A lot or a little?
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.
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?
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?
- On DVD or streaming: November 27, 2020
- Cast: Debbie Allen, Maylah Chanel, Ava Bokelberg
- Director: Oliver Bokelberg
- Studio: Netflix
- Genre: Documentary
- Topics: Arts and Dance, Great Girl Role Models, Holidays
- Character strengths: Gratitude, Perseverance
- Run time: 120 minutes
- MPAA rating: NR
- Awards/Honors: Common Sense Selection
- Last updated: December 14, 2020
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