Do you know the steps to meringue, rumba, foxtrot, tango, or swing dancing? I don’t, but many eleven year old students in New York sure do; they get ballroom dancing instruction from the American Ballroom Theater’s Dancing Classrooms program, and they take it seriously. For ten weeks they learn the dances and prepare for competitions. The best team wins the city trophy for its school. Only one school wins the competitions, but all the students benefit: school pride is raised, each student’s sense of accomplishment is strengthened, and they learn how to dance, which will stick with them forever.
The cameras of Mad Hot Ballroom followed teams from three schools closely through the 2004 dance season, so moviegoers get to see the students from first lessons to the final competition, witnessing all the missteps and frustrations of children just beginning to mature. They also see what can be accomplished when dedicated people care enough to work with students in all economic classes.
I especially liked the interviews with the students. Michael from Public School 112 is really funny, talking about girls while playing foosball with his friends. All the girls in Public School 115 want to dance with Wilson, who already seems to possess quiet charm and ballroom style. Tara from Public School 150 is already planning to be an actress, dancer, and singer; you get to see her practice in front of her mirror. Because there are many kids involved, there are many stories to follow; I’d like to see the film again to get them all straight.
Aaron will be showing Mad Hot Ballroom as one of several documentaries in our fall film series at the Thomas Ford Memorial Library. People are already telling me they are coming. You can see a bit of the film at the Official Mad Hot Ballroom website.