घरफिल्म समीक्षा: मैड हॉट बॉलरूमशिक्षाएटलस विश्वविद्यालय
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फिल्म समीक्षा: मैड हॉट बॉलरूम

फिल्म समीक्षा: मैड हॉट बॉलरूम

6 मिनट
March 30, 2011

June 2005 -- Mad Hot Ballroom. Director, Marilyn Agrelo; writer, Amy Sewell; director of photography, Claudia Raschke-Robinson; editor, Sabine Krayenbuhl; produced by Agrelo and Sewell; released by Paramount Classics. 105 minutes, rated PG.  

At some sixty-eight public schools in New York City, fifth-grade students can take a course in ballroom and Latin dancing, taught by instructors from American Ballroom Theater (ABrT). In Mad Hot Ballroom, producers Marilyn Agrelo and Amy Sewell followed students at three schools from the beginning of the ten-week course through the final, citywide competition. The documentary is charming, exciting, often hilarious, and, in the end, deeply inspiring.

For a school system with bloated costs and poor achievement, with political correctness in the classrooms and violence in the halls, dance instruction may seem yet another distraction from teaching core skills and knowledge. But if Mad Hot Ballroom is anything to go by, that judgment would be false. As we see the ten- and eleven-year-olds learning foxtrot, meringue, rumba, swing, and tango, we also see them learning the most important lessons of life, the traits of character they will need as adults even more than they will need geometry or American history.

But let’s start with the charm factor. Agrelo and Sewell follow the almost-adolescent students both in class and

Mad Hot Ballroom amazing documentary

outside, eavesdropping on their conversations on playgrounds and at home. The documentary features three very different schools: P.S. 150, in Manhattan’s upscale Tribeca neighborhood; P.S. 112 in Bensonhurst, a working class neighborhood in Brooklyn, traditionally Italian but now half-Asian; and P.S. 115 in Washington Heights, on Manhattan’s far-upper West Side, with its large population of immigrants from the Dominican Republic. The diversity brings out different styles in the common dances the students learn—and common themes in the different lives they lead. Along the way, in the framing of every scene, the filmmakers convey their love of New York, as if to say, as Samuel Johnson said of London, that he who tires of this city has tired of life.

The Tribeca children come from families of urbane and successful professionals. They are highly articulate, aware of the world in which their parents move, and precociously, if precariously, self-assured. Know-it-all Emma confidently passes along to her friends various factoids she has heard, such as the discovery that women actually are “the higher civilization.” Cyrus, a dour, diminutive boy with a gold earring, is prematurely versed in the ways of the world and more than willing to challenge the adults around him, as when he confronts a contest judge to complain of a low score. (In interviews, Agrelo says that when she first met with the class to explain how the filming would work, Cyrus asked if she had a distribution deal in place yet.)

Dancing is clearly a source of joy for these kids.

In Bensonhurst, the camera lingers on Michael, an easygoing boy, at once earnest and goofy, as he rambles on about dance, girls, and marriage while playing Foosball with his buddies. Two Chinese girls converse on a park bench, speaking demurely but with ill-concealed excitement about the prospect of romance. A Jewish boy serves as DJ in class because he’s not allowed to dance. “It’s against my religion,” he tells us. “It’s against his, too,” he adds, pointing to Mohammad, a shy Arab who says he likes it here because “people accept you.” Of all the students, the Bensonhurst kids seem most anchored in their world, taking life, people, and the ups and downs of competition as they come.

The Washington Heights children face a harsher reality. Despite what appear to be fairly close-knit families, the vast majority live below the poverty line. Drug-dealing is business as usual on the streets. Like their Tribeca peers, these kids seem wise beyond their years—but not about distribution deals and the like. The girls talk frankly about wanting a husband who won’t cheat on them, who won’t get into drugs, “who wants to make something of himself. And who respects me.” But dancing is clearly a source of joy. For a few troubled students it is a source of self-discipline. And, oh, can they dance! By the end of the course, their performances are simply breath-taking.

