Screened as part of NZIFF 2005
Ballroom dancing teams from three New York public elementary schools prepare for competition. This irresistible picture of the civilising power of music, dance and inspired teaching may leave you hankering to move the kids to Manhattan.
“On one level, Mad Hot Ballroom is about dancing to win. But, in reality, the film is about a lot more than this. It touches on questions of integration (the vast majority of the kids in one of the featured schools, PS 115 in Washington Heights, come from the area’s large Dominican Republic community); on the frustrations and everyday heroism of the teaching profession; and on how an alternative subject like ballroom dancing can engage and focus kids left behind by the traditional curriculum. But it is also a perceptive portrait of a delicate age – 11 to 12 – when children are half innocent, half cynical and forewarned. Alternating dance classes, interviews with teachers and pupils, and eavesdropping on peer-to-peer conversations and gossip, Mad Hot Ballroom builds to something more than an inspirational tale of triumph over adversity. These kids discuss drugs, school and the opposite sex with remarkable freedom… The teachers too are revealed as real, flawed, memorable people… The music – which mixes tango, charanga, rhumba, big band classics and contemporary hip-hop – fuels a trip that follows a classic crescendo structure from the first, stumbling lessons through to the grand regional finals. It all goes according to the script, thank goodness, and the exhilarating ending is real Chariots Of Fire stuff.” — Lee Marshall, Screendaily