A Chance to Dance

Rum for adults. Rumba for kids.

Ballroom dancing seems a tad fancy for a gym activity, especially in public schools. But it’s happening and fifth graders all over New York City are learning the steps to rumba, fox trot, tango, and swing. I doubt if it’s more fun than good old-fashioned dodgeball, but at least, it’s something different and it looks entertaining when kids do it. In the documentary “Mad Hot Ballroom,” the dancing is far from “mad hot” but I’d describe it as “mad cute.”

The documentary obtains its sample of diverse kids from three New York neighborhoods (Tribeca, Washington Heights, and Bensonhurst, Brooklyn) and the film works solely on whether you’d like to cheer for them or not. The good thing is that it’s easy to root for plucky kids, but the documentary tries too hard to sell their stories. At one point, we are told one participant is doomed to be a future convict if it weren’t for ballroom dancing. Uh-huh. It might be true, but it doesn’t come across on screen – the move is rather unprofessional and manipulative. Another stratagem that didn’t quite work is the kid interviews. It’s surprising that you never know any individuals intimately. The kids talk, but not necessarily about themselves. Rather, they’re asked on their inputs on general topics such as school, crushes, and other social issues. In a way, it felt like the documentary has generalized them.

Despite these problems, the film works. The good scenes are pretty straightforward – kids dancing. There is also generated suspense and excitement when the kids perform in competitions. To be sure, some students will leave the dance floor heartbroken, just as a few will dance away victorious. “Mad Hot Ballroom” looks like a misstep, compared to the compelling spelling-bee documentary “Spellbound.” But it shows a lot of effort and — as some of the kids learn – an effort cannot be diminished, win or lose.

Grade: B

Allison Sheniak, Alex Tchassov, Emma Biegacki, Tara Devon Gallagher, Cyrus Hernstadt, Zeb Liburd, Victoria Malvagno, Michael Vaccaro, Jia Wen Zhu, Priscilla Kwong, Yomaira Reynoso, Rodney Lopez, Wilson Castillo, Jatnna Toribio, Elsamelys Ulerio, Kelvin Acevedo
Written by
Amy Sewell
Directed by
Marilyn Agrelo
Rated PG for some thematic elements