Grade-school dance lessons could have been about as interesting as watching grass grow. Mastering steps and style with a modicum of grace is a slow process, even for people whose bodies are not engaged in growth spurts and hormonal make-overs. Like countless movies with the formulaic “road to the big game” storyline, Mad Hot Ballroom uses fast-paced editing to speed through the otherwise tedious hours of practice. (The editing is a bit too quick for my taste, making it difficult to keep the teachers and students differentiated by school. You may want to take along the guide to characters--see sidebar .) But the narrative is anything but formulaic. For one thing, there’s real suspense: because this is a documentary, we don’t know in advance how far any of the teams will go in the competition. In addition, though the film focuses more and more on the children as it progresses, the adults are much more than bit players.

The dance instructors are engaging for their distinctive personalities and style; for the wonderfully inventive metaphors they use to convey the subtleties of motion, posture, and style; and for the lessons they teach in decorum. In Washington Heights, Rodney Lopez begins a foxtrot lesson by asking the students to imagine how a fox walks; within minutes he has the class gliding across the floor in the smooth, confident, slow-slow-quick-quick of a predator’s stalk. He tells the boys to tuck in their shirts, explaining with matter-of-fact authority that their loose-hanging street-chic style looks terrible. The command gets quick compliance because Lopez himself is the essence of cool.

One of the benefits ABrT claims for its dance program, which the organization and its donors offer the public schools at 40 percent of actual cost, is to help students “understand the civility, social manners, and dress codes expected in adult life.” In the Tribeca school the suave and aristocratic Alex Tchassov, a ballroom competitor in his native Russia, tells his class, “Ballroom is a dialogue between a lady and a gentleman.” He uses those terms in their literal, elevated meaning, not as mere synonyms for female and male, and so do the other teachers. By the end, at least some of the students seem to grasp that being a lady or gentleman is a desirable status, but one that has to be earned by embracing certain standards of behavior. It is striking, and refreshing, that no one seems to have any politically correct antipathy toward such standards as tools of control by the ruling class, nor any disdain toward the standards as merely conventional, not natural. Though no one in the film says it in so many words, there’s a common recognition that dress and manners are the outward form and instrument of self-respect and self-discipline.

That’s one of the great lessons in life these students learn. The other has to do with competition.

The dance competition among schools, of course, is what provides the drama of Mad Hot Ballroom as well as its moments of pathos. Competition is also a topic of discussion and debate. In one of the more amusing scenes, the ABrT instructors gather with Pierre Dulaine, the organization’s founder and MC for the contest, to discuss logistics for the event. After some discussion of how to soften the blow for the losing teams, Dulaine reminds everyone, somewhat acerbically, of a fact they are struggling to evade: “If you haven’t won, you’ve lost.”

The film shows how values can and should be taught.

Is competition about beating your opponent? Yes and no. Yes, obviously, in the sense that the alternative of winning or losing is what gives point to the activity and provides the challenge. No, in the sense that the ultimate satisfaction lies in doing one’s best, not in being better than someone else; competition is merely a device for experiencing one’s own abilities and virtues at their highest. But navigating emotionally between these poles of competition is not easy, even for adults, and the difficulties are on full display in the film.

Allison Sheniak and Yomaira Reynoso are the teachers at Tribeca and Washington Heights, respectively, who collaborate with ABrT’s instructors in the dance program. Both women are attractive, articulate, dedicated, and intensely committed to their students. But those similarities highlight a key difference in how they deal with competition.

The Tribeca school reflects the culture of Manhattan’s professional elite: successful, well-connected, intensely competitive—and sufficiently guilty about all of the above to paper those traits over with liberal pieties. The school’s principal says she didn’t like the competitive aspect of the dance program but approved it to help the school get back on its feet after September 11. (P.S. 150 is less than half a mile from ground zero as the rubble flies.) Sheniak gives voice to the same ambivalence. She doesn’t like having to pick students for the school’s team, worrying about the effects on those not chosen. When the team loses and the children are crushed, she assures them that “it’s not about winning.” That’s an obvious half-truth, and it’s obviously not the half that the kids are experiencing at that moment. When they talk it over later, the students are at first full of excuses: We did everything the instructors told us to; the other team wasn’t really better; the judges’ verdict is just a matter of opinion. It is one of the students, not Sheniak, who finally serves as the voice of reality and responsibility, admitting that “we could have done better.”

