June 26, 2005

MOVIES: Mad Hot Ballroom (Marilyn Agrelo, 2005)

Documentary about a program in New York city schools to teach fifth-graders ballroom dancing, culminating in a city-wide competition.

The movie wants to be this year's Spellbound, but falls short for lots of reasons. The biggest problem is that there are just too many kids to keep track of, and we don't get to know any of them well enough to develop any rooting interest in them.

Another problem is that ballroom dancing -- especially the Latin dances which make up most of the competition (merengue, rumba, tango) -- is about sex, and it's more than a little creepy to see these ten- and eleven-year-old children taught to shake their hips and wave their arms in such an erotic way when most of them haven't even begun to think about the opposite sex in anything remotely approaching a romantic fashion.

And finally, I couldn't help but think that there would be better ways for these kids -- most of them from poor neighborhoods -- to spend their time in school. When two of the ten-year-old girls agree that their first priority in a boyfriend will be "doesn't sell drugs," you realize that ballroom dance is a luxury these kids can't afford. They need to be preparing themselves for college, not for the cotillion.

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