Rumba. Tango. Foxtrot. Fifth graders in the New York public school system compete at ballroom dancing in Mad Hot Ballroom (2005), a documentary easily promoted as cutsie-poo.
From Manhattan to the Bronx, the dearest kids pursue the contest, & the alleged art, of ballroom dance, with a seriousness that simply delights. The kids' open-minded eagerness to embrace a previous generations' music & master their great-grandparents' dance styles is sweet, sweet, sweet.
What the adults have to say about the program, about the poverty of many of the ethnic kids, & so on, is all fairly obvious & boring. But when it stops pointing the camera at adults' talking heads & focuses on the kids, it just gets better & better. And the documentarian knew not to comment much about it; watching the kids striving is all that is required.
If there's any disappointment it's the lack of a real climax. The final contest has the feel of a third-rate county fair event, lacking a glitzy environment that would enhance the mood or the quaint hoky dream that is half what ballroom means.
The finals should've been like mini-proms or something, without signs hanging on them like in They Shoot Horses Don't They. The finals show the kids in their sunday best with minimal flashes of glamor, sweet & charming but not spectacular.
There was also one element of creepiness to the film. If a teacher were preparing kids for spelling bees or math championships, they wouldn't be jumping in front of cameras to prove they could spell or add & subtract.
But these dance instructors were classic examples of those who can't do something teaching it. Their attempts to find their own moment of glory by getting their awful dance moves into the documentary at every opportunity was simply pathetic.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl