Mad Hot Ballroom

  • Film
  • Documentaries
0 Love It
‘Murderball’ gave us paraplegic rugby-players; now it’s time to bring on the ballroom-dancing ghetto kids! This documentary about underprivileged 11-year-olds from Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx preparing for and competing in an interschools ballroom-dancing tournament ticks all the boxes for a successful, populist documentary in the mould of 2003’s ‘Spellbound’ (which was released here by the same distributor). It’s about kids; it’s about adversity; it’s about competition; it’s about life’s little lessons; it’s about laughing and crying at all those silly/wise/cute things that kids say when you stick a camera in their face.

Thankfully, the cute-count here is low, and there are some smart insights from the kids about the influence of their struggling families on their own lives. In-between extended scenes of dance rehearsals, they talk interestingly about career opportunities, infidelity, poverty, security and relationships. Director Marilyn Agrelo takes a laidback approach to her story, preferring to apply broad brushstrokes rather than delve too deeply into any one child’s life. Instead, she allows a slow build-up, across three different schools, to a final, bracing showdown between several teams at the Winter Garden of the Financial Center.

There are pros and cons to her relaxed approach. She avoids making false heroes of any of her subjects, but she’s also in danger of losing the audience’s interest amid a mass of kids and teachers. Ultimately, I would like to have known more about the families and communities from which these kids come – especially those sons and daughters of Dominican immigrants in the Bronx. It feels harsh to throw water on the fire of such a good-natured, pleasant, charming and enjoyable film as this – but it’s frustratingly light.

Release details

Rated: U
Release date: Friday November 25 2005
Duration: 105 mins

Cast and crew

Director: Marilyn Agrelo
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