As we start a new school year, I thought I would highlight a delightful movie called Mad Hot Ballroom. Filmed in New York City Public Schools, it features 10 and 11 year old students who are participating in a city-wide program of ballroom dance. The students highlighted in the film are mostly from inner-city schools and quite a few have families that have recently emigrated to the U.S. One of the schools, in the Washington Heights area of Brooklyn, has children who are mostly from the Dominican Republic and 97% living beneath the poverty line.
The children and their teachers are shown at the beginning of the school year – many awkward with the dance steps and with each other. Students learn the tango, the swing, the merengue and some learn the English language at the same time.
We see them weekly as they progress with their dance skills and see the children interviewed about their lives – the drug dealers on the street, the kids who are encouraged to join gangs because their families have fallen apart. They express the challenges they face in their community, their changing bodies and feelings about each other, and you see them somewhere between the children that they are and the young people they are becoming. The comments are sometimes humorous and often poignant as we glimpse a window into their worlds.
Over the course of the film, the students move toward a competition at the end of the year and we see the student teams as they compete in the quarter finals – their sadness and confusion when they don’t win, as well as the jubilation of the students who do and are able to continue on to the finals in downtown Manhattan.
The teachers are also interviewed throughout the film and express that the discipline and accomplishment the students learn helps them throughout their school lives. I loved the comment of one teacher interviewed: “We don’t know what’s hidden inside each child – this may be an entré for them into the arts”.
So why choose this film for the blog? Well – I don’t think it was well-known and one of my goals is to highlight items in our collection that you might have not seen. The film has tremendous “heart” and for anyone headed off to work with students this year, or involved in social work in cities, I think you might be inspired too. I especially like the idea that we don’t know what’s hidden inside each student – and whether this means 10 year olds or college students, I’m looking forward to a new year of discoveries!
I also had the delight of having a good friend very close to this film – she was the assistant principal at one of the participating (filmed) schools of which you will get to know her students. Her school (not saying which one) actually won the final competition and she wrote weekly notes at the time (2004-5) as the students were taken to various network television shows such as the Today Show and Good Morning America in limos for interviews – if the comments in the film were priceless, these were as well.
Mad Hot Ballroom is available in the Marshburn Library and is rated PG.
Note: This will be my last Friday Film Recommendation for a bit as summer is over …but I will post films as I am able. I hope you have enjoyed this summer’s offerings!