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Mad Hot Ballroom (2005)Mad Hot Ballroom (2005)

           In 1994 ball room dance classes were introduced for fifth graders at two New York City schools. The pilot program was so successful that today 6,000 children in 60 NYC schools are required to take a ten-week class in ball room dancing, with teachers provided by the American Ballroom Theater. The documentary Mad Hot Ballroom gives you a front row seat and behind the scenes preview of what has now become an annual citywide competition. This is a wonderful film that would make for great family viewing and later discussion.

           The film follows Public Schools 112 (Bensonhurst, an Italian neighborhood turned heavily Asian), 115 (a Dominican Republic neighborhood with a poverty rate of 97%), and 150 (Tribeca) as they practice for the competition. The kids learn merengue, foxtrot, swing, tango, and rumba with the dedicated instruction of their teachers who are likely some of the few positive adults in their lives. One teacher interviewed even bursts into tears thinking of her kids: "I see them turning into little ladies and gentlemen." Of course, many of these kids have so much going against them, and it is painful to listen to them talk so nonchalantly about poverty, domestic violence, absentee fathers, gangs, and drugs. In this respect the film reminded me of Born Into Brothels and how the art of photography captured the imaginations of small children and even transformed their lives. Others compare the film to Spellbound. The real success of this film is apparent when you consider that there is no narrator; the children speak for themselves, as only awkward fifth graders can, and they have a deeply human story to tell about growing up.

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