Mad Hot Ballroom is about a group of New York City public school students who decide to take up ballroom dancing. These 11-year-olds are at a crucial point in their development, and ballroom dancing serves as a means to express themselves and to gain maturity. The students tell their own story, revealing that each of them come from different backgrounds and face different challenges at school and in life. Their ballroom dancing classes serve as a sanctuary from the harsh realities of life. In fact, many of the students use their time in ballroom class as a way to figure out the challenges that face them in the outside world.
The film primarily focuses on students at three schools in three different parts of the city. Each of the areas have vastly different social and economic makeups. This demonstrates that even though the environments are different, all of the students can learn to appreciate ballroom dancing in a similar way.
The classes take place during a 10-week period with a competition at the end between the best dancers at all three schools. This competition is to decide which school has produced the best dancers. The students become extremely focused on this competition and show how racial boundaries fall away as the students pursue the same goal.
The main theme of Mad Hot Ballroom is that young people can achieve great things if given the proper outlet. Additionally, the film reveals how insightful young people truly are when they know that their opinions are going to be taken seriously. It can serve a teaching tool for parents that want to know what their children may be thinking about life.