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Don’t be fooled. Dance Dreams: Hot Chocolate Nutcracker is not just a sweet little doc about a bunch of kids who get a shiny participation ribbon. Sure, it’s inspiring and uplifting. But it’s also bracingly clear-eyed about the way that Dance (you can read “any Art”) can be fickle and cruel.

The film is structured around the casting and rehearsal process for the Debbie Allen Dance Academy’s Hot Chocolate Nutcracker, an annual fundraiser show that lifts the plot (if little else) from Tchaikovsky’s holiday chestnut. You do get to see quite a bit of the finished product, but it’s the peeks at the grueling weeks ahead of the show’s debut that make the documentary really something to see.

It’s tough to find movies or TV shows that get the process of making Art just right—I can count the successful ones without using all of my fingers. Hot Chocolate Nutcracker pulls it off, though. It focuses pretty seriously on the tedium of rehearsal; and the practice, practice, practice dictum set down by taskmaster and dance academy doyenne Debbie Allen makes it quite clear that ballet ain’t for everyone.

The high point for me is when a six-seven-eight-year old (I’m bad at this) looks directly into the camera and says as matter-of-factly as possible “I just got kicked out [of the show]” and there’s not a tear in sight. She’s gonna go places, that kid.

About The Author

DG Strong took up knitting in 2014. He lives in Nashville with his sister, her rat terrier and a hound dog named Opal. He has a blog of drawings and faintly ridiculous rambling called The Psychopedia—there are worse ways to spend your afternoon.

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  • I watched this a couple of weeks ago, and it’s incredible in so many ways. Debbie Allen is a force of nature. This doc weaves together so many themes, about racism, about art, about how to reach kids as kids. I just loved it.

    • This documentary is amazing. Thanks for the suggestion. Yea, NetFlix!

  • You know that when someone wants to commission a piece of art from you and are horrified when you tell them what a true price would be that they do not understand what goes into making that piece of art. Debbie Allen is awesome.

  • Off to Netflix this minute!

  • A wonderful uplifting documentary! a Debbie Allen is fierce and beautiful!
    Thank you so much for the tip!

  • Loved the film and must admit these days I think many people don’t care much about others. Grateful for anything that steers me in the opposite direction. Thanks for the, as usual, lovely piece of writing. Was glad to learn at the end of the film where some of the kids ended up.

  • Oooooooohhhhh. Sounds good. Will be watching with my children, who need a dose of ‘stuff takes real work’ and also kids who can get kicked out of a show and just live with it.

    Also, yes, I did order a nice old copy of Rock Crystal or Mountain of Alpine Holiday or whatever that title was from last week. Should have it in time to read out loud before Christmas.

    You are apparently very convincing to me! Thanks for the suggestions and for being here.

  • I am never surprised by the awesomeness of Debbie Allen! I’m just so happy she’s still dancin’ and kickin’ a%%!!! Great writing, kind sir!

  • I watched this yesterday. Wonderful.

  • And now that I’ve seen it, let me say that I’ll be watching it again and again. I haven’t felt such a rush of joy and hope and beauty since far too long ago.

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