Mark Richards


Friday, October 28, 2005

Mad Hot Ballroom

Sarah and I rented a DVD called Mad Hot Ballroom from Blockbuster last weekend. We pushed off watching it due to time constraints and finally got around to watching it last night. A call from Blockbuster about it's late return led us to almost return the DVD without watching it, but I sure am glad we didn't because it was absolutely fantastic.

Mad Hot Ballroom is a documentary-style movie about a ballroom dance program that was implemented at a number of New York City public schools. The purpose of the 10-week class is to introduce urban 5th graders to dance, the arts, and other less defined social ideas and values. Students are taught by trained teachers how to merengue, rumba, tango, foxtrot, and swing. At the end of the class, select students are chosen represent their school in a competition to crown the school with the best ballroom dancers.

By the end of the 10 weeks of learning and practicing, the product that these 10 year-old kids put together on the dance floor is incredible. Some of those kids can really move! The biggest transformation though is watching these children learn about commitment, competition, being ladies and gentlemen, improving social skills, enjoying something out of the mainstream, and finding something they're good at...something that they enjoy.

These kids are much less fortunate that I ever was. Everyday they must endure parental issues, drinking, drugs, fighting, poverty, just to name a few. Unfortunately, their low socio-economic status has them trapped in a situation where opportunity does not come very often, and certainly, nobody is going to help them out. Escaping their own life is damn near impossible. But this program gives these children hope...a chance to see life from a different perspective...the vast range of possibilities that lie in front of them allowing them to make something out their lives. The best part is not that I am able to see this, but these kids can see it. They can acknowledge that paths exist for them and they can follow them for an improved life. These 10 year-olds are smart! Much smarter than I was at 10.

I never would have thought that ballroom dance classes could change the life of a kid so drastically. Watching their actions and listening to their thoughts brings out a great deal of emotion. Their passion is inspiring. Something so simple as ballroom dancing, that so many of us could care less about and take for granted, is changing the lives of urban kids by the hundreds. The experience will stick with them forever and they will be better people for that very reason.

The Mad Hot Ballroom website say that they are thinking about expanding their program to additional cities and I wonder how something like this would do here in Atlanta. Atlanta does not have the best arts experience in the world. The city does alright for itself, but it is nothing like New York. But that may be the perfect situation as the children of the city have had limited exposure to such culture. In a state where education is so poor and test scores are the "answer" to all problems, I wonder how a program such as this would affect the kids in this city. Would crime decrease? Would test scores increase? Would graduation rates increase? Would parental and teacher involvement increase?

From what I saw in this documentary, my guess is that the answer is a resounding yes.


  • We went to see Mad HOT Ballroom (for the trailer of the film, please see The movie was showing at the Cumberland Theatre in downtown Toronto, and is run by Alliance Atlantis, so there were other more "artsy" movies being shown. Well, it was worth the drive and wait!

    The audience was primarily made up of people in their 50's to 70's, at least during the time we went. There were quite a number of "tourists" as well, probably from the local Hyatt and Four Seasons Hotels in the area.

    What we loved about the movie was that it captured the "innocence" of children and the passion of their "teachers". It was interesting to see from a child's eye their determination to want to make the finals ... the disappointment of those who didn't and the exhiliration of those that did.

    What we also loved was the diversity of cultures represented by the children ... hispanic, black, white, vietnamese, chinese, etc. ... and how they were partnered. In one scene, it showed two children who may have been of Muslim faith, who seemed to indicate that it was against their religion to dance. However, instead of trying to make a "moral" statement, the producers captured a moment where the child exclaimed that he enjoyed being the "DJ" and taking care of the music! In one scene, it even showed him trying to correct one of the other couples!

    Some of the invited judges in the Grand finals included Charlotte Jorgensen as well as Broadway star, Ann Reinking. It was lovely to see them and other well-known judges in the Dance world, being captivated by the various dance teams.

    What could have been done differently? Possibly showing more the "day-to-day" living side of some of the children. A number of the children talked about "drugs". Although we're not familiar with the various urban neighbourhoods of New York City, if it's like many "urban" centres in other cities, it would have been interesting to contrast the "urban decay", and how something like the experience of dance can be "life-changing" for the children. It would also have been interesting to interview some of the children who took part in the first program (think it was in 1994) ... in keeping with the film's
    positive perspective, maybe a "success" story.

    There was a British Show a number of years ago that traced children through the decades (can't remember the title) ... their innocence in primary school, to their teenage years, and finally onto adulthood. It would be fascinating to revisit these wonderful children to see where they may end up a decade from now.

    DanceScape has a Mad HOT Ballroom contest for an American Express Cash Gift Card as well as Soundtracks to the movie! Check out

    For those of you who also watched the movie, please share your thoughts as well on our Global Forums at
    dance is ... PASSION

    By Blogger DanceScape, at 12:04 PM  

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