This post is written for Taking Up Room’s 2022 Fake Teenager Festivus Blogathon. Be sure to check it out here!
If you were (or knew) a tween girl in the mid 2000s, like me, then you probably are aware of my favorite Australian kid’s show called H2O: Just Add Water. However, if you kept digging around for more Aussie TV shows, then naturally you would stumble upon a show called Dance Academy, which ran from 2010-2013, and even turned into a movie in 2017. The two TV shows are somewhat related, as Samantha Strauss was a writer on a few episodes of season 1 of H2O, and then she created Dance Academy. H2O star Cariba Heine had a recurring role on DA season 1 and 3 as Isabel, and her H2O on screen boyfriend Burgess Abernethy appeared in season 1 of DA.
Dance Academy follows the life of 15-year-old Tara Webster, a naive country girl, who gets the opportunity of a lifetime when she is accepted to the prestigious (fictional) National Academy of Dance in Sydney. Entering what Tara refers to be the, “minefield“, once she’s arrived, Tara and her new friends navigate rigorous dance training on top of your typical teenage problems (crushes, friendships, academics, family dynamics, peer pressure, self pressure, body image, mental and physical health, sexuality, etc). For me personally, this was a teen show that came out when I was a teen (I was 14, just the right age to watch it).
Upon arriving at Dance Academy, it isn’t long until Tara (and the viewers) meet the classmates: Christian Reed: a street boy who has a troubled past, but a heart of gold. Tara and Christian meet in the boy’s changing rooms (anyone who’s seen the show’s first episode knows this iconic moment). Kat Karamakov: a free spirited ballet girl who hates being a ballet girl, but is naturally talented as her Mum is a professional ballerina. Abigail Armstrong: The not so typical mean girl. Abigail sacrifices a great deal in order to be a strong dancer. She’s not a natural dancer (in her own view she doesn’t have the body), but makes up for it with her determination and love for dance. She and Kat knew each other since they were little. Sammy Lieberman: the guy everyone wants to be friends with, and at the start, the weakest dancer on a technical level. He, Kat, and Tara all become close within their first weeks at the academy. Sammy also struggles with the fact his Dad does not support his dancing dreams, wants him to follow in the family footsteps and become a doctor. Lastly, there is Ethan Karamakov- Kat’s older half brother who is a senior at the academy with ambitions on becoming a choreographer like his Father. Ethan is a bit cocky, but looks out for his little sister. Tara develops an instant crush on him, which causes friction between her and her new best friend, Kat. Finally, there is the dancing teacher Miss Raine (Tara Maurice). Miss Raine is extremely tough, but underneath very caring for her students. All she wants for any of them is to succeed, but she’s not afraid to straight out embarrass them if they step out of line.
What makes this show work, is a combo of great elements: you have the cast, who genuinely care for each other, the dancing routines, the gorgeous on location scenery (filmed in Sydney), and most of all, flawed characters who are written like teens, and not like 20 year olds. The characters all make wrong decisions, they embarrass themselves, they don’t have extravagant clothing (compared to US teen tv shows) and there is a restriction on what they can do and where they can go because they are, well, teens! Star Xenia Goodwin (Tara) was actually 15 playing 15, but her co-stars were not. All of the following were also playing 15 year olds: Alicia Banit (Kat) was 19, Jordan Rodrigues (Christian): 17, Tom Green (Sammy) 18, Dena Kaplan (Abigail) 20. Tim Pocock (Ethan) was 25 playing 18.
My favorite episode of season 1 (my favorite season) is probably episode 11: One Perfect Day, because for the first time Tara gains confidence in her dancing and even has a mini romantic moment with her first ever crush, Ethan. Its sweet and embarrassing at the same time. Plus it has this insanely amazing dance in it:
With that being said, I really also enjoy the final arc of season 1 which focuses on a Nutcracker Christmas pageant.
Season 2 was not afraid to up the stakes, as it killed off one of the main characters (I literally can’t spoil who 😦 ). Teen death isn’t a typical element on a teen show, as usually it’s an adult who dies on such shows. Three new students were also added: Ben Tickle (Thomas Lacey, 19 playing 16) : a childhood cancer survivor who got double promoted to second year from first year. Grace Whitney (Isabel Durant, 21 playing 17) : Miss Raine’s goddaughter from London. And Ollie Lloyd (Keiynan Lonsdale, 21 playing 18): a student who did not pass last year and must repeat the grade. Ollie is also openly gay (which for the time, in 2012, was major for teen TV).
Season 2’s main plot revolves around a prestigious dance competition “The Prix de Fonteyn” being held in Australia for the first time in 25 years. The characters all go through a process to see which dancers from the Academy will represent Australia all while completing their second year at the academy. (Note: I think looking back this season bugged me the most, there’s a lot of filler, and is a bit disjointed at first)
The third and final season deals with the characters still picking up the pieces of their friend’s death all while contemplating their futures, as its graduation year. Who will or will not get a contract with the company is never far from any of their minds and the possibility of not getting a contract (only 1 male and 1 female will) drives them to seek out alternative opportunities in dance. It’s a shorter season but very impactful and has a satisfying ending.
Overall, Dance Academy does have its flaws, the acting may bug some people, the story-lines in season 2 become a bit too drawn out, and lastly: the friend group continuously dates the friend group (this one bothers me the most as an adult), but it has a ton of heart. The dancing does take center stage and when there is a number, it tends to stay with you for a long long time. Certain dances from this show have been imprinted on my mind- as they are all so unique and in my opinion have more effort and emotion than anything any High School Musical ever did.
All in all, Dance Academy has a special place in my heart as one of 2 teen TV shows that will remain with me, as the other is H2O. Australian teen TV did something really magical, and it’s really cool I was the right age at when Dance Academy came out. I now leave you with some of my favorite dances from the show!