Yomaira Reynoso, the teacher in Washington Heights, has no ambivalence about winning. With energy like a force of nature and earthy good humor (even funnier, I suspect, for those who don’t need subtitles to understand the Spanish she sometimes speaks with her mostly Dominican class), she too is dedicated and totally committed to her students. There’s no question she will love them no matter how they fare in the competition. In a poignant monologue, she wishes she could reach inside her students’ minds and give them the strength to resist the lures of the street, to make something of themselves as individuals. But she knows that such aspirations have to be chosen, and that some will choose badly. She knows that talent, ambition, and achievement are not equally distributed, that it’s right and fair for the best students to make the team and for the best team to win the gold. She knows that competing will call out her students’ best only if they give everything they have to the goal of winning. She does not try to shelter the children from those facts of life. She dismisses one boy from the team without hesitation when he misbehaves in practice. She pushes all of them, in colorfully expressed impatience, to keep on working even when they are tired. She may not be able to make all her students escape the narrow limits of their environment, but she models the way out through her love of achievement and unblinking acceptance of facts.

To my mind, she is the real hero of this film, first among her peers in giving this film its moral depth. If you took all the purveyors of programs for character-building, “ethics for kids,” and “values clarification,” and laid them end to end, which might be a good idea in any case, you would not learn as much about how values are actually taught as you do by watching Reynoso prepare her students for ballroom competition. That alone is reason enough to go see Mad Hot Ballroom, even for those—if indeed such a condition is possible—who are unaccountably immune to the charms of children, dancing, and New York City.

> Sidebar: "The Cast of Mad Hot Ballroom"

डेविड केली

लेखक के बारे में:

डेविड केली

डेविड केली एटलस सोसाइटी के संस्थापक हैं। एक पेशेवर दार्शनिक, शिक्षक और सबसे अधिक बिकने वाले लेखक, वह 25 से अधिक वर्षों के लिए ऑब्जेक्टिविज्म के अग्रणी प्रस्तावक रहे हैं।

David Kelley Ph.D
About the author:
David Kelley Ph.D

David Kelley founded The Atlas Society (TAS) in 1990 and served as Executive Director through 2016. In addition, as Chief Intellectual Officer, he was responsible for overseeing the content produced by the organization: articles, videos, talks at conferences, etc.. Retired from TAS in 2018, he remains active in TAS projects and continues to serve on the Board of Trustees.

केली एक पेशेवर दार्शनिक, शिक्षक और लेखक हैं। 1975 में प्रिंसटन विश्वविद्यालय से दर्शनशास्त्र में पीएचडी अर्जित करने के बाद, वह वासर कॉलेज के दर्शनशास्त्र विभाग में शामिल हो गए, जहां उन्होंने सभी स्तरों पर विभिन्न प्रकार के पाठ्यक्रम पढ़ाए। उन्होंने ब्रैंडिस विश्वविद्यालय में दर्शनशास्त्र भी पढ़ाया है और अन्य परिसरों में अक्सर व्याख्यान दिया है।

केली के दार्शनिक लेखन में नैतिकता, महामारी विज्ञान और राजनीति में मूल कार्य शामिल हैं, उनमें से कई नई गहराई और नई दिशाओं में वस्तुवादी विचारों को विकसित कर रहे हैं। वह द एविडेंस ऑफ द सेंसेज के लेखक हैं, जो महामारी विज्ञान में एक ग्रंथ है; ऑब्जेक्टिविस्ट आंदोलन के मुद्दों पर, ऑब्जेक्टिविज्म में सच्चाई और सहनशीलता; अनगढ़ व्यक्तिवाद: परोपकार का स्वार्थी आधार; और द आर्ट ऑफ रीजनिंग, परिचयात्मक तर्क के लिए व्यापक रूप से इस्तेमाल की जाने वाली पाठ्यपुस्तक, अब अपने 5 वें संस्करण में है।

