gravestone while missing her.

His mom left a letter, not to be opened until he’s 18. He can’t wait. He reads it, memorizes every word.

“Always be yourself. Love you forever. Mom.”

Billy’s passion for dance is poetic. When he auditions for a spot in an academy, they ask him what it feels like when he’s dancing.

“I forget everything. I disappear,” he says, softly. “A change comes over me. It’s like flying. A force goes through my whole body. Like electricity. Yes, it’s like electricity.”

The movie includes a young transitioning boy, who befriends Billy. Billy loans him a tutu, even lets him put lipstick on him one afternoon. It’s a sweet friendship.

Julie Walters, one of my favorite actresses, is simply marvelous as the teacher who guides Billy to the edge of the nest, and then throws him out.

When Billy boards the bus to fly away, Sandra just smiles, and says: “Go and find life, and all other things.” Then she abruptly turns away as if to say, “shoo” – while tears fall.

Among my favorite scenes:

Billy (Jamie Bell) rushes out into the woods to rescue runaway grandma, whose memory is gone. When she forgets where she is or who she is, Billy always holds her hand and leads her back.

Dancers twirl down a spiral staircase, as we watch from above.

And, when dad catches Billy at night at the gym, dancing with his trans friend, Billy responds defiantly by dancing for his father – a passionate moment in which he comes of age, announcing his path on his toes.

Dancing is a breathtaking art, which extracts a toll on bodies and feet. “Billy Elliot” is not a dance film, as such, but a coming of age film about a young dancer.

Those seeking a close up view of dancers might try “First Position.” This documentary follows six young dancers from around the globe – and their helicopter parents – as they train for a competition that could earn them a dance scholarship.

Have they sacrificed childhood for dance?

“I have the right amount of childhood, and the right amount of ballet,” smiles Miko, 12.

Michaela’s tale is compelling because of her battle with pain. She rubs her feet, refusing to quit. As she walks/limps towards the stage at the final audition, she whispers: “This could ruin my tendons and my career. But my teachers know I won’t stop”

She leans into the hurt and up onto her toes.

“There was so much pain. Until I danced. Then I forgot it.”

Shall we dance?

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