In 5…6…7…8 first time filmmaker Andy Milkis invites his audience behind the scenes of the renown Nova Jazz dance team which is based at the Pulse Performing Arts Center in Bedford Hills, NY. The film centers on the lives of five young women, each with different personalities and strengths, but all of whom share the same passion and love of dance. Behind these girls is Jennifer Dell the Director, choreographer and head instructor at Pulse. The film follows Jennifer and her students through one year of the dance season and shows firsthand what it takes to be a part of an elite dance team.
From the opening shots in the film it is clear that Milkis’ film is much bigger and much deeper than dance. We see parents camped outside of the dance studio eager to sign their children up for as many classes as possible, listing the classes that they wish their kids to take, glowing at the thought of their children’s busy schedule. As the bedlam ensues during sign up day, one begins to realize that the students are nowhere in sight. This day is for the parents, a day to pack their kids schedule with the classes that they wish to see their kids take; once the sign up process is over, you can see the parents beaming at the thought of watching their children onstage in the coming months. It is these kinds of moments that Milkis captures and presents so subtlety that makes this film work. We see the girls deal with varying emotions including stress, anxiety, jealousy, and disillusion. Although we never visually see the numerous other commitments, that the girls have in addition to the dance school there are those almost whispered line that Milkis’ passes over that makes us aware of the true amount of stress that these young women are under. A personal favorite scene in the film is when Jennifer questions her student’s commitment to the Nova; she remarks that they did not learn a required routine by the scheduled date. During this rant she mentions that the girls should have learned the routing in spite of the fact that they had to study for and take the SAT’s.
When we first meet the characters it is clear that the filmmaker has had a preexisting relationship with them. They are surprisingly comfortable in front of the camera and are not afraid to honestly express themselves and also show themselves at their most vulnerable. Unconventional for a documentary, I found myself always eager to see what the characters were going to say next, rather than what they were going to do next. The film’s five main girls provided the majority of the films entertainment through their one on one interviews rather than the footage of them in the dance class. It seems that in these five women Milkis’ has unearthed every type of personality that is present in teenage girls. We have Michelle the popular and headstrong veteran and Captain of the team whose entire life is dance. Olivia who is Michelle’s vice captain; she struggles in her loyalties between her fellow dancers and her instructor. Zoe, the intelligent and honest newcomer who tries to see beyond the social issues and just focus on dance, Diana, who is the captain of the second tier of the Nova, who has overcome struggles through her determination and heart, and Emilie, the emotional and Senior who is loved and admired by her fellow dancers, but seems to lacks the confidence that will propel her to being a top notch dancer. The personalities drive the film and we see the emotional ride that these girls go through as they try to balance their commitments to Nova, as well as college applications, overbearing parents, a headstrong instructor and inner conflicts within the group.
Aesthetically, Milkis has chosen to present a rather simple film, probably due to the restraints that many independent documentary filmmakers encounter. But despite the films simple presentation, Milkis clearly gets his message across and provides audiences with a humorous, emotional and eye opening view of a group of determined and maturing young women who are going through and phase of change in their lives.
A small, enjoyable film with a big heart, 5…6…7…8 is a film that presents an honest and open story about the challenges of trying to succeed in spite of the inevitable obstacles that life throws at you. By the films conclusion you will surely want to quote Choreographer Jennifer Dell when she says: “Let it Go and Just Dance!”