Mad Hot Ballroom - Not just strictly ballroom

Duration: 105min
Category: Documentary
Available: On DVD
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Baz Luhrmann took the absurdity of Ballroom Dancing and made it ridiculously fun in his comedy romp Strictly Ballroom. Now it seems the New York Public School system has the same idea.

Mad Hot Ballroom follows primary school children as they compete in their schools' Ballroom Dancing competition. Imagine a bunch of 11 year old, NYC kids, Brooklyn accents and attitude, learning the Meringue and you can get the picture of how ludicrously wonderful this project is.

The obvious strength of Mad Hot Ballroom is its subjects. They are living, breathing modern kids from all backgrounds and carrying with them all their issues. Yet they become infused with passion about dancing. These boisterous youth are thrilling to watch as they stumble around the dance floor (some of them become strong dancers with real grace and style) and muse about gender relations and other important life issues.

Also entertaining are their mentors. Their teachers, principles and dance instructors are passionate little children too who become obsessed with the competition and overwhelmed with emotion. Interestingly enough it is often the children who keep the whole thing in perspective while the adults get a little to wrapped up in it all.

The main weakness of Mad Hot Ballroom is that the film makers do a poor job of building any sort of suspense. Even at the end, in the hotly contested finals, there is little doubt where this story is going to take us and the film starts to lurch along a little without a real sense of direction.

Still, it is such a pleasant diversion to see these kids enjoy themselves and start to grow into diverse personalities that it's worth it.

In the end, the film's message shouldn't be a big surprise. Give kids school programming that they can become passionate about and you'll see them become invested in their community, in each other and most importantly in themselves. School programming shouldn't just be about academic learning. Shocking!

One last thing impressed me as I watched these kids dance. I was struck by how promising the future is. I know this sounds hokey, but these kids were so beyond any age, gender or racial divides it seems like we may be on the threshold of finally rooting out the evil of discrimination. Despite how hard previous generations work to pass along their prejudices, it seems that each new generation sees things more clearly and sees each other more as equals. I was so impressed with these kids that it made me feel like maybe our species isn't as doomed as we often seem to be.

Review By: Collin Smith

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