Genres: Documentary
If the delightful spectacle of preteen kids dancing the foxtrot and the merengue isn't enough to lure you in, add the pressure of a dance competition and the triumph of troubled kids finding self-respect through discipline...  more »

Movie Details

Genres: Documentary
Sub-Genres: Documentary
Format: DVD - Widescreen
Theatrical Release Date: 05/13/2005
Screens: Widescreen
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 1
Members Wishing: 0
Languages: English
See Also:

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Member Movie Reviews

Mary W. (pasta) from ACAMPO, CA
Reviewed on 3/4/2010...
I love this movie. I've seen it several times and show it to my 5th/6th music students and they are enthralled. You can't go wrong with this one.

Movie Reviews

Are you ready to merengue?
E. Bukowsky | NY United States | 05/30/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Ten years ago, two New York City public schools introduced a new program providing professional instruction in ballroom dancing to fifth graders. Now, American Ballroom Theater's Dancing Classrooms are found in over sixty schools. During the intensive ten-week curriculum, the students learn the fox trot, merengue, rumba, tango, and swing dancing. The children put their practice to work in a dance competition with ribbons and a gigantic trophy for the grand prize winning school.

"Mad Hot Ballroom" is a wonderful documentary about this creative and inspiring program. Director Marilyn Agrelo follows a bunch of kids and their teachers as they prepare for the big competition. There are also colorful vignettes of everyday life in the children's neighborhoods, which range from Bensonhurst in Brooklyn to Washington Heights in Manhattan. In addition, Agrelo captures the students chatting among themselves in their homes, at school, or outside playing; their candid comments are poignant, hilarious, and sometimes heartbreaking.

A documentary like this works for the same reason that "Spellbound," the documentary about spelling bee competitors, worked so well. The filmmakers personalize their subjects. For instance, Yomaira, a passionate dance instructor, pushes her students hard and demands excellence from them. She hopes that the lessons her kids learn in dance class will carry over into their personal lives. Alex is a Russian-born teacher whose elegance and soft-spoken manner is very different from Yomaira's style. He uses honey rather than vinegar. Tara is an intense child who practices in front of a mirror and buys a special dress for the competition; she has her heart set on winning. A precocious little girl named Emma speaks about life with world-weary wisdom. Wilson and Karina are two gorgeous kids whose effortless and joyous dancing will make your heart sing.

The editor does a marvelous job of paring down what must have been a mountain of footage into a film that is just under two hours long. "Mad Hot Ballroom" is fast-paced and fun to watch. However, it has a serious side as well, posing such thought-provoking questions, such as "How can we energize bored and disaffected children?" and "Is there a way to give kids with low self-esteem a chance to believe that they are special?" The ballroom dancing program featured in this film is one way to teach young people grace, good manners, goal setting, competitiveness, and teamwork.

When all is said and done, go see "Mad Hot Ballroom" because it will make you laugh, cry, tap your feet, and feel good about life. If that isn't a good reason to see a movie, I don't know what is."
(4+) Dancing Lessons
Tucker Andersen | Wall Street | 06/22/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)

"This documentary provides a fascinating "slice of life" glimpse into a not widely known program to provide instruction in ballroom dancing to fifth graders in the NYC public school system. Since the program's introduction on an experimental basis several years ago it has been gradually expanded into several schools throughout the city and encompasses students with a broad range of nationalities and socioeconomic backgrounds. As you might guess and the documentary makes clear, it is by definition a "labor of love" for everyone involved: the instructors who volunteer their time, the school faculty and administration, and the kids and their parents. This is one of several programs which have proved immensely successful, others involve musical instructional, other forms of dance, theater and finally sports, including one overseen by the NY Road Runners Club with which I am very familiar involving organized running activities and races. Their scope is limited only by the time constraints faced by their organizers and volunteers and their usually meager financial resources. The kids not only enjoy themselves and develop a sense of self-worth and much better self-image, but learn many of the "lessons-of-life" imparted by such activities. These include the value of training, discipline and hard work, the necessity for teamwork and of course, "the joy of victory and the agony of defeat". This film poignantly demonstrates how tough a lesson it is for many of them to accept the truth of Grantland Rice's immortal summary, "when the One Great Scorer comes to write against your name, he marks - not that you won or lost - but how you played the game".

