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MAD HOT BALLROOM

This documentary about New York City fifth-graders in a ballroom-dance competition follows the lead of 2002ís Spellbound, but whereas the latter turned the National Spelling Bee into a nailbiter, director Marilyn Agreloís debut sometimes loses its fancy footing. In the early going, Agrelo waltzes a crowd of kids from three public schools across the screen; several, such as coltish Emma (she rattles off kidnapping statistics) and amber-eyed Wilson (he speaks no English but blazes charisma), beg for back story. After-school chats underscore the problems of poverty and urban evil, yet Agrelo never delves into any one life. Only in the final minutes do we learn of two dancersí troublemaking pasts.

Still, thereís no denying the charms of these frank-talking little Freds and Gingers, and the film delivers the expected dose of pathos and humor. (One gopher-cheeked boy likens his new pastime to "a sport that hasnít been invented as a sport yet.") The final competition ó a poignant spectacle of party shoes, mismatched partners, and some seriously swiveling hips ó doesnít disappoint, in part because there arenít as many faces to follow. Like its young subjects, Mad Hot Ballroom starts out stiff but swings in the end. (105 minutes)

BYALICIA POTTER

Issue Date: May 20 - 26, 2005
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