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Paramount Home Video presents
Mad Hot Ballroom (2005)

"Of course, we do have, like, crushes here and there, but you know...nobody actually went out on a date somewhere. But I do know that boys think about girls...'cause I have a lot of guy friends...and that's what they think about."
- Tara Devon Gallagher, discussing the inter-gender dynamics of classroom ballroom dancing.

Review By: Nate Meyers  
Published: October 18, 2005

Stars: Yomaira Reynoso, Wilson Castillo, Michell Rodriguez, Karina Sanchez, Jatnna Toribio, Allison Sheniak, Tara Devon Gallagher, Michael Vaccaro, Taha Hatab, Michael Richardson, Lauria Crochet-Hyslop, Alex Tchassov, Rodney Lopez
Director: Marilyn Agrelo

MPAA Rating: PG for some thematic elements
Run Time: 01h:45m:40s
Release Date: October 18, 2005
UPC: 097363455547
Genre: documentary

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

Mad Hot Ballroom is a documentary that sidesteps nearly all policy issues that could bog it down, opting to focus on the effect a simple dance competition can have on fourth and fifth grade students in New York City's lower income school districts. Perhaps a more cynical viewer will look at Marilyn Agrelo's movie and wonder how much these "free" dance classes cost taxpayers or how truly long lasting dance's positive effects will hold on the gregarious youths placed into the city's competition. But watching these boys and girls learn to merengue, rumba, and tango left me inspired, having the rare opportunity to share in the hopes and dreams of the documentary's subjects.

The filmmakers chronicle fourth and fifth graders at Washington Heights, Tribeca, Bensonhurst, and Forrest Hills public primary schools. Most of the children are second-generation Dominican immigrants, living in neighborhoods dominated by drugs and broken homes. However, with the help of their teachers, many of them start to enjoy dancing every bit as much as basketball. This is an eclectic group of children, from the young Taha who cannot dance due to religious convictions to the promising Wilson who has the makings of a great dancer. Outside the classroom, they talk candidly about the threat of kidnappings, marriage, and the opposite sex. Just on the cusp of puberty, there's a refreshing innocence to their comments. When two girls discuss how a society run by women would be more civilized is juxtaposed with boys debating who the hottest girl is...well, there just aren't words to explain how humorous the two conversations are next to one another.

On the other side of the fence, Agrelo focuses attention on the teachers who instruct the students. Yomaira Reynoso demands excellence from her students, getting more and more rigid as the competition draws near. Meanwhile, Allison Sheniak laments having to select certain kids over others for the final competition. There's a hint in the conduct of these two women, as well as the other teachers, that links into the larger debate about adults living vicariously through what should be a child's fun. Reynoso loves to dance and it soon becomes clear that she is motivated by her own desire to succeed just as much as she is by her desire to see the students succeed.

When the competition finally arrives after months of practicing, the documentary really swings into high gear. The Latin rhythms are infectious as the children put their hard work into practice. Some are more successful than others and the most devastating scene in the movie is when one of the four schools is sent home during the quarterfinals. Agrelo wisely chooses to explore the feelings of the kids, who can't comprehend why they would be disqualified even though they did everything they had been taught to do. Watching the children speak through their tears, the viewer is given unfettered access into their hearts and minds. It is as if these children transform into adults right before our eyes.

Lest you think this is a grim look at life, Mad Hot Ballroom is actually quite uplifting. The young boys go from being lethargic regarding dance to being willful participants. The teacher's find hope in their students' efforts. Even the boys and girls who don't walk off with the trophy seem to have emerged from this experience learning about the realities of lifeŅeither that winning isn't everything or that life is what you make of it. Told by Agrelo's unassuming camera, the lives of these children seem open to any number of outcomes. In other words, watching these boys and girls tango is like watching the American Dream.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.78:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The anamorphic widescreen transfer is somewhat harsh in appearance, though this can be attributed to the source material. Shot on high-definition video, Mad Hot Ballroom has a bland picture and is not aesthetically ideal. However, the picture is true to the theatrical experience and is as good as it can look.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno

Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby Stereo 2.0 audio has a few instances of audio distortion when people are speaking, but this seems entirely attributable to the original audio recording. Otherwise, the music comes across nicely, especially when played in Pro Logic, and makes for a satisfying experience.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 18 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
6 Other Trailer(s) featuring The Oprah Winfrey Show: 20th Anniversary Collection, No Direction Home: Bob Dylan, Rugrats Tales From the Crib: Snow White, The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie, Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events , Everybody Hates Chris
Packaging: other
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 00h:56m:54s

Extras Review: The trailers for the above-mentioned titles make up the supplemental content of this disc. Perhaps some deleted scenes would have been nice, but otherwise it is difficult to determine what else the studio might have included on this disc.

Extras Grade: D-


Final Comments

Reminiscent of Spellbound, Mad Hot Ballroom is an emotionally rewarding look into the lives of children learning about life through the art of dance. Marilyn Agrelo's documentary arrives on DVD in a spartan release, but its presentation gives it a fine life in the home theater realm.


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