An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis


                How did it happen that 600 kids from 60 public schools in New York City are required to take a very unusual ballroom dancing course?  And how does it happen that they are having the time of their lives?  After watching “Mad Hot Ballroom,” you will know, and you will probably leave the theater surrounded by an ocean of smiles as bright as your own.  This audience has had a good time. 

                Many of the students come from the Dominican Republic, from single parent homes, and from  poverty.  By the time they get to the dance finals at the WinterGarden Theater, you will be rooting for each member of the Indigo Team from Manhattan’s P.S. 125. 

                How does ballroom dancing bring a group of eleven-year-old fifth graders to a state of frenzied mutual support that eclipses even the most heralded athletic event?  The answer is universal:  passionate teachers.  These teachers treat their dance students as adults while allowing them to be kids.  “Ladies and Gentlemen, straight up, eyes locked, smile – five, six, seven, eight….”  The adults in this film know their class is probably the only after-school activity these kids have. They know also that they have a chance, as one of them says, to help them “find something you love and do it really well.”  Without exception and with bountiful enthusiasm, these teachers slowly draw their kids toward excellence in dance.  Just watch that self-confidence grow, or as a student calls out, “Look at that attitude!” 

                One of the special sights in this movie of many is that at eleven, boys and girls come in all heights and shapes.  The dance floor is afloat with odd couples that seem perfectly at ease dancing with enormous height disparities.  Off the floor their conversations reflect the good-natured complaining of the age, but there is no meanness in their behavior or in their acceptance of the limitations of their peers. 

                In a documentary this successful, it seems unfair to single anyone out, but teacher Yomaira Reynoso is such a bundle of nerves and emotions as she teaches, dances, and exhorts that we want terribly to see her dancers succeed because she so wants it for them.  Michael, a tubby fellow with a motor mouth that spews forth a non-stop commentary on life, Wilson, a handsome boy whose professional instincts  materialize before our very eyes, and Kelvin, already exuding grace and dignity, are notable in a cast of notables. 

                Director Marilyn Agrelo has done a wonderful job filming and editing a slice of New York culture that is absolutely inspiring.  People always say that students are lucky if they have one or two teachers in a lifetime who touch their hearts.  These students have several, all in one year.  This movie is full of humor and spirit and zip, and as I said once about the movie “Babe,” I don’t want to know anyone who doesn’t like it.


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