Sunday, March 19, 2006

Mad Hot Ballroom

OK, so it took me 3 attempts before finally being able to watch this - the first was free, but aborted because of timing. The second attempt, only the first 3 rows were available for a weekday evening, and I'm not too keen on craning my neck. The third and successful attempt had me walk all the way from Orchard Cineleisure to Shaw Lido, in 10 minutes flat on a crowded weekend afternoon. But the mad rush was well worth it.

New York City elementary schools have a 10 week long co-curricular activity (CCA) for its students, where they learn ballroom dancing, and then compete in a city wide dance competition. How cool is that? Finally, a CCA from which you can actually learn something useful, a skill that stays with you for life. Imagine learning from young, the steps to the Tango, Foxtrot, Swing, Merengue, etc. Wow.

But there's a much higher cause in teaching ballroom dancing to the students. And that is to inculcate in them from young, a sense of hope, responsiblity - to themselves in mastering a skill, to their partners in performing well, and being a team player to the entire class/school, and a setting of an achievable goal if they were to work hard at it. Most students in the public schools come from the lower spectra of society, and as the movie goes, based on statistics, many may end up on the streets, probably living in the hood of crime or other vices like drugs. This programme allows the students to dream a little dream, work hard towards a common goal, build their self-confidence and esteem, and have them thinking about the kind of future they want to pursue.

So we follow different classes, and their trainings with the teachers, where we see them learning the basics of the different kinds of dances. It's pretty raw at first, but by the time the movie progresses, from the quarters to the finals, you'd see a marked improvement in the slickness of their paces. Their moves might still not be as polished, but bear in mind that these are only 11 year olds, not your already established dancers, or make believe actors.

The downside of competition is that for every winner, there'll be more losers, and the movie takes stock of this, and feature the losing teams as well, and how the lost affected the students, and the dread that the teachers have to go through to explain that it's part and parcel of competition, and life.

The movie is interspersed with various interviews and candid discussions amongst the students, and teachers, and it makes it compelling each time as you actually see that despite their little age, they demonstrate much innocent maturity, listening to them talk about boys, girls, relationships, dreams, etc. There's this pudgy looking boy whom I thought was pretty natural in getting himself into weird situations, and taking it all in his stride, and providing some of the laughs too. The teachers have their work cut out, having to teach their class, and then selecting only a handful to compete, and also to prep them up for the competition, and potential failure of not being emerging champions.

Before long, you'll find yourself tapping along to the various dances, making you want to get up there and move to the groove too - hey if 11 year olds can do it, and be good at it, why not give it a try? On the downside though, since the moves are done by students, they're taught really basic steps, and it does get repetitive, but hey, it's all in the name of fun.

Do catch Mad Hot Ballroom! If I have a recommendation to make for movies this week, watch this before it gets pulled out from the theatres! Stay throughtout the end credits as they'll be more discussion snippets from the tots.

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