When Danceworks instructors saw the documentary “Mad Hot Ballroom”10 years ago, they felt inspired to revamp dance education in Milwaukee. The film follows inner city kids from New York as they prepare for a ballroom dancing competition. Danceworks decided to recreate the competition and make it their own by adding tap to the mix—and Danceworks Mad Hot Ballroom and Tap was born. The free after-school program gives 4th, 5th, and 6th graders attending schools in Milwaukee’s low-income neighborhoods an artistic outlet they wouldn’t otherwise have. This year, over 2,700 students from 43 schools are participating. Danceworks instructors come to the schools twice a week for 15 weeks, starting in January. The younger students learn tap and the older students learn ballroom styles. Instructors also help the dancers improve their social skills through lessons in discipline, respect, and dedication.
The ultimate payoff comes in May during the annual Danceworks Mad Hot Competition at the BMO Harris Bradley Center. Students showcase their work in three different performance categories. Once the program is done, each dancer receives a scholarship to continue dancing at Danceworks.
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett is an especially big supporter of the program and watches the competition each year. “He saw the documentary years ago and was so impressed,” says Amy Brinkman-Sustache, a founding member of Danceworks. “One of his goals was, he wanted this program to be in Milwaukee. Well, before he could do anything about it, we had already started it.”
In March, the mayor named March 10th “Danceworks, Inc. Day” because of the program’s overwhelming success.