Mad Hot Ballroom hits Milwaukee Public Schools

In 2005, “Mad Hot Ballroom” tangoed into theaters but the ballroom craze was already in full effect with TV’s “Dancing with the Stars.” The movie followed three New York Schools participating in a school-wide ballroom competition. The program taught fifth graders to foxtrot, rumba and swing dance their way to success. Now, there’s an effort to bring Mad Hot Ballroom to Milwaukee.

Danceworks Board Member, Mario Costantini, was so impressed with the film that he decided to launch a Milwaukee program, according to Danceworks Executive Director Deborah Farris.

She says that the Mad Hot Ballroom Milwaukee pilot program was launched in the Fall of 2006 with three schools participating: Golda Meir, Elm and Vieau.

“This program will provide desperately needed arts programming in Milwaukee schools while building artistic, academic and social skills among students,” Farris says. “We hope to bring a program to Milwaukee that will engage our city youth to get to school and stay in school.”

At 6 p.m.on Jan. 17 at the Turner Ballroom, the public can get a taste of Mad Hot Ballroom Milwaukee as 130 students in the pilot program compete and share the skills they have learned.

“Danceworks program offers tap to fourth or fifth grade classes the first year followed by ballroom to fifth or sixth graders,” Farris says. “In tap, students are introduced to rhythm, movement and learn about simple dance technique and discipline. In ballroom, students work with a partner and learn healthy respect for the opposite sex.”

She says that this program isn’t just about learning the steps, it’s about life.

“This is the age where kids must overcome awkwardness with the opposite sex, a lack of self-confidence and other challenging surroundings to create a new path for themselves.”

Mike Brenner, manager of the Turner Ballroom, says that the Milwaukee Turners and the Turner Ballroom Preservation Trust wanted to be involved in any way possible.

“We feel involving kids in the arts is going to be crucial to reversing the current crisis in MPS. We need to start building ‘whole’ people. As a community we need to start showing kids there is hope, beauty and excitement in the world,” Brenner says. “The arts give kids a way to deal with and express feelings that they may not otherwise understand. Anger, frustration and hopelessness can be channeled into creative expression, excitement and joy. The Mad Hot Ballroom program was so successful in New York, it only makes sense to being it to Milwaukee.”

“The 4th Street Forum,” filmed at Turner Hall, will also discuss the arts and children in the show that tapes on Jan. 18 called “The Arts and Successful Children.”

“At a social function last spring, I ran into Mario Costantini who is on, I think, a couple of boards concerning the arts and children,” says Deirdre Martin, “4th Street Forum” director. “He told me that a collaboration of youth arts groups (with Mario as lead) were bringing the writer/producer of ‘Mad Hot Ballroom’ to town to kick off Mad Hot Ballroom Milwaukee. I looked into the connection between kids doing well in school and their involvement in the arts and it sounded like something (‘4th St. Forum’) should do.”

The panel for “The Arts and Successful Children” includes “Mad Hot Ballroom” producer/writer Amy Sewell, South Milwaukee High School Theater Arts and Creative Writing Teacher Bill Jackson, Modjeska Youth Theater Company Director Diane Johnson and Milwaukee Public Schools Board Member Jennifer Morales. Denise Callaway, director of communications for the Greater Milwaukee Foundation, acts as moderator.

Martin says that the community should take notice of a program and forum like this because these are topics that everyone needs to think about.

“We are a political and social issues program, but the topics we deal with affect so many of us in our community. The topics are interesting, but if you attend in person, it’s fun to participate in a TV show,” she says. “But it’s also interesting to watch it in the privacy of your own home. It may not be the reality show many are used to, but we discuss concerns that are a true reality for many in our community.”

The competition and the forum will act as previews for Mad Hot Ballroom Milwaukee kick-off event Jan. 19.

“The event will include a showing of the film Mad Hot Ballroom and a Q & A with the film’s Writer/Producer, Amy Sewell,” says Farris. “It will also include a special 6-minute mini-documentary which the Golda Meir students and teachers made about their Mad Hot Ballroom program and it was fabulous. It brought many of us to tears. The second half of the evening will be a benefit reception in Bradley Pavilion with live dancing and an opportunity to meet Ms. Sewell.”

Farris says it will be a completely worthwhile event.

“This will be a great program, a great movie and a great evening,” she says. “The audience will be amazed at the performances of the students. We promise laughs, tears and lots of dancing. What could be more fun?”

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