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Mad Hot Ballroom
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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
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.
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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?
- In theaters: May 13, 2005
- On DVD or streaming: October 18, 2005
- Cast: Emma Biegacki, Michael Vaccaro, Yomaira Reynoso
- Director: Marilyn Agrelo
- Studio: Paramount Vantage
- Genre: Documentary
- 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
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