Saturday, February 04, 2006

mad hot ballroom

Girls always think that they are the boss of everything - PS 115 fifth-grader Mohamed

I just saw Mad Hot Ballroom (I’m slow, I know) and I found it to be delightful. In case you missed the press blitz, fifth graders in New York public schools take ballroom dancing as part of the standard curriculum. Instruction is provided by their teachers and supplemented with help from American Ballroom Theater. To increase the interest level, an inter-school competition is held each year and the very tall Challenge trophy is awarded to the winning dance team. Mad Hot Ballroom follows 3 classes at 3 schools as they prepare for the competition. (View trailer)

I imagine that there were significant logistic challenges is filming so many 11 year olds, but there was one legal hurdle that almost prevented Mad Hot Ballroom from being made. The producers need to license rights for every piece of music played in the background in the movie. The cost for Sinatra’s “The Way You Look Tonight” alone exceeded $15,000, and the total cost to the producers for all of the music was $145,000, a staggering amount for a small independent film. This explains why we hear a number of tracks over and over. (Read an excellent interview with producer/writer Amy Sewell on how they negotiated clearances.)

But, back to our main feature… Without narration, Mad Hot Ballroom illustrates the profound effects that adults have on the life of children, and the ways that those children influence adults in return. Students at PS 115, a Washington Heights elementary school where 97% of their students live at the poverty level, are followed most closely. We get to know the adorable Wilson (who speaks almost no English) and his charming classmates. However, two scenes that are especially memorable take place at PS 150, the Tribeca Learning Center.

At PS 150 there is only 1 class per grade, and Allison Sheniak teaches the fifth grade class. In an emotional interview, Ms. Sheniak’s demonstrates her devotion to her profession and students. And, in a dance with the suave Alex Tchassov that Mr. Alex uses to teach the boys the importance of eye contact, we witness the depth of Ms. Allison’s blush. Mad Hot Ballroom is quite recommended.

View additional clips: clip 1 students from PS 150 dance the foxtrot, clip 2 students from PS 115 dance the rumba


At 12:40 AM, Anonymous rochelle said...

Girls are the boss of everything.

Love the blog and look forward to reading it everyday.

At 11:58 AM, Blogger lerjia said...

Thanks for the rec, paul. I'll put it on my netflix queue. I saw Hustle & Flow recently-- and recommend it (sorry for the non-sequitur... it really has nothing to do with Mad Hot Ballroom, except that they're both movies). Oh, but if you're interested in another inspiring movie about schools in the inner city, Boys of Baraka is excellent.


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