Indivisible Arts

Teaching Articles - Essays to fuel your creative life

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Mad Hot Ballroom is a documentary about a group of fifth-graders whose lives are changed when they learn ballroom dancing. Here is Cameron's response to this moving film, which serves as yet another eloquent reminder that arts may be our most powerful tool in affecting social reform.

Indivisible Arts

Indivisible Arts:

Thoughts on Adam Smith's Mad Hot Ballroom

by Cameron Brooks


When a school's poverty rate is above 90%, most students' families struggle to afford healthy food, so piano lessons or dance classes are not even an option. Yet each year, for hundreds of fifth graders in New York City's strapped public schools, a ten-week ballroom dance course provides a life-changing opportunity.

The program is much more than a unit in a P.E. class. In the words of Clarita Zeppie, the principal at P.S. 115 in Washington Heights, "They have the advantage of learning something new, of perfecting it, and of being successful." The documentary Mad Hot Ballroom follows teams of fifth graders as they learn to express themselves physically, rhythmically and creatively, while learning the Foxtrot, Merengue, Waltz, Swing, and Tango. While the film concludes with a "Dancing with the Stars"-esque dance-off between the city's boroughs, with tear-streaked losers and ecstatic winners, the journey the students undertake proves to be life-changing.

The physical dialogue dance provides gives rise to conversation outside of school. Atop a huge rock outcrop in a neighborhood park, a handful of students candidly share thoughts and emotions sparked by the day's dance. 11-year-old Emma articulates a compelling realization: "One thing that I realize is that boys that are normally rowdy and kind of rough, they really show a different side to them. They can be very understanding and very gentle." The film reveals the fact that social-emotional learning and the arts are indivisible.