[box cover]

Mad Hot Ballroom

The next time you look at a 10-year-old and remember fondly what it was like to be a fun-loving, carefree fifth-grader, think again. Sure, you still get recess, but with a full decade under your belt, you're also plenty old enough to worry about your safety, your family, your future — and whether your hips are swinging enough during the merengue. The latter is particularly important to the three groups of public-school children featured in director Marilyn Agrelo's heartwarming documentary Mad Hot Ballroom (2005). Participants in New York City's 10-week competitive ballroom dance program, the kids of Public Schools 112 (Brooklyn), 115 (Washington Heights), and 150 (Tribeca) not only learn the importance of "Latin movement," but also how to work together for a goal… and how to look each other in the eye without cracking up. For some — particularly the wiser-than-their-years kids from the working-class, largely Dominican neighborhood of Washington Heights in uptown Manhattan — the program offers even more; as one teacher says, by learning to dance, the kids are also learning to be ladies and gentlemen. Some of the mini Freds and Gingers prove to be better dancers than others (by the end, several of them are good enough that you'll find yourself applauding), but all of them get something out of the course, and all of them bring something special to the film. Mad Hot Ballroom offers plenty of good tango, swing, rumba, merengue, and foxtrot footage, but its best moments come when Agrelo captures candid conversations between the kids. Boys from P.S. 112 play foosball and talk about girls and gay marriage; girls from P.S. 115 have a surprisingly mature discussion about the qualities to look for in a potential boyfriend/mate (he should be educated and have a good future, he shouldn't sell drugs, he should have respect for other people and for you). Several of the kids stand out from the crowd — opinionated chatterbox Emma, bushy-haired brooder Cyrus, confident, competent Jatnna — but overall Mad Hot Ballroom sticks with the dance program's team spirit and makes us root for the kids as a group, not as individuals. By the time of the movie's final twirl and bow, it's easy to wish you were 10 again, so you could join them in class and on stage, swinging your hips with the best of them. Paramount's DVD release offers a strong anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with Dolby 2.0 Surround audio (optional English subtitles are available). Regrettably, the disc's only "feature" is a collection of previews for other Paramount titles; a "where are they now" follow-up would have been a nice touch, as would bios for the kids and behind-the-scenes info. Keep-case.
—Betsy Bozdech

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