The film follows in detail the progress of students from three different schools, and uses the camera as the moviegoers' window into how the program affects everyone involved. It is almost entirely composed of film clips of the kids in class and interacting with their friends in other social situations and with their teachers; there are also a few brief supplemental commentaries from interviews with the kids, their parents and primarily the teachers. We then follow them through the stages of the competition including the finals held at the World Financial Center in downtown Manhattan. During the competition we also briefly meet several of the other teams, including the previous year's champions. One of the interesting juxtapositions is the team from Washington Heights (one of the poorest neighborhoods in NYC and a section where many of the kids come from one- parent families and who have to take the subway to the competition and buy their outfits at the local bargain store) competing on a par with the kids from a much more upscale neighborhoods and whose team gets private transportation to the finals.

This is a film which will appeal to a wide range of individuals, especially those who are captivated by kids and dancing. It is a human interest documentary that captures some truly inspirational stories. It was fascinating to meet the girls who became so excited they decided they want to pursue dancing as their careers, and heartwarming to hear one of the immigrant mothers discuss her aspirations for her daughter as follows (paraphrase) " My hope is that she will become a doctor, but if she decides she wants to become a dancer when she grows up, then I will totally support her in realizing her dreams".

The obvious comparison to this movie is another sleeper hit documentary involving competition among schoolkids, SPELLBOUND. This film is much more fun, but at least for me was not as totally engrossing. In some ways this is a combination of SPELLBOUND and the underappreciated 2004 version of SHALL WE DANCE, starring Richard Gere, Jennifer Lopez, Susan Sarandon, Anita Gillette and Stanley Tucci. Of course, MAD HOT BALLROOM is not a fictional story but instead involves the real life impact of dancing on kids at a vulnerable and formative age; however, SHALL WE DANCE also uses dance as a metaphor for life and examines its power to change and inspire individuals while also simply showcasing the beautiful experience that dance can become for both the participants and the audience.

The tension in SPELLBOUND built more slowly and was more sustained and the in depth interviews with several of those students and additional background information about the competition involved me much more in that story and made it more interesting to me. Thus, while this movie did not quite rise to the level of five stars for me, it was certainly a close call; dance fans who love to swing, meringue, and tango will undoubtedly be even more captivated than I was. In summary, if you are fortunate enough that this movie is shown in a theater near you, I strongly recommend it if you are looking for interesting story that you can just sit back and enjoy which has the added advantage of being even more appealing because it is true.

Tucker Andersen
Can you mambo like a fifth grader?
bensmomma | Ann Arbor, Michigan | 07/20/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)

"This documentary about New York's citywide ballroom dancing competition among public school 5th-graders has frequently been compared to the recent documentary "Spellbound" (about a spelling competition). And, in fact, "Mad Hot Ballroom" has a great deal of Spellbound's charm. There is something really engaging about seeing a 10 or 11-year-old come into his/her own. An adult may stand a bit outside himself (a bit of concern about "am I silly" or "what are you thinking about me while I dance"), but a kid is just DANCING - an entirely earnest and genuine experience unmediated by an adults self-consciousness.

The filmmakers, likes Spellbound's, follow a "one from Column A, one from Column B" formula for choosing dance teams to follow. At the first round, there is an upscale school in Tribeca, a melting-pot group of Brooklynites, and an energetic and wholly Dominican team from upper Manhattan's Washington Heights. The kids from all schools are engaging and winsome, although the filmmakers indulge in a little stereotyping via editing (a wealthy Tribeca girl is very confident before the competition (in a sweet way) but the Tribeca team cries and complains afterwards, whereas the down-to-earth Brooklynites look endearingly dorky and take their loss with a them's-the-break attitude).

The film's real energy, however, comes directly from the Dominican team, whose authentically wonderful and instinctive dancing allows us to combine the drama of kids competing with the reward of watching some mad hot dancing.

It's not a kid's movie, however; it's pretty long. Actual fifth-grade boys will recoil at the idea of watching a movie that involves dancing with real girls. Younger girls (my six-year-old) will find it hard to sit still that long - the dancing will appeal to them, but the interviews less so. Adults will love it, though: watching the winning team will make you wanna mambo!

Conclusion: 5 for adults, 4 for girls, boys - your mileage will vary.