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The Modern New York City Fifth Graders Graciously

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The sight of a roomful of modern New York City fifth graders graciously going through the classes of traditional ballroom dancing the foxtrot, the rumba, even the sultry tango has a certain good incongruity.

Especially with their 97% poverty rate in those schools. Yet still, the dances, with their old-style Astaire-and-Rogers urbanity, fit oddly with the nimble bodies and dressed-down urban attitudes of the time’s American schoolchildren.furthermore, thanks to a program organized by the American Ballroom Theater, students in 60 New York elementary schools not only learn the steps and postures but also display them in an annual tournament. Their competition is the subject of “Mad Hot Ballroom”, a slight, charming documentary directed by Marilyn Agrelo.

Ms. Agrelo and her co-producer, Amy Sewell, first-time filmmakers, went to three public schools in different parts of New York and followed their students through the stages of competition leading to a final event at the World Financial Center. The prize was a trophy taller than most of the competitors, and also the kind of glory that fuels the dreams of many young people.These kids show tremendous pluck and discipline, as well as a sometimes overwhelming desire to win.Not all of them can, of course, which is one of the hard lessons competition teaches. And not every documentary on a beguiling subject is entirely successful. The built-in suspense of the road to the final tournament (and the serendipitous development that at least one of the three schools makes it that far) gives “Mad Hot Ballroom” its entirety. The young dancers from TriBeCa, Washington Heights and Bensonhurst, Brooklyn give it perkiness and personality, but it misses the chance to present them in their full individuality. The interviews with them are fascinating in addition to dancing, they talk about school, the streets and the state of relations between girls and boys but also superficial.

Nonetheless, the dancing itself is fun to watch, both comical and genuinely touching, and any movie that captures some of the impeccable, magical process by which people learn is bound to be inspiring. There is also a glimpse at the ways class and ethnicity inform the lives of the city’s children.

The young sophisticates of TriBeCa seem not only materially better off than their counterparts uptown or in Brooklyn, but also confident of their superiority. In spite of their teacher’s concerns about foisting too much competition on them, they expect to win. The children of Washington Heights, on the other hand or at least their passionate, dynamic teacher feel as if they need to win. Their school district is one of Manhattan’s poorest, comprised largely of immigrants from the Dominican Republic, and the students’ aspirations are shadowed by the realities of crime, poverty and broken families.

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The modern New York City fifth graders graciously. (2019, January 03). GradesFixer. Retrieved September 29, 2022, from
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