Published Jun 01, 2005Mad Hot Ballroom is an extremely likeable documentary about a successful ballroom dancing program in New York City's public schools. The film follows the grade four classes of three different schools around the city as they prepare for the city-wide dance competition.
The obvious comparison is with recent documentary hit Spellbound. Both films explore unique competitions by following their young participants through the vigorous preparation process and subsequent gruelling showdowns. However, the focus of Mad Hot Ballroom is much broader than Spellbound's eight children, touching on many of the students and teachers involved in the program without getting really in depth about anyone.
What the film does really well, thanks to the unobtrusive style of filmmaking, is to capture the children in honest conversations with one another, not just about the dancing but about the emerging dynamics between the sexes, their lives and their future. These kids are wise and world weary, exhibiting an understanding of their environment seemingly beyond their ten or 11 years. Their teachers are equally fascinating, split between those who embrace the cut-throat competitive aspects of the program, those who shy away from it and try to encourage everyone, and those who just want to dance. (Paramount Classics)