Saturday, September 10, 2005

Mad Hot Ballroom

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.


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DanceScape said...

We went to see Mad HOT Ballroom (for the trailer of the film, please see The movie was showing at the Cumberland Theatre in downtown Toronto, and is run by Alliance Atlantis, so there were other more "artsy" movies being shown. Well, it was worth the drive and wait!

The audience was primarily made up of people in their 50's to 70's, at least during the time we went. There were quite a number of "tourists" as well, probably from the local Hyatt and Four Seasons Hotels in the area.

What we loved about the movie was that it captured the "innocence" of children and the passion of their "teachers". It was interesting to see from a child's eye their determination to want to make the finals ... the disappointment of those who didn't and the exhiliration of those that did.

What we also loved was the diversity of cultures represented by the children ... hispanic, black, white, vietnamese, chinese, etc. ... and how they were partnered. In one scene, it showed two children who may have been of Muslim faith, who seemed to indicate that it was against their religion to dance. However, instead of trying to make a "moral" statement, the producers captured a moment where the child exclaimed that he enjoyed being the "DJ" and taking care of the music! In one scene, it even showed him trying to correct one of the other couples!

Some of the invited judges in the Grand finals included Charlotte Jorgensen as well as Broadway star, Ann Reinking. It was lovely to see them and other well-known judges in the Dance world, being captivated by the various dance teams.

What could have been done differently? Possibly showing more the "day-to-day" living side of some of the children. A number of the children talked about "drugs". Although we're not familiar with the various urban neighbourhoods of New York City, if it's like many "urban" centres in other cities, it would have been interesting to contrast the "urban decay", and how something like the experience of dance can be "life-changing" for the children. It would also have been interesting to interview some of the children who took part in the first program (think it was in 1994) ... in keeping with the film's
positive perspective, maybe a "success" story.

There was a British Show a number of years ago that traced children through the decades (can't remember the title) ... their innocence in primary school, to their teenage years, and finally onto adulthood. It would be fascinating to revisit these wonderful children to see where they may end up a decade from now.

DanceScape has a Mad HOT Ballroom contest for an American Express Cash Gift Card as well as Soundtracks to the movie! Check out

For those of you who also watched the movie, please share your thoughts as well on our Global Forums at
dance is ... PASSION