Dance Dreams: Hot Chocolate Nutcracker

Movie review by
Jennifer Green, Common Sense Media
Dance Dreams: Hot Chocolate Nutcracker Movie Poster Image
Inspirational docu has positive messages, role models.
  • NR
  • 2020
  • 120 minutes

Parents say

age 7+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 7+
Based on 1 review

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Educational Value

Kids will get a sense of the time and work that goes into putting on a theatrical production. They'll see that not everyone makes it past auditions or achieves their dreams. They'll see that Black kids deserve equal opportunities as anyone else, and representation matters: Allen talks about never having seen a Black fairy queen flying through the air when she was a child dreaming of becoming a dancer. Allen's personal story shows that affirmative action programs support talent.

Positive Messages

If you have a dream, respect it enough to work for it, but be realistic enough to know what's possible. Always keep growing and staying open to opportunities. Effort, discipline, sacrifice, and a sense of gratitude are essential components of the Academy, and these lessons spill over into students' lives beyond dance. The beauty of life is reflected in the beauty of dance.

Positive Role Models

The teachers at the Academy are dedicated inside and outside the studio to helping raise the kids that come to them as students. They have high expectations of the kids, and they teach life lessons as part of their dance lessons. Students prioritize dance over other activities because they respect their teachers and see the value in what they're learning. They work through pain and disappointments, demonstrating perseverance, discipline, and gratitude. They learn confidence and commitment. Some of the female students talk about accepting their own bodies or working to more closely fit the model of a ballet dancer's body type. The first major Black ballerina says she didn't intend to break boundaries, she just wanted to dance.

Violence & Scariness

Allen's childhood ballet teacher carried a cane and whacked students with it. Allen, too, can be very strict with the kids, but the philosophy is that discipline and work ethic are learned and the training makes students stronger. Another of the Academy teachers grew up as a foster child and says dance saved her. A dancer describes the pain involved with dancing, including an incident where she broke a rib.

Sexy Stuff

"God," "ass," "hell," "shut up."


 Brands or organizations mentioned include the Debbie Allen Dance Academy, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Kirov Academy of Ballet, Mariinsky School, Ford Foundation, El Pollo Loco, Howard University, LINES Ballet, Complexions Ballet, Joffrey Ballet.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Dance Dreams: Hot Chocolate Nutcracker is an inspirational documentary for all ages. Documentaries can be hard sells for young viewers, and there are quite a lot of talking heads in this one, but the stories of the young people profiled and the excitement of the rehearsals and performance may motivate other kids to pursue a passion, especially dance or theater. The dedication of the Debbie Allen Dance Academy (DADA) teachers and their commitment to offering opportunities and life lessons could inspire older viewers to get involved or support socially meaningful programs like this one. Some kids may also see themselves reflected on screen in a new way, mirroring one dancer's comment that she didn't realize outside of DADA how big of a deal it was that she was a Black girl doing ballet. The first major Black ballerina is interviewed, and Allen's own groundbreaking career, which started when she was a child in segregated Texas, offers further inspiration. There's some discussion of body image among Black girls who realize they don't have typical ballet bodies, and there are a couple of mentions of physical pain in a broken rib or an old-fashioned teacher who used to whack her students with a cane. Language is limited to "God," "ass," "hell," and "shut up," the latter in one of Allen's tough lectures to students about respect and hard work. The students generally display a combination of discipline and gratitude.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent Written byClintzen08 December 19, 2020
Teen, 13 years old Written bykotlc_rocks123 January 30, 2021


No complaints, a must watch.

What's the story?

Every year, 200 students ages 4 and up attend the Debbie Allen Dance Academy, and dozens of them perform in the massive annual production depicted in DANCE DREAMS: HOT CHOCOLATE NUTCRACKER. The documentary follows the action from auditions through rehearsals through the countdown to the first Christmas-timed performances, traditionally offered to Los Angeles-area schoolchildren before opening to the wider public. We see Allen in action at the Academy studios, and archive footage shows us some of her life story and groundbreaking career highlights. She and other instructors and students talk about dancing, the essential role the Academy plays in their lives, and their hopes and dreams for the future.

Is it any good?

Billed as a "behind the scenes" of the annual mega-production put on by the Debbie Allen Dance Academy, Dance Dreams: Hot Chocolate Nutcracker is really much more. The auditions, rehearsals, and performances, which run September to December every year, provide the excuse and structure for the film. But the intention -- or at least the effect -- is to highlight the Academy's inspirational work lifting up Black kids from all walks of life. As instructors allude, the Academy isn't just creating dancers and artists, it's also raising humans.

From Allen's own personal story (benefiting from a diversity grant in the segregated South) to her daughter's disappointing expulsion from ballet school (which inspired the formation of the Academy) to teachers' and students' varied stories (including not being able to afford dance school, finding a path out of a difficult life through dance, not seeing their body types reflected in ballerinas), the experiences are offered up as inspiration and as models of perseverance, pursuing dreams, and overcoming obstacles. Also, there's a lot of fun and creativity in the dances being filmed, many inspired by faraway places like Egypt and India. The Hot Chocolate Nutcracker builds on the traditional ballet with a variety of styles, making the story and the production that much more accessible and representative for participants and audiences alike.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the work that goes into the months of rehearsals in Dance Dreams: Hot Chocolate Nutcracker. Does this look like fun to you? Have you ever been involved in a major production like this?

  • One student says she didn't realize outside of the Academy how unique it was to be a Black ballerina. Did that comment surprise you? Why or why not?

  • The students all show discipline, perseverance, and gratitude. Why are these important character traits?

  • Are you familiar with the original Nutcracker? Where could you go for more information? How does the Hot Chocolate Nutcracker differ from the traditional version?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love Black stories

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