Mad Hot Ballroom

Reviewed By U.J. Lessing
Posted 06/13/05 02:16:41

"Mad Smart Teaching"
4 stars (Worth A Look)

Mad Hot Ballroom lovingly captures two seemingly separate worlds brought together in an unusual competition. The filmmakers, Marilyn Agrelo and Amy Sewell, follow three schools contending in a ballroom competition run by New York Cityís public school system, and the result is a celebration of students and teachers that makes for charming entertainment.

Throughout the competition, we are exposed to many different types of students and teachers. P.S. 150 is a multi-cultural group from Tribeca. Taught by Russian teacher, Alex Tchassov, these students are precocious and confident with themselves. Watching their classroom teacher Allison Sheniakís emotional devotion to her students is a beautiful sight. She is not a teacher who rationally detaches from her students. Rather, she openly shares in their triumphs and tragedies.

P.S. 115 is a group from Washington Heights and consists primarily of poor Dominican immigrants. The students are passionate and struggle to meet the high expectations set by their demanding teacher, Yomaira Reynoso. She is affectionate with her students while being hard and honest. She doesnít hold any punches and really lets them know when they are letting her down. While other teachers long for smarter and more dedicated students, Reynoso mines those qualities out of her students. Watching her is truly watching a master teacher.

P.S. 112 from Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, is a group of mostly Italian and Asian students. Of all the groups, these students were the most philosophical and funny. At 10 years of age, they have such wonderful schemas set in place about life and the world. Their dance teacher, Victoria Malvango, is almost playful in her instruction.

Students at all three schools participate in dances from all over the world. Itís fun and delightful to watch these little bodies flawlessly executing dances like the Fox Trot, Merengue, Rumba, Tango and Swing.

While the dance scenes were fun, I found them less exciting than watching the different teaching styles in action. At times, I wanted the moments capturing the dance competition to make way for the interviews and scenes of instruction.

Agrelo and Sewell capture their subjects conversing in many different places: the dance floor, the school library, a busy classroom, and in studentsí homes and neighborhoods. They do a nice job of removing themselves from these moments. The film admirably captures kidsí natural conversations with other kids.

Watching these teachers from different locations and with vastly different methodologies, it becomes clear that they are successful because they work hard and are emotionally a part of their studentsí lives. Itís truly a loving tribute.

This is exciting filmmaking. Watching teachers pushing their students towards greatness while devotedly nurturing their growth is stirring cinema, and hopefully Mad Hot Ballroom will inspire more people with passionate hearts to enter the teaching profession.

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