Thursday, June 30, 2005

Mad Hot Ballroom

A quick movie recommendation: Mad Hot Ballroom, a documentary about fifth-graders preparing for and competing in the New York City public schools' ballroom-dancing competition. The film follows students from three schools, two in Manhattan--Tribeca and Washington Heights--and one in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. The students' dedication is inspiring; the openness with which they talk about what they hope to do in their lives is beautiful and sometimes heartbreaking; and their discussions of the opposite sex are almost always hilarious. The dance sequences are sometimes clunky, often remarkably graceful. (How do you describe ten-year-olds doing the tango?!) And even with several dozen students and teachers to keep track of, the filmmakers manage (well, sort of manage) to present each as an individual personality. Some of my favorite moments (aside from the dancing): dance-teacher Alex Tchassov explaining the secret of making eye contact while dancing; classroom-teacher Allison Sheniak beginning to cry when she speaks of how her students have become "little ladies and gentlemen" (they're sitting behind her and can hear that something is going in); the gossip sessions among the Washington Heights girls; student Michael Vaccaro's analysis of love and marriage. You have to stay through the credits to see that last one. A bonus, for me: seeing a school auditorium and gym just like those in P.S. 131, Brooklyn, my elementary school.

I was lucky enough to see this movie in a real theatre (not a crummy multiplex)--Boardman's Art Theatre in Champaign, Illinois. If you too are in east-central Illinois, it's worth the drive.

You can see the website for the film by clicking here.

comments: 2

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

Jason said...

This is a great documentary. We've joined Netflix and found their documentary selection be quite diverse. Of note: Word Wars and Wordplay, documentaries on Scrabble and crossword puzzles, and those who enjoy them -- competitively.