Mad Hot Ballroom



Enchanting dance documentary hits all the right beats.
Parents recommend
  • Review Date: October 17, 2005
  • Rated: PG
  • Genre: Documentary
  • Release Year: 2005
  • Running Time: 105 minutes

What parents need to know

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. 

Positive role models

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. 

Not applicable
Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

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

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.

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?


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").

More than anything else, the movie 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.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the overwhelmingly positive effects of such structured dancing for both students and their teachers. 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? 

Movie details

Theatrical release date:May 13, 2005
DVD release date:October 18, 2005
Cast:Emma Biegacki, Michael Vaccaro, Yomaira Reynoso
Director:Marilyn Agrelo
Studio:Paramount Vantage
Topics:Arts and dance, Great boy role models, Great girl role models
Character strengths:Communication, Perseverance, Teamwork
Run time:105 minutes
MPAA rating:PG
MPAA explanation:some thematic elements

This review of Mad Hot Ballroom was written by

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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What parents and kids say

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Teen, 14 years old Written bymambobird March 31, 2011
What other families should know
Educational value
Great messages
Parent 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 HAD to win and others who just had fun... Most of the teachers are good but you could see a few who clearly need to learn to chill a bit ... It's a really wonderful time watching though.
What other families should know
Great messages
Written byAnonymous September 15, 2014

Adorable documentary has great messages+risqué material

My rating:PG for language and thematic elements


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