Mad Hot Ballroom
New York’s public schools have a program for teaching fourth and fifth graders ballroom dancing, and every year 6,000 kids from 60 schools compete for a citywide championship. Marilyn Agrelo’s documentary about that competition doesn’t concentrate on the techniques and virtues of fox trot, tango, rumba, merengue, and swing; instead it focuses on the universal, often hilarious experience of 11-year-olds trying to transform themselves from children into adults. Ballroom dancing proves a marvelous magnifying glass for that process, because it allows these fifth graders moments of unlikely sophistication—both on the dance floor and in the offstage interviews—but those fleeting flashes of grace inevitably dissolve into gawky childishness. Mad Hot Ballroom has been often and justly compared to the recent spelling-bee documentary Spellbound, but Agrelo’s film differs subtly by pushing the parents and sociology to the margins and emphasizing instead the kids themselves and their first encounters with discipline and romance. Their teachers and judges are often awestruck by the results, but just as often convulse with laughter, and our response is the same. If you can overlook its lack of edge, this is an utterly delightful film.