Every year, sixty of New York's public school fifth grade classes participate in the American Ballroom Theatre's Dancing Classroom Program. The result: Thousands of ten- and eleven-year-olds learning to tuck in their shirts, make embarrassed eye contact with each other, and dance the tango, rumba, foxtrot, swing and merengue. Mad Hot Ballroom is the documentary that follows the 2004 program in three culturally diverse inner-city schools, from the first dance class to the Finals of the multi-school Rainbow Team Matches competition. The result: A charming, sometimes hilarious, always captivating celebration of childhood, community, music and movement. Only the most lead-footed (or stone-hearted) wallflower could resist this dance.
Mad Hot Ballroom opens in Public School 115 in Washington Heights, and here we find the film's most compelling subjects. We learn from an interview with the school's principal that 97% of the mostly Hispanic school population live below the poverty line, but the students never come across as children to be pitied. They dance (very well) on the brink of adolescence—full of opinions and dreams and passions, but still innocent in ways that are funny and sometimes wrenching. We see them in their dance classes, but we also get snatches of them at home, on the basketball courts, or just hanging out on the neighborhood streets.
We know these streets can be Mean—the kids are matter-of-fact about the crime and the dangers rampant in their environment—but the film's loving treatment of the ethnic shops and restaurants and of the kids themselves show us that the streets are also beautiful. The girls talk about what they want in a future mate: Someone with ambition. Someone who gets an education. ...1
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Mad Hot Ballroom
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