Contrary to popular belief, my day consists of more than just running around snapping pictures of bees and cherry blossoms. I also teach. English, I suppose, but importantly I teach internationalization. Not very often, mind you, but on the rare occasion that I’m dusted off and summoned to the classroom, I try to deliver. Today’s delivery of educational goodness arrived in the form of Mad Hot Ballroom, a documentary about a ballroom dancing program developed for public elementary schools in New York City. Students in this program—many of whom are from disadvantaged backgrounds—spend 10 weeks mastering tango, merengue, rumba, swing, and various other dances, and then show off their skills in a city-wide contest. The results are impressive, not to mention heartwarming.


So what’s in it for my students out here in Kagami? Why should they care about tiny tots learning to dance in New York? For starters, the little buggers in Mad Hot Ballroom are unquestionably adorable! Cute, even. And if there’s one thing always in high demand on this side of the Pacific, it’s cuteness. Lot’s and lot’s of cuteness. So much cuteness that on more than one occasion I’ve wondered to myself if Japan isn’t being secretly run by the ghost of Walt Disney.

Beyond cuteness, the movie provides a great look at life in America, but from the viewpoint of pint-sized fox trotters. I think this is preferable to learning about it through the eyes of, say, a web-slinging Toby Maguire or a heat-packing Nicholas Cage. Just a tad more realistic, no? For the most part, my students were receptive to the film. They laughed at the funny bits, screamed “how cute!” when the little buggers burst into merengue, and whispered, “That looks like Ellison-sensei’s little brother” upon spotting a kid with an over-sized afro. Throughout the film I would pause at certain points to highlight some of the interesting differences between schools in America and those in Japan. For example, a young, attractive woman sitting in a high-backed leather chair was shown giving her opinion on the dance program. I explained that she was the principal of the school and the students went ballistic. What do you mean principal? A woman? And young? No way! How cool! Other differences were also noticed: in Japan students must wear uniforms; students in America, generally speaking, don’t. Students in America are allowed to have pierced ears; in Japan, it means a trip to the teacher’s staffroom and a severe scolding. The American students, despite being rather young, weren’t hesitant to give their opinions; in Japan, however, getting a student to speak his or her mind is like pulling teeth—with tweezers!

Fortunately, I have some sturdy tweezers and a great deal of patience!  Otsukaresama…