Mad Hot Ballroom

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

Parents say

age 8+
Based on 6 reviews

Kids say

age 8+
Based on 6 reviews

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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. 

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
Parent Written byEmily R February 12, 2010

Try to do your best (but you might not always win)

I think this movie is great. The kids work really hard and do their best. In my opinion, they are great role models for my kid. Although I watched this film... Continue reading
Adult Written bycekyqyce August 12, 2018

To the reviewer that was upset it was a dance "competition"

Like it or not life is a competition:

* Graduating near the top of the class in High School is a competition.
* Getting into a great college is a competition.... Continue reading
Kid, 9 years old August 13, 2020

Good movie

Mad Hot Ballroom is a movie about kids learning to do ballroom dancing. The ballroom is in a public school and most of the kids are poor. They compete for a bal... Continue reading
Teen, 16 years old Written byHorseLoverSpirit August 10, 2018
Great documentary that shows the passion that these kids have for dancing.

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

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