Produced by Marilyn Agrelo and Amy Sewell
As themselves: P.S. 150 Tribeca: Allison Sheniak, Emma Biegacki, Tara Devon Gallagher, Cyrus Hernstadt, Zeb Liburd. P.S. 112 Bensonhurst,
A grin from first to last, this delightful documentary traces several 11-year-old New York elementary school kids on a 10 week course from their first compulsory lessons in ballroom and latin dancing to the final city-wide competition. Three schools in Brooklyn, Tribeca and
ABrT – American Ballroom Theatre - is a phenomenon. A programme initiated in elementary schools 10 years ago, it is designed to impart not only social and dancing skills, but different values, even to the possibility of different futures, to urban kids. From the first lesson, when the line of solemn pairs of boys and girls are led ‘into the ballroom, ladies and gentlemen’, there’s a different meme at work. The teachers teach respect here by giving it, they teach style by exuberantly expressing their own. Their enthusiasm is catching and fun.
The film gives a rare view of articulate kids at the precarious, impressionable age of 11, where an environmentally conditioned life script often entails a future of low self esteem or even crime. Far from an imposed regime to which kids cannot relate, the intricate disciplines of the rumba, foxtrot, meringue, swing and tango are grasped, after some initial shyness, with style and aspiration.
It’s impossible to watch this film without smiling, not only at the street-wise or sweetly innocent observations of the kids, but also at their earnest efforts to win the trophy. Inevitable disappointment of those teams who lose, commented on by one of the judges as ‘practice for life’, sits alongside admiration at the grace and confidence of all the competing teams. The intense excitement of parents and other team members is infectious. When the teachers have tears of joy on their faces and judges too are helplessly grinning, the level of fun is irresistible and it’s easy to see how this programme is life-changing for so many kids.
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Close-up interviews make them very real to us. Cute charmer Michael, “You wanna win, you wanna have fun, but you can’t get the steps right!”, pocket-social-observer Cyrus and mature-beyond-her-years Emma Biegacki, who wants to make dancing her career, make an engaging impact along with challenging kids with behaviour problems like Michell and Kelvin, who “turned themselves around” through the ABrT programme and shy, talented and graceful Wilson Castillo, whose language problems are of no import on the dance floor.
In post 9/11
© Avril Carruthers 29th September 2005
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