In the 2005 documentary film “Mad Hot Ballroom,” viewers saw how the lives of New York City public school kids were impacted by dance.
Around that same time, dance was taking center stage in pop culture. Movies like “Step Up” and television shows like “Dancing With the Stars” scored big audiences – many of the viewers were kids.
Leaders on Milwaukee’s dance scene took notice, and decided it was time to open up the art form to kids who might not otherwise experience it.
Local company Danceworks began operating its own version of Mad Hot Ballroom and tap dancing in 2006. They integrated instruction into the regular school curriculum within the Milwaukee Public school system, starting with three pilot schools.
And after 10 years, the program is now in more than 40 schools district-wide.
Danceworks' Executive Director Deborah Farris says the program has had a good run so far.
"Steady growth, wonderful people, wonderful community of support," Farris says. "The more lives you transform, the more you can serve and the more outcomes you have that are beneficial to the community. I do believe we are seeing that. That's what drives the expansion of the program."
Farris says the demand for ballroom instruction exceeds the supply, and Danceworks is working hard to get programming to every school that requests it.
Right now, Mad Hot Ballroom instruction serves fourth, fifth and sixth graders. Going forward, program directors hope to expand the program out to other grades - potentially kindergarten, or even high school.
Linnea Koeppel, Danceworks' director of development and marketing, says the challenge is just getting the idea of Mad Hot in front of more people.
"It's just building the awareness of that program," Koeppel says. "I think once you see it, you can't help but want to be a part of it, in some way."
Danceworks throws its annual Mad Hot Ballroom competition on May 21 at the BMO Harris Bradley Center.