The group of fourth and fifth boys and girls are ready to dance, backs arched, smiles on their faces, and posture upright. Different kids will perform five different styles: swing, tango, the rumba, the meringue, and the foxtrot. All are part of a program provided by the American Ballroom Theatre, which provides teachers for Dancing Classroom programs in 60 New York public schools. This delightful documentary directed by Marilyn Agrelo and written by Amy Sewell follows three sets of students as they prepare to compete in a Rainbow Team Match. The best of this lot is then chosen to participate in the final dance off at New York City's Winter Garden. They come from PS 150 in Tribecca, PS 115 from Washington Heights, and PS 112 from Bensonhurst.
These eleven years olds are, for the most part, still not comfortable with the opposite sex. In one scene, the dancers are asked to make direct eye contact and the boys seem to suddenly get very uncomfortable. One of the girls points out that the dancing seems to bring out gentleness and manners in boys who normally try and be rough and tough. The filmmakers do a fine job capturing the feelings of these kids about the place where they live, the pressures they are under, and their hopes for the future. We especially liked the shy but elegant Kelvin, the outspoken Emma, and the feisty Michael (who ends up dancing with a girl that towers over him).
The teachers are convinced that ballroom dancing gives their students many invaluable lessons about life such as cooperation, etiquette, self-esteem, and discipline. It is gratifying to see the racial diversity in these classes and the ways in which the dancers learn the values of group solidarity. Mad Hot Ballroom is a playful movie that shows how creative expression is a necessity in the lives of urban children.