Mad Hot Ballroom (2005) – documentary movie review

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Movie Review by Vivienne Messenger

Starring: P.S. 112 Tribeca: Allison Sheniak (teacher), Alex Tchassov (ABrT teaching artist)
P.S. 150 Bensonhurst, Brooklyn: Victoria Malvagno (ABrT teaching artist)
P.S. 115: Yomaira Reynoso (teacher), Rodney Lopez (ABrT teaching artist)
Director: Marilyn Agrelo

MAD HOT BALLROOM is an inspirational and entertaining documentary about the New York City based American Ballroom Theater’s (AbrT) Dancing Classrooms that started off ten years ago in just two schools and has now expanded in to over sixty NYC public schools. It is aimed at giving eleven year-olds the chance to learn ballroom dancing including the merengue, foxtrot, rumba, tango and swing in ten weeks (consisting of 20 one hour sessions) which is no mean feat. The schools are then invited to compete against each other in the Rainbow Team Matches with heats at the quarterfinals, semi-finals and the final.

What makes this film so interesting is the way the ballroom dancing gradually takes over their lives. It focuses these youngsters giving them an inner confidence that helps them realise their future potential and what they want to achieve from life, which galvanizes not only them but also the viewer. Director Marilyn Agrelo narrows in on three different public schools allowing the audience a greater insight into some of the children’s lives. The camera, following them outside school, is a platform for their opinions on so many different topics and what they want from their futures. The documentary even ventures into their homes and interviews their friends and families but none of it seems intrusive. Instead it gives the documentary an extra sparkle and it is genuinely fascinating to hear what these eleven year-olds have to say and their perspectives on… everything… And then there’s the dancing!

Concentrating on these three different teams as they progress (or not) through the qualifying heats, the documentary reaches its climax at the finals. It captures the tensions and emotions from the youngsters, their teachers, families and friends as they compete against other schools. The level of competence that they manage to accomplish makes my ballroom dancing experience wilt by comparison. Marilyn Agrelo captures the whole atmosphere so well it even steered me into rooting for a particular team!

This is a lovely film to watch, which Marilyn Agrelo keeps snappy and upbeat, but would I have paid to see this documentary? Hmm… probably not. This is the type of film that will enthral a television audience en masse more than a theatrical one, simply because of the ticket price unless its subject area is just up your street. It was nevertheless an enriching film.

4 out of 6 stars