केली ने राजनीतिक और सांस्कृतिक विषयों की एक विस्तृत श्रृंखला पर व्याख्यान और प्रकाशन किया है। सामाजिक मुद्दों और सार्वजनिक नीति पर उनके लेख हार्पर्स, द साइंसेज, रीजन, हार्वर्ड बिजनेस रिव्यू, द फ्रीमैन, ऑन प्रिंसिपल और अन्य जगहों पर दिखाई दिए हैं। 1980 के दशक के दौरान, उन्होंने समतावाद, आव्रजन, न्यूनतम मजदूरी कानून और सामाजिक सुरक्षा जैसे मुद्दों पर बैरोन्स फाइनेंशियल एंड बिजनेस पत्रिका के लिए अक्सर लिखा।

उनकी पुस्तक ए लाइफ ऑफ वन्स ओन: इंडिविजुअल राइट्स एंड द वेलफेयर स्टेट कल्याणकारी राज्य के नैतिक परिसर और निजी विकल्पों की रक्षा की आलोचना है जो व्यक्तिगत स्वायत्तता, जिम्मेदारी और गरिमा को संरक्षित करते हैं। 1998 में जॉन स्टोसेल के एबीसी / टीवी विशेष "लालच" में उनकी उपस्थिति ने पूंजीवाद की नैतिकता पर एक राष्ट्रीय बहस छेड़ दी।

ऑब्जेक्टिविज्म पर एक अंतरराष्ट्रीय स्तर पर मान्यता प्राप्त विशेषज्ञ, उन्होंने ऐन रैंड, उनके विचारों और उनके कार्यों पर व्यापक रूप से व्याख्यान दिया है। वह एटलस श्रग्ड के फिल्म रूपांतरण के सलाहकार थे, और एटलस श्रग्ड: द नॉवेल, द फिल्म्स, द फिलॉसफी के संपादक थे


प्रमुख कार्य (चयनित):

"अवधारणाएं और प्रकृति: यथार्थवादी मोड़ पर एक टिप्पणी (डगलस बी रासमुसेन और डगलस जे डेन यूयल द्वारा)," रीजन पेपर 42, नंबर 1, (समर 2021); हाल की एक पुस्तक की इस समीक्षा में अवधारणाओं के ऑन्कोलॉजी और महामारी विज्ञान में एक गहरी गोता शामिल है।

ज्ञान की नींव। ऑब्जेक्टिविस्ट एपिस्टेमोलॉजी पर छह व्याख्यान।

"अस्तित्व की प्रधानता" और "धारणा की महामारी विज्ञान," जेफरसन स्कूल, सैन डिएगो, जुलाई 1985

"यूनिवर्सल्स एंड इंडक्शन," जीकेआरएच सम्मेलनों में दो व्याख्यान, डलास और एन आर्बर, मार्च 1989

"संदेह," यॉर्क विश्वविद्यालय, टोरंटो, 1987

"फ्री विल की प्रकृति," पोर्टलैंड इंस्टीट्यूट में दो व्याख्यान, अक्टूबर 1986

"आधुनिकता की पार्टी," कैटो नीति रिपोर्ट, मई / जून 2003; और नेविगेटर, नवंबर 2003; पूर्व-आधुनिक, आधुनिक (प्रबुद्धता) और उत्तर आधुनिक विचारों के बीच सांस्कृतिक विभाजन पर एक व्यापक रूप से उद्धृत लेख।

"मुझे नहीं करना है" (आईओएस जर्नल, वॉल्यूम 6, नंबर 1, अप्रैल 1996) और "मैं कर सकता हूं और मैं करूंगा" (द न्यू इंडिविजुअलिस्ट, फॉल / विंटर 2011); व्यक्तियों के रूप में हमारे जीवन पर हमारे नियंत्रण को वास्तविक बनाने पर साथी टुकड़े।

फिल्में और टीवी