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Rated: G
Genre: Dance/Music Performance Kids/Family Documentary
Directed By: Marilyn Agrelo
Running Time: 1:45
Review by: Felix Vasquez Jr.
Review Date: 1/13/07
Special Features:



I’m not a fan of sappy, I’m not a fan of sentimental, maudlin, syrupy, cheesy, or awe inspiring. Because most of the time, life just isn’t like that. But every once in a while, we need movies like this. Even a misanthropic motherfucker like me. We need validation that life isn’t all fucked, once a while. “Mad Hot Ballroom” is a sweet, and utterly entertaining portrait of children learning about confidence, achievement, skill, and also understanding the game of the sexes at such a young age. Most of us never had this advantage, and it’s sweet to see children learning that they can master something if they commit to it, and spend time learning it.

The dance program at these impoverished public schools is much more important than they emphasize for the audience, because children at such a young age need to know that they can do almost anything if there’s enough hard work into it, and you won’t find anything like this in film. That’s a plus. Forget Antonio Banderas teaching a bunch of twenty something’s in a shitty dance movie, this is what dancing is. And this is what opportunity in the face of poverty is. And then again, sometimes, kids are just not interested in learning anything new and original.  

Much like the equally wonderful “Spellbound,” the audience explores the lives of different intelligent children who obviously view the dancing program as much more than a simple required class, and some dedicate themselves to this art. Director Agrelo just doesn’t present the audience with a documentary about children who dance, instead she presents a picture of children with almost no true interest in anything beyond their hobbies and getting into trouble, and suddenly we watch as their focus in dancing builds, thus they build as people. And it also helps that the film is genuinely entertaining and engrossing in its chronicle of these children learning the art, and building a passion for it.

And then in an awfully simplistic but utterly effective manner, we watch these children learning to swing dance, and tango, and merengue, and the teachers actually committing to this class and preparing them for the upcoming dance competition. As tensions rise, we also get a glimpse at the true feelings of each individual student who view girls as annoyances, and vice versa, but also get an interesting insight into the opposite sex, and drown any self-consciousness away in the performances. Agrelo also manages to delve into the topic of the importance of extra-curricular programs, and the benefit of school funding without ever delving into politics, preaching to the audience, and turning the film into a heavy infomercial. Instead it’s about the children, and that’s why “Mad Hot Ballroom” excels.

I just wished we’d have learned what’s really on the children’s minds instead of watching them speak what they thought adults would have loved to hear. I’m not denying that fifth graders could be intelligent, or frank, or basically clever. But to say that the sequences of conversations between many of the interviewees were spur of the moment would be lying. It’s pretty obvious about half of the conversations between the children in their own settings were pre-fabricated, or manipulated, because children don’t always talk like this. And it’s a shame we had to have a hint of fiction in this great film.

I wish I had programs like this when I was a kid in the Bronx. Anyone in New York below the poverty line will be compelled to appeal to schools for more programs after watching “Mad Hot Ballroom,” a pleasing, insightful, light, and constantly entertaining glimpse at New York children learning the art of dance, and will likely inspire your own to get up and move.

  • Premiered at the Slamdance movie festival, the popular underground alternative festival to Sundance, and was purchased by Paramount and Nickelodeon. Most films that premiere at Slamdance often have a slim chance of being sold for distribution.



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