Strut your stuff.
Just how many of these Australian teen shows made it onto American cable in the 2000s? Whatever the reason, fans have been able to look past the accents and any other cultural differences to give this stuff a fan following. Here’s another one, Dance Academy. This two-disc set contains the first 13 episodes of the show’s first season.
Tara (Xenia Goodwin) has grown up on a sheep farm out in the middle of nowhere, but now her dream has come true. She’s been accepted at the prestigious Sydney National Dance Academy. It’s exciting, but also challenging and highly competitive, as everyone strives for perfection, and only a select few will ever “make it” as a dancer. At the academy, Tara makes friends with nice girl Kat (Alicia Banit), and enemies with mean girl Abigail, (Dena Kaplin). Along for the ride are awkward goofball Sam (Tom Green, no not that Tom Green) and troubled bad boy Christian (Jordan Rodrigues). Aside from trying to keep up with more experienced dancers, Tara’s biggest challenge is her crush on good-looking older boy Ethan (Tim Pocock).
Take another look at the show’s title. Dance Academy. There’s nothing wrong with the title. It’s perfunctory, does its job, and tells you just what the show is. Yet there’s nothing especially catchy or dynamic about it. That’s true of the series as a whole. It’s a show about a bunch of kids at a dance academy. Nothing wrong with that, but that’s all it has to offer.
You’ve seen this show before. You’ve seen Glee, you’ve seen High School Musical, you’ve seen any of the hundreds of versions of Fame, if you’re old school you’ve seen A Chorus Line, and if you’re really into this stuff maybe you’ve even seen Center Stage. Dance Academy falls right into the mix of all these shows, but doesn’t do much to distinguish itself or stand out from the pack.
None of this means Dance Academy is bad, it’s just ordinary. Most episodes are typical teen show plots dressed up in a leotard. Because it’s a boarding school, there’s a lot of “mismatched roommates” humor. Expect practical jokes, gossipy secrets, and light, non-horrifying hazing of the new kids. There are a few chuckles here and there, but, again, it’s nothing viewers haven’t already seen.
Xenia Goodwin carries the show well enough, although the scripts often demand little more of her than for her to be the nice girl. Still, she has that wide-eyed sense of wonder that the character needs. Best friend Kat can often be dull, having to deal with the pressure of being the daughter of a famous dancer. Dena Kaplin sometimes lays it on too thick as mean girl Abigail, coming off more angry and bitter than merely sarcastic and uppity. Sammy is stuck with the “my parents don’t want me to be a dancer” subplot, but has some interesting interactions with the others.
A lot of the, for lack of a better word, drama comes from Tara’s romantic pursuit of Ethan. This is the slightest of plots. It’s all based on a “love at first sight” moment, when Tara sees Ethan and his awesome bangs and decides she’s in love with him, even though they barely know each other. Sure, feelings like that can spontaneously stir when you’re young, but “that boy is cute” just doesn’t have enough emotional heft for an entire season-long arc.
That brings us to Christian, who’s something of an oddity on this show. Sure, a lot of teen shows have the “bad boy” character, but in this setting, he’s contradictory. The idea is that despite his growing up on the wrong side of the tracks, Christian is a naturally gifted dancer. His participation at the dance academy is the only thing keeping him out of juvenile hall. While everyone else’s motivation is the old “follow your dreams” shtick, he’s got a different motivation, to keep dancing in order to keep his life on the straight and narrow. A couple of episodes have him interacting with Tara, and they have great chemistry. That, plus the fact that they are the two outsiders at the academy, says to me that they’d make a more interesting couple than Tara and Ethan, but maybe that’s just me.
These Australian tween shows aren’t afraid to take the camera outside for some added production value (hope you enjoy the Sydney Harbour Bridge, because the creators have worked to sneak it into as many background shots as possible), and it’s a bright and colorful show overall. Those colors translate decently to DVD. The picture is sometimes soft, but that’s likely intentional on the part of the filmmakers, and it’s never so soft that it mars the viewing experience. The 2.0 stereo is decent, but hardly immersive. The only extra is a cast photo gallery.
The characters on Dance Academy are all about striving for perfection, and yet the show itself is purely middle-of-the-road. It’s enjoyable enough for what it is, but it doesn’t bring any new moves to the dance floor.
You’re going to need more practice before you’re ready for the big stage.