The Barenaked Archives – Mad Hot Ballroom

Mad Hot Ballroom posterFrom 2003 up until 2007, I was lucky enough to have “movie reviewer” as my job description. As such, I’ve built up a *lot* of reviews for just about every movie that came out during those years, as well as reviews of classic movies.

The Barenaked Archives are reviews that I did for two previous websites. Sadly, they are both gone, so this is now the only place online you can see these old columns.

There is something alternately hilarious and heart-warming about anything that showcases children. They haven’t quite learned tact yet, so they’re blunt and say exactly what is on their minds, which is usually funny.

They’re also still quite naïve, and their innocence is bittersweet. Even though we adults have lost it and can’t get it back, it’s a reminder that we were that way one time, and that some things never change.

Mad Hot Ballroom is a movie that is as funny as it is emotional, and that catches you up in these kids’ lives as they vie for the city-wide championship.

Mad Hot Ballroom is a documentary about a ballroom dancing program in New York City, where ten- and eleven-year-olds from 60 public schools participate in a 10-week program. At the end of the program, there’s a dance competition that will leave only one school the victor. Director Marilyn Agrelo and writer Amy Sewell follow three schools in particular on their way to the competition.

One of the main reasons the movie is so funny is watching the children as they learn how to dance. They go through the merengue, rumba, tango, foxtrot, and swing, dances that are difficult enough for adults, but more so for kids who are just about to hit puberty.

At the beginning they’re having trouble, stepping on toes, stumbling, and still more worried about catching cooties than learning dances, but as they continue with the program, they begin to visibly mature.

Not only do they get the dance moves down and start to add their own twists, they’re better behaved and excited about the competition. The boys and girls become friends, and even get little crushes.

We see the kids outside of school as well, playing with their friends, shopping, and talking. One girl is ridiculously precocious, spouting off statistics and things that she’s read or heard about, while others intently discuss who’s going to be fit for the competition. The girls complain about boys, and the boys complain about girls.

The blunt, simple conclusions they draw about marriage, the opposite sex, and life in general are funny, partly because of how similar they are to our own former beliefs, before experience forced some revisions. However, sometimes they say something that’s so true and profound that you can’t help but wonder if we should give these kids more credit than we do.

This movie also speaks to the importance of the arts in public schools and for the need for good teachers. Interviews with teachers and principals explain how the children’s behavior has changed for the better since the dance program started.

The teachers are also there emotionally with the children during the competitions, to celebrate with them when they win and comfort and commiserate when they lose. At least two of the dance instructors are male, and it’s mentioned how they provide a positive role model for the boys in the class, and the boys in turn become role models for other students.

Through a scheduling miracle, Mad Hot Ballroom opens this weekend in Oklahoma City. If you’re looking for something with a wee bit more substance than usual, take a chance and check it out. You won’t be disappointed.

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