Mad Hot Ballroom (2005) / Documentary
MPAA Rated: PG for mild language
Running Time: 105 min.
Cast: Yomaira Reynoso, Rodney Lopez, Victoria Malvagno, Alex Tchassov, Stacee Mandeville, Tara Devon Gallagher, Ann Reinking
Director: Marilyn Agrelo
Screenplay: Amy Sewell
Review published November 6, 2005
Some documentaries try to educate, while others try to just charm. Mad Hot Ballroom, while educational because it exposes the world to a program not many know about, is one of the more charming of docs you're ever likely to see. As such, it will entertain viewers that normally eschew documentaries, as it has its own drama, cast of zany characters, and plenty of music and dancing. You'll be rooting for the kids wholeheartedly before it's through.
The setting of the inner city program to teach kids the virtue of ballroom dancing is New York, where several dozen schools in the public school system compete each year for a trophy to see which has developed the best crew of young 5th grade dancers. Mad Hot Ballroom primarily follows three of the schools and their programs, showing the kids practicing, goofing off, and engaging in idle chatter and gossip. The have ten weeks to prepare a group of novices, get them to stop giggling, learn to discipline themselves, and even learn to enjoy the spotlight so that they can compete in front of parents, judges and other spectators in a heated competition.
While it's nearly impossible to resist being affected by the kids and how hard they try, Mad Hot Ballroom isn't a great documentary in and of itself. It is a bit long, somewhat unfocused, and doesn't really strike enough thematic resonance to ultimately leave you with a change in your views. What it does offer is a feel-good look into the lives of kids, many of them without much to feel proud about until now, doing the best they can to help each other win the gigantic trophy for their school, and perhaps even earn themselves the self-respect they have been yearning for.
If you liked Spellbound, you'll probably enjoy Mad Hot Ballroom immensely.
©2005 Vince Leo