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Overall Rating
4.16

Awesome47.37%
Worth A Look: 31.58%
Average: 15.79%
Pretty Bad: 0%
Total Crap: 5.26%

4 reviews, 14 user ratings


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Mad Hot Ballroom
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by EricDSnider

"One of the most fun documentaries of the year."
5 stars

Of all the things to bring to big-city elementary schools as an elective program ... ballroom dance? It's a crazy idea, and I'm so glad someone did it, because it leads us to "Mad Hot Ballroom," an exuberant documentary that follows three New York City schools as they prepare for the annual city-wide competition.

Documentaries that are this much fun and this full of innocent energy are rare. Director Marilyn Agrelo and her crew hit on a near-perfect situation in that the ballroom program is for fifth-graders, so the kids are old enough to be developing distinct personalities, but not so old that they're trying to act like grownups. A movie about 8-year-olds or 12-year-olds who dance would not, I think, have been nearly as amusing as one about 10-year-olds.

We meet the kids of P.S. 115 in Manhattan's Washington Heights, predominantly Dominican, with 97 percent of the kids in school living below the poverty level. Downtown in Tribeca, there's P.S. 150, where the ethnicities (white, black, Hispanic, Asian) are more mixed. Over in Brooklyn, at P.S. 112, we meet a lot of Asian and Italian students. This is all in stark contrast to last year's defending champions, Queens' P.S. 144, where everyone seems very white and very Jewish. If nothing else, the movie reminds you of what a melting pot New York is.

Led by professional instructors who work with the teachers, the entire fifth-grade classes take ballroom lessons, with six pairs -- five competitors and an alternate -- eventually being chosen to dance in the tournament. The kids learn everything, but the competition focuses on the rumba, tango, foxtrot, swing and merengue. The winner gets a huge trophy, taller than most of the students. It currently resides with those smug jerks in Queens. It is highly coveted.

The dancing scenes are endlessly entertaining, especially early on, when the boys are still getting used to dancing with girls and when even the most awkward students earnestly try to get the steps right, bless their hearts.

But Agrelo doesn't stop there. She follows the kids as they walk home from school, play foosball, loiter on playgrounds. We learn what they're like. The girls are mostly more mature, usually taller than the boys. They're starting to notice boys and to think about serious things. They talk about how they would never date someone who was a drug dealer, and how they want to grow up to have happy families. The boys, meanwhile, act silly and talk about how bossy the girls are. If anyone ever dismisses ballroom dancing as being for sissies, it isn't shown. For these boys, it's just fun, that's all.

There is heartbreak in the quarterfinals, and then a champion team emerges -- good thing it happened to be one of the schools Agrelo was following! -- that we can root for in the semifinals. And I note the same air of suspense I felt during "Spellbound," the doc about the national spelling bee: Since this is a documentary, limited to reporting what actually happened, there is no assurance that the people we like will win.

Much is made of how most of these kids come from single-parent families, some of them with behavioral problems in the past, and how the dance program gives them something to look forward to, whether they're any good or not. And you can see it in their cherubic little faces, the joy of doing something interesting, of being with their fellow students, of earning praise from adults. Too many lousy movies have been made about the transformative power of dance; in "Mad Hot Ballroom," you understand perfectly how the music and the rhythm could change someone's life for the better.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=11405&reviewer=247
originally posted: 06/17/05 10:20:23
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Slamdance Film Festival. For more in the 2005 Slamdance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Philadelphia Film Festival. For more in the 2005 Philadelphia Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Tribeca Film Festival For more in the 2005 Tribeca Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Deep Focus Film Fest For more in the 2005 Deep Focus Film Fest series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Seattle Film Festival For more in the 2005 Seattle Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 CineVegas Film Festival For more in the 2005 CineVegas Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Sydney Film Festival For more in the 2005 Sydney Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Edinburgh Film Festival. For more in the 2005 Edinburgh Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Brisbane Film Festival. For more in the 2005 Brisbane Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

9/14/09 simon davis absolutely fascinating, saw it the day after "take the lead" and was riveted to my seat by 5 stars
6/26/07 Terri Bashaw I loved these kids and amazed at their ablities to learn new things in life! 5 stars
5/29/07 jameela manswell i love how elsamely ulerio danced she was the best and should be on the cover of the video 5 stars
4/12/06 Jessica such a boring and bad movie 1 stars
11/29/05 Irene Martynuk Found myself routing out loud for Wilson. 5 stars
9/29/05 Missdontlikeit I think it is a really bad movie n i think that u shuld get rid of it 1 stars
7/25/05 ClaranceTheCobra Absolutely hilarious, innocent little kids acting like grown ups -- nonstop laughs & smiles 5 stars
7/10/05 Jeanne Sweet, heartbreaking, magical, hopeful - the teachers should all be CLONED! The best! 5 stars
6/25/05 Suzz You laugh; you cry; you love the film and the kids 5 stars
6/20/05 Mirabella Robinson This film makes you want to dance! 5 stars
6/09/05 leidy jimenez i saw the movie and it was really great i love how scarlyn dances 5 stars
5/16/05 Danny Swwet adorable movie 5 stars
3/11/05 Frank Normile If you liked "spellbound" you're in for a wonderful treat of pure joy. 5 stars
1/30/05 Richard A Ottens Exceptional movie, makes you laugh and cry 5 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  13-May-2005 (PG)
  DVD: 18-Oct-2005

UK
  N/A

Australia
  29-Sep-2005




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