Mad Hot Ballroom

This enchanting documentary follows New York City public school children as they add ballroom dancing to their education and learn more than how to dazzle on the the dance floor. Their life lessons come courtesy of an unusual program, established by dance instructor Pierre Dulaine, in which 6000 middle-schoolers learn to trip the light fantastic in several...read more

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Reviewed by Robert Pardi
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This enchanting documentary follows New York City public school children as they add ballroom dancing to their education and learn more than how to dazzle on the the dance floor. Their life lessons come courtesy of an unusual program, established by dance instructor Pierre Dulaine, in which 6000 middle-schoolers learn to trip the light fantastic in several New York boroughs. The film focuses on the progress of three schools prepping students for a city-wide competition: competitors: PS 115, in impoverished Washington Heights), PS 150 in trendy Tribeca, and PS 112 in working class Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. Documentarian Marilyn Agrelo cannily provides thumbnail sketches of each neighborhood, allowing viewers can put the schools' ethnic and economic diversities into perspective. In mastering fox trot, merengue, mambo, waltz, tango and swing moves, the students apply themselves with the diligence of exchange students enrolled in a crash language course, and what might seem like a glorified Physical Education project reveals itself to be much more, particularly for the underprivileged kids. In addition to the rules of ballroom dancing, the youngsters also learn about good manners, dress codes and the pleasure of working with a partner in an atmosphere of mutual respect and cooperation. Though every child is transformed by the experience, it's hard not to pick favorites: Starstruck Tara, philosophical John, graceful Winston, preternaturally serious Jonathan — they're all charmers. Throughout the process of tryouts and competing in semi-finals, the collaboration between teachers and pupils comes into sharper focus. Fiercely ambitious instructor Yomairo Reynoso, for example, worries about the sadly proscribed futures that await many of her Latino students, while tearful Allison Sheniak can't bear to see any child get eliminated. But as heartbreaking as it is to see the also-rans dissolve into tears, it's also uplifting to see them reinvent themselves as cheerleaders for their classmates. By the time the finalists compete at their recital, all the participants have won viewers' hearts. Agrelo makes the case for the discipline of dance study as an instrument of self-esteem on every level, and it's truly exhilarating to see the youngsters step outside themselves and their environments; in the end it's almost impossible not to fall in love with her crowd-pleasing documentary.

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  • Released: 2005
  • Rating: PG
  • Review: This enchanting documentary follows New York City public school children as they add ballroom dancing to their education and learn more than how to dazzle on the the dance floor. Their life lessons come courtesy of an unusual program, established by dance… (more)

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