July 8 - 14, 2005• Vol. 26 - No. 27

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Mad Hot Ballroom—an Exhilarating Documentary
Film with Much More than Dance

by The Blonde and The Maven
Film Columnists

Mad Hot Ballroom is an inspiring look inside the lives of New York City public school children on a journey into the world of ballroom dancing. Here they discover new frontiers of attitude, movement, style and commitment, as well as the cultures that spawned the dances they learn. This documentary chronicles their transformation from typical urban kids to “ladies and gentlemen” as their school teams strive to win a city-wide competition. The three main schools profiled are, Washington Heights, Tribeca and Bensonhurst. The students experience a roller-coaster ride of triumph, disappointment and sportsmanship. They learn social formalities as well as dance structure and empower themselves by coming together as a team. The camera captures the drama of rehearsals and after school chatter about their ambitions, dreams and fears.
The American Ballroom Theater's Dancing Classrooms is a nonprofit organization that provides instruction in ballroom dance at over sixty public schools in NYC. The program was introduced in two schools ten years ago with ten weeks of required classed in Meringue, Swing, Rumba, Tango and Fox-trot. At the end of this program, the schools are given a choice to compete.

The Blonde: This was a positive, uplifting, inspirational film about kids for a change. Mad Hot Ballroom was like Shall We Dance (both of them) meets Spellbound meets Strictly Ballroom meets Rocky (only with children and dance). This film was so beautifully done from the very start to the very end. I give kudos to the independent filmmaker/director Marilyn Agrelo for having the sensitivity and vision to present this lovely documentary. It's a shame, however, that it didn't have the crucial publicity necessary to make this film more mainstream.

The Maven: How inspiring it is to see these young people on the verge of all the adolescent changes that puberty brings, taking on a whole new challenge and growing from it. Some (especially boys) drag their feet and grimaced, but eventually all the kids learned to appreciate the discipline of dance and a select few were truly transformed by it.

The Blonde:  Maven, why on earth did you dump half of YOUR bucket of popcorn on MY lap?


The Blonde: Yeah, but not on my lap. Do you have any idea how much of that popcorn landed on the floor? You know more than anyone that POPCORN IS A TERRIBLE THING TO WAIST. I am surprised at you!

The Maven: CUT ME SOME SLACK! It was a refillable bucket for blonde's sake! AND BLONDE, IT IS WASTED NOT WAIST. You are way too obsessed with your weight!

The Blonde: WASTED POPCORN IS WAISTED POPCORN, in every sense of the word, no matter how you want to spell it! (Although popcorn is totally worth the calories)! I love how these inner city New York kids who are mostly being raised at the poverty level (97 percent of the kids) were given this wonderful gift that ends up to encompass much more than just dance. It helped them form bonds of friendship, learn compassion to become part of a team, the win and defeat of competition, grace, poise, etiquette and to grow from the loss or the win. The array of emotions this competition puts the kids through will help them learn to survive what the REAL world will eventually throw in their path. I loved the touching scene where one of the dancing teachers cried when she had to choose which of the kids will go to the semi-finals. It brought tears to my eyes when she broke down as she explained that this dance program has made ladies and gentlemen out of sometimes rowdy, misbehaving kids.

The Maven: These NYC kids were surprisingly articulate. They easily expressed themselves even with cameras in their faces.  I would love to see how many of these kids continue with ballroom dancing in the future. It would be really nice to see an update on this program.

The Blonde: Some kids today are given too much. They are just handed things on a silver platter. It is wonderful to see a program in public schools that give to kids that would never have the opportunity to experience such things. Kids have ballet, karate, piano lessons, tennis lessons etc to achieve self-esteem. Finally, these kids are given this opportunity for free.

The Maven: I was most impressed with the concern the teachers had for their students when disappointment was experienced by those who don't make the finals in competition. So often, teachers are misunderstood or shown in a negative light. This film highlighted the positive! Our students in Florida could use a program like this—a few weeks where the FCAT wasn't a priority, where a lack of talent could be overcome with passion and a new found sense of self.

The Blonde: I agree about a Florida program. It would have saved me thousands on private dance lessons alone. Another topic this movie achieved was teaching or reminding us all that hatred is LEARNED! These kids were black, white, Asian, Latin, Indian, etc. and they worked together as a team. The innocence and lack of prejudice is a beautiful thing.

The Maven: Most of these kids are living in communities that are racially diverse. Many are from broken homes. Single working parents have little time to instill their prejudices, if any. Teachers are more often than not the parental figures to them. However, it was so funny to see the parents at the competition so proud of what their children could and have achieved. Some were surprised at how well their kids moved. I loved it. For a little while, these kids and their families only had DANCE to think about; no drugs, no gangs, nothing but the clean fun of competition and dancing.

The Blonde: I found it quite sad that these young 11ish year old kids have to deal with drugs, gangs, sex, abuse, adultery, mental illness and other things surrounding them on a daily basis. It is simply hard enough being a kid. This dance program gives them a chance to escape their reality and focus on the positive things that life has to offer.

