Mad Hot Ballroom

             While the federal government has been paying lip service to the country’s youth with its No Child
     Left Behind Act, individual states have been facing a financial crisis in terms of educational funding.
     Millions and millions of dollars have been cut from public school budgets around the United States,
     jeopardizing everything from sports programs and other after-school activities to scholastic programs.

             Still there are pockets where despite budgetary cuts certain programs are thriving. The documentary
     MAD HOT BALLROOM details the work of the American Ballroom Theater (ABrT) Dancing
     Classrooms, a nonprofit organization that provides dance instruction for fifth graders in more than sixty
     public schools throughout New York City. Over the course of ten weeks, instructors from ABrT teach
     their charges five different dances (the foxtrot, the rumba, the tango, the merengue and the swing) with
     the goal of having five couples compete in a citywide dance-off judged by professionals.

             Writer-producer Amy Sewell and producer-director Marilyn Agrelo selected three schools, training
     the cameras on the students, their families, their teachers and their neighborhoods. The result is an enjoyable,
     amusing and insightful look into the lives of the articulate and talented children that form the mosaic of life
     in the five boroughs.

             The selected schools included P.S. 150 in trendy, upscale Tribeca, P.S. 115 in the predominantly
     Dominican area of Washington Heights, and P.S. 112 in Bensonhurst, where the traditional Italian
     neighborhood has enjoyed an influx of Asian residents.

             Back in the 1950s, TV personality Art Linkletter wrote a book called
Kids Say the Darndest Things
     culled in part from his experiences on his show “House Party.” Well, not much has really changed in
     almost 50 years as the youngsters interviewed offer their opinions on drugs, marriage, romance, what
     they want to be when they grow up, etc.

             But the focus of the film is on the dancing and the training and Agrelo captures the awkwardness
     some of the children feel interacting with the opposite sex. As the competition draws closer, it becomes
     clear that one school in particular emerges as the underdog for whom the audience roots. Indeed, when
     that team reaches the finals, there is nothing but pleasure in watching these youngsters blossom, fully
     enjoying not only the spirit of competition, but the sheer pleasure of dancing. As the principal, the teacher
     and various parents revel in pride and joy in the accomplishments of the kids,
     shows how little it takes to alter the lives of impressionable youngsters.

                                             Rating:                            B+
                                             MPAA Rating:                PG for some thematic elements
                                             Running time:                  105 mins.
©  2005 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.