Friday, November 18, 2005



I think I was supposed to like
Mad Hot Ballroom: Kids! Dancing in public schools!

But I really didn't like it too much.

The film follows a year in which public school students in the boroughs of New York are given ballroom dancing lessons, culminating in a series of elimination competitions. Teams of dancers from each school compete for a trophy awarded to the school.

I suppose it is a good thing to teach anything in a public school. It is a good thing to teach something above and beyond the curriculum. It is a good thing when a good teacher or an exciting project inspires students.

However, first of all, the movie does not provide enough information about the program for a viewer to form a serious opinion. Is the program really good or not? Are the teachers qualified? Are they nice to the student dancers? Is the team competition bad for good dancers who go to schools with bad programs? Is it fair? Should public school ballroom dancing be a competitive team sport?

What do the students really think? The interviews they show are in some ways artificial. They seem to have been so carefully selected and screened that it's not possible to draw any inference from them about the effect of the program on the kids.

I have kind of an uncomfortable feeling that some of what the film shows and says about some kids is not really good to have imprinted in the permanent record.

The movie is also confusing as to which class is doing what and who is their teacher? and which students are doing well or badly? and how are they progressing? The movie follows too many students and teachers, yet does not provide a comprehensive look at the whole competition.

However, of course, on the other hand, if you just suspend all critical judgement, and simply watch some cute kids getting better and better at ballroom dancing, in a cultural program in the city's schools, then the film is fun to watch.

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