13 Facts Every "Dance Academy" Fan Should Definitely Know
Did you know Christian is based on a real person?
Dance Academy is based in part on the life of writer and co-creator Samantha Strauss.
Like Tara, she grew up wanting to be a professional dancer, but when she was 18 she broke a bone in her back and was told she’d never dance again. She went to film school and was drawn to writing, eventually turning her experiences in the ballet world into a script for a show.
Dance Academy co-creator Joanna Werner was also a dancer growing up. It was when the two of them were working on H20: Just Add Water together (Joanna as an associate producer and Samantha as a casting director) that they realised they both wanted to create a dance show.
“We had a really big night at pre-shoot drinks before filming [
H20],” Samantha tells BuzzFeed. “It was 2.30 in the morning and I said to her, ‘If you could make any show in the whole world, what would it be?’ And she talked about this show where a girl from the country goes to ballet school… I thought she was taking the piss because I’d written that exact same show. So it was this great moment of synchronicity.”
The characters are partly inspired by real people in Samantha’s life, but she says they became their own thing pretty quickly.
“It’s funny, in the writer’s room I closely aligned with Tara and Sammy, and Jo I always saw as Abigail – she’s very driven. I had a friend who went and became a lead dancer in the Moulin Rouge, and she was the inspiration for Kat. There was one boy who I danced with and his name was Christian… all the girls had a crush on him, so he was the real Christian… But they end up becoming their own people pretty quickly. The actors themselves bring so much, that the characters change away from the real-life inspirations and just become their own selves.”
The director of the movie, Jeffrey Walker, also directed the first eight episodes of the show, which meant he was involved with the casting and creation of the look and tone of the show.
He worked with Samantha and Joanna on
H20: Just Add Water, and has also directed a bunch of other shows like Neighbours, All Saints, Wicked Science, Rake, Angry Boys, Modern Family and Difficult People.
Jeffrey is a familiar face to ‘90s kids – he grew up acting, and starred as Bronson on
Round the Twist, Brett on Ocean Girl, Wayne on The Wayne Manifesto, Noah on Thunderstone, and much more.
He says he related to Tara’s journey in
Dance Academy because like him, she has to rethink her dreams. “The pursuit of something is wonderful, but wrapping your entire identity up in that dream, you take on a huge amount of risk,” he tells BuzzFeed. “You need to have a greater self-worth than the thing that you’re pursuing. Tara’s asked very early on, ‘If dance isn’t your world, who are you?’, and she takes the film to figure that out. That’s very, very close to home for me, because I knew that I didn’t want to keep acting; I also knew that I didn’t have any sense of who I was if I wasn’t doing that… I loved acting, but I think I loved the bigger machine of filmmaking more.”
While the show is based largely on Samantha’s experiences and those of her friends, many of the cast also drew on their own experiences growing up as dancers when making the show and the movie.
Most of the cast came from a dance background and Alicia Banit (Kat) and Dena Kaplan (Abigail) both wanted to be professional ballet dancers when they were younger. They both became more drawn to acting when injuries and physical limitations made them realise their original dream might not happen. Dena says Jeffrey had many meetings with the cast to talk about their personal experiences and ensure they were reflected on screen.
Some of the cast originally tried out for very different roles to the ones they landed.
Dena says she was initially adamant about playing Kat, and that when she was offered the role of Abigail she was unