In Agrelo's Mad Hot Ballroom (2005) how is the foot-in-the-door phenomenon used or shown?

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Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

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The "foot-in-the-door phenomenon" is when a person, who may be reluctant to undertake a large task, will more readily do so when they've first agreed to a small task. The related foot-in-the-door technique is when a person or persons makes use of the phenomenon to manipulate another person or group of people into agreement with a large task: they do so by gaining agreement with small tasks first.

The foot-in-the-door phenomenon is apparent in the early stages of the competition preparations. The instructors repeatedly give the students small tasks to agree to and perform as they work their way up to the large task of a ten week competition preparation. You see the ultimate result of the foot-in-the-door phenomenon when the Judge at the final competition says:

"There's no second; there's no third. There's only one Challenge Trophy."

As director Marilyn Agrelo put it to Mark Gordon on "Center Stage," if you're in the fifth grade in New York, and if you're unlucky enough to be in a school that participates in the dance program, then you're dancing. It is not elective. As Agrelo points out, the young students enter the dance classroom with "horror" and aversion at the thought of dancing, and especially dancing things like the tango ... and with a partner!

The way the dance instructors get past this aversion and horror is by taking advantage of the foot-in-the-door phenomenon. The students agree to small tasks, like, "Just try this step," then, "Now face the person next to you and try it again." Eventually, by taking advantage of the phenomenon, and by applying good foot-in-the-door technique, the students are led through a series of small tasks to: "Okay. This is your partner for the next eight weeks. In eight weeks from now, you'll dance together in the competition."

Agrelo also makes use of the phenomenon and its accompanying technique in her interviews to get the students to open up and communicate their ideas and feelings about dancing and about life. According to her conversation with Mark Gordon, she met with the students while they were playing games or walking down the street with their friends, then would ask simple questions, like, "How about girls?" The students would let go and respond in revealing ways. This was utilizing the foot-in-the-door phenomenon because her questions were small, yet, once agreed to, led to large statements about their lives and fears. For instance, the girls revealed that they didn't want to "get hooked up with" boys who were drug dealers.


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