Mad Hot Ballroom
2005
Ballroom dancing goes from lame to cool for a group of New York City students in this insightful documentary, which follows a group of 11-year-olds as they learn to dance old-school styles including the merengue, rumba, tango, foxtrot and swing. Candid interviews capture the kids' initial reluctance at learning ballroom dance and their transformation into serious competitors determined to win a citywide competition.

Scott Hardie: “It was ok.”

This upbeat documentary about a ballroom-dancing course taught to fifth graders across New York City is charming and sure to appeal to anyone who likes kids, and on that basis, I would recommend it to some. But one single word in the opening narration ruined it for me personally: "Mandatory." This program is compulsory for 6,000 poor, innocent children who don't deserve to be forced to dance in step with one another, usually in front of a city-wide audience at an annual competition and now in front of documentary filmmakers as well. Watching the movie, I had nothing but painful flashbacks to my own mandatory dancing classes growing up and how, like most of the kids, I hated every second of it. It's one thing to push the kids who sign up for this kind of thing voluntarily, but the principal who openly berates her slow-learning students because she wants the elusive trophy comes across as nothing but a soft-spoken drill instructor. The only value I see to the competition is teaching kids how to cope with defeat; likewise, the only value I see for the kids in this documentary is learning that sometimes you're made to look like a fool for other people's bemusement.

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