Mad Hot Ballroom

This heartwarming documentary was shot in 1999 and follows 5th graders from various public schools in New York through the process of learning how to ballroom dance (swing, rumba, tango, meringue, etc.) up to the final citywide competition. A program of offering ballroom dance lessons as part of the curriculum to kids in public schools within low-income areas was introduced in New York and the program has been very successful and reaped many benefits. Primarily, this free program for low-income kids has brought the kids off the streets and allows them to compete and learn what it takes to be successful in life. Today over 6,000 students in New York are taking ballroom dancing in public schools.

Marilyn Agrelo (her directorial debut), uses interviews with principals, teachers and the kids from three different public schools and live footage in order to tell the story. Agrelo not only asks the kids about the dancing, but also what they feel about life, marriage, the opposite sex, drugs, and education. The story is told from the kids' perspective and this leads to a sometimes funny but always touching movie. During many parts of the film it is hard to believe that these kids are so young; some of them are quite mature for their age. You will be drawn towards and inspired by many of them. Throughout the weeks leading up to the competition you begin to see a change for the better within the kids; they learn about responsibility, pride, and the thrill of competition. In the beginning the kids are awkward and shy about dancing with the opposite sex and then at the end they are full of confidence; they become little "ladies and gentlemen". The teachers are shown instructing the kids on dancing and also on how to be part of a team. The kids are taught about being responsible for their teammates. The teachers have to choose from within their classes; who will go on to the competition; this is very tough for many of them. Another teacher says she hopes that by being part of this program that it will help to inspire these kids to be successful in life, go on to college and to stay off the streets and out of gangs. One of the things that the film and the director is very successful at showing is the cultural and ethnic diversity within New York City and its public school system. By the end of the film you are definitely rooting for these kids to win at the citywide competition. An inspiring film for anyone…whether right or left footed.

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