Mad Hot Ballroom

Movie review by
Cynthia Fuchs, Common Sense Media
Mad Hot Ballroom Movie Poster Image
Enchanting dance documentary hits all the right beats.
  • PG
  • 2005
  • 105 minutes
Parents recommend

Parents say

age 8+
Based on 6 reviews

Kids say

age 9+
Based on 5 reviews

We think this movie stands out for:

A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

Some discussion of the history and origin of different dances. 

Positive Messages

The kids learn about the hard work and dedication required to achieve goals and make dreams come true; they also learn to accept defeat with grace and humility. The kids come to see that personal victories result from doing the best you can do. Themes include communication, perseverance, and teamwork.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Inner-city fifth-graders growing up in difficult circumstances develop a sense of pride and self-respect through mastering different dances. Teachers and administrators speak of their transformations into goal-oriented students. 

Violence & Scariness

Discussion of violence (including one abstract mention of "kidnappers"); none displayed.

Sexy Stuff

Kids learn about gender roles as they learn classic dancing. Some innocent prepubescent talk about other boys and girls in school. One girl talks about how 11-year-olds are the biggest target for pedophiles. 

Language
Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Some of the kids speak disparagingly about the drug dealers in their neighborhood. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Mad Hot Ballroom is a documentary that tracks students from three NYC public schools as they prepare for an annual citywide ballroom-dancing competition. Some of the 11- and 12-year-old interviewees discuss the difficulties in their lives and neighborhoods, including absent parents, drug dealers, and street violence. That said, the kids handle these subjects with poise and remarkable self-awareness. They learn about the hard work and dedication required to achieve goals and make dreams come true; they also learn to accept defeat with grace and humility. They develop a sense of pride and self-respect through mastering different dances.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written bypatriciawin September 13, 2014

Loved it...full of fun

Really a great mix of kids learning to love dancing and get much positive growth from it.... the competitive part showed some interesting things about kids who... Continue reading
Adult Written bySasavC April 9, 2008

Mad Hurt Ballroom

This is an entertaining film and a disturbing one. Why do we need to crush certain kids' spirits by cutting them after giving them hope and motivation and... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written bymambobird March 31, 2011
Teen, 13 years old Written byespngy15 September 30, 2010

Watch it with your kids

i had to watch this in school and it was very good. younger kids might get bored but this movies explores how dancing can bring diffrent coulteres otgether by o... Continue reading

What's the story?

MAD HOT BALLROOM follows fifth-grade participants in American Ballroom Theater's (ABrT) Dancing Classrooms at three public schools in New York City: Tribeca's PS 150, Washington Heights' PS 115, and Bensonhurst's PS 112. They learn the different dance moves -- such as the salsa, rumba, and tango -- and as they develop their dancing skills, they develop a sense of self-worth and self-confidence. School administrators and teachers discuss the difficult circumstances many of these students face in their home lives and marvel at their transformations. This leads to the dance competition, in which some schools and dancers advance to the next round, and others are eliminated and must learn to accept defeat with grace and humility. 

Is it any good?

More than anything, this superb film impresses by the respect it affords its subjects. Whether the dancers perform for the camera (which some of them certainly do), explain their interest (Michael Vaccaro says, "It's like a sport that hasn't been invented yet!"), confess concerns (philosophically inclined Cyrus Hernstadt says, "Dance is like a tiny grain of sand if you consider the entire country"), or express themselves in complicated dance moves (the swing dancers are moving fast), they all give of themselves for the enthusiastic adults they want to please (teachers such as Yomaira Reynoso and Victoria Malvagno, as well as parents) -- and especially each other.

At first, it might seem strange to see such young people working so seriously on ballroom dancing. But within minutes, Marilyn Agrelo's documentary convinces viewers that this is exactly the right activity for these dedicated, enchanting fifth-graders. As they work with their teachers and each other to learn the difficult steps and postures for the rumba, tango, swing, merengue, and fox-trot, they also reveal much about themselves as thoughtful, dynamic young people. As they dance, they are exposed to various cultural traditions and begin to learn traditional gender roles (the boys are instructed, "Take care of your partner").

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the overwhelmingly positive effects of such structured dancing for both students and their teachers in Mad Hot Ballroom . What do they gain from the experience? How do you cope with losing even when you try your best? How does losing teach you to be strong?

  • What are the best ways to help teammates or partners feel confident or learn new skills (whether dance steps, athletic activities, or schoolwork)?  

  • What is the value of working together toward a common goal?

  • How are values such as self-assurance and self-respect conveyed in this movie? 

  • How do the characters in Mad Hot Ballroom demonstrate communication, perseverance, and teamwork? Why are these important character strengths?

Movie details

Character Strengths

Find more movies that help kids build character.

Themes & Topics

Browse titles with similar subject matter.

For kids who love documentaries and inspiring stories

Our editors recommend

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.

See how we rate

About these links

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization, earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes when you use our links to make a purchase. Thank you for your support.

Read more

Our ratings are based on child development best practices. We display the minimum age for which content is developmentally appropriate. The star rating reflects overall quality and learning potential.

Learn how we rate