Memo to self: forget how dismal ballroom dancing was in high school. As I hazily remember, we never tripped the light fantastic. We waltzed -“ badly. Many toes were trod upon.
Mad Hot Ballroom is totally infectious: an uplifting and inspirational film that follows three classes of 11-year-olds involved in New York City’s Dancing Classrooms program as they work towards the inter-school ballroom dancing finals. These kids merengue, rumba, tango, foxtrot and swing their way across the screen -“ some with true grace and all with great charm.
A growing list of great documentaries about the delightful world of kids learning -“ think Spellbound and To Be And To Have -“ has a new leader in Mad Hot Ballroom. The film won the audience award for Best Documentary at this year’s Sydney Film Festival.
For 10 years, the non-profit American Ballroom Theatre has been teaching ballroom dancing to New York City public school students. Many of the sixty schools involved in the program are in New York’s poorer neighbourhoods and home to large immigrant communities.
Filmmakers Marilyn Agrelo and Amy Sewell let the personalities, passion and determination of the kids -“ and their teachers -“ shine through without judgment or interpretation. And we meet some great personalities along the way: the confident, the klutzy and the gifted children -“ all beautiful -“ and their over-enthusiastic teachers.
At PS 150 in Tribeca, the funky kids are streetwise and aspire to be politicians, lawyers and actors. In Brooklyn, PS 112’s dancers are a sweet mob of suburban kids -“ but definitely not the ones who sit at the back of the bus. The kids from Washington Heights’ PS 115 are mainly new immigrants from the Dominican Republic who speak little English but rumba, merengue and tango like naturals.
Claudia Raschke-Robinson’s unobtrusive camera glides across the dancefloor, capturing the joy, triumphs, frustrations and tears of the children. You’ll be barracking from the edge of your seat all the way to the Rainbow trophy finals.