The Maven: So much has changed for 5th graders nowadays. We never worried about the drug sellers in our neighborhoods or how hard it is to be a female because “we have to be pregnant.” Who says that at 11 years old?

The Blonde: In our day, who even thought it? I was busy trying to make my Barbie the best-dressed Barbie in my clique, and that didn't include the maternity clothes either!

The Maven: Barbie didn't have maternity clothes. I don't even think there was a “Pregnant Barbie”!

The Blonde: That's because Ken was a prude.

The Maven: No, I think it was because he didn't have the equipment.

The Blonde: Speaking of getting pregnant, what's up with Demi?

The Maven: I am just waiting for her naked pregnant photos to grace the cover of Vanity Fair again. Ya know Blonde, your Barbie statement kind of hurt my feelings. I was too poor to have a Mattel Barbie, or even a Ken for that matter! So here you are, bragging about all the clothes your dolls had. I had to make my own clothes for my fakes!

The Blonde: BOO-HOO-HOO! Hey, I didn't have the Dream House, the Dream Boat or even the Dream Car. I never had Malibu Barbie for that matter! In addition, (you should know) my Barbie's feet were bitten off by my dog, my Ken’s head was pulled off and thrown away by a mystery doll murderer and my Midge's (Barbie's girlfriend) arms and legs were pulled off by my brother's! So don't go complaining to me about your perfectly conditioned fake Barbie…

The Maven: YOU HAD A MIDGE DOLL AS WELL? I am not talking about Barbie with you anymore…

The Blonde: I had the blue leather carrying case!!

The Maven: NO COMMENT! Please, DON'T DRAG YOUR FEET on this film. Go see Mad Hot Ballroom… it's heartwarming, engaging and bound to charm you right out of your seat and into a ballroom. I rate this film an A for awfully captivating.

The Blonde: Mad Hot Ballroom is one GEM of a documentary film. Don't be put off that it's a documentary. It will keep you entertained. You will find yourself cheering and maybe even shedding a few happy tears. This film tries to get across the old saying, “Find something you love to do and do it very VERY well.” I rate this precious film a B+ and an A for a documentary. For your movie snacks, why not have some Junior Mints candy and some Almond Joy candy for this was a MINT of a film and a JOY to watch!

The Maven:  Blonde, I feel like going out tonight and doing the tango. Are you game?

The Blonde: Only if you lead and bring the rose!

The Maven: I will bring the rose … BUT, because of ALL OF YOUR BARBIE BRAGGING, I am leaving the thorns.

The Blonde: Forget the dancing, just come over and we'll hang in my hot tub!!!


Miami Design Preservation League Launches Summer Classic Film Series with The Thin Man, July 14

On Thursday, July 14 at 7pm, the Miami Design Preservation League kicks off their Summer Classic Film Series with The Thin Man (1934). Directed by W.S. Van Dyke and based on Dashiell Hammett’s novel of the same name, The Thin Man was nominated for four Academy Awards including best actor, best director and best picture.
The Thin Man stars William Powell as dashing, handsome and debonair retired private detective Nick Charles and Myrna Loy as his beautiful, witty and very wealthy wife Nora. Completing the household is their equally stylish dog, Asta. Loy and Powell’s onscreen chemistry—equal parts dialogue, drinking and detective work--makes the characters of Nick and Nora spark to life as a modern cinematic couple living a life of wealth and privilege in which amusing themselves is as important as being adventurous and solving the case.
Nick and Nora take time out of their whirlwind life of partying to assist young Dorothy Wynant (Maureen O’Sullivan) find her mysteriously vanished inventor father. The plot’s entanglements offer ample opportunity for the smart and stylish sleuths to both drink and deduce while supporting characters provide a cross-section of class in 1930s America. The Thin Man presents both a collection of Nick’s shady friends and former associates as well as the fancies and foibles of the very rich.
The popularity of The Thin Man prompted the creation of a series of five more films starring Powell and Loy including After the Thin Man (1936) and Another Thin Man (1939).  MDPL will feature these two films in August and September in their Summer Classic Film Series.  
The Thin Man is part of a series of free lectures, films and exhibits presented by the Miami Design Preservation League throughout the year.
The Miami Design Preservation League is a non-profit preservation and arts organization founded in 1976. It is devoted to preserving, protecting and promoting the architectural, cultural, social, economic, and environmental integrity of the Miami Beach Architectural Historic District (Art Deco District) as well as other areas of the city and South Florida, wherever historic preservation is a concern. MDPL is the oldest Art Deco society in the world. MDPL is headquartered at the Art Deco Welcome Center, 1001 Ocean Drive, Miami Beach, Florida 33139.
The free film screening is open to the public and takes place at the Art Deco Welcome Center Auditorium—1001 Ocean Drive, Miami Beach. RSVPs are recommended by calling 305-674-1736. For a complete calendar of events, visit the Miami Design Preservation League at www.mdpl.org or call 305-672-2014 for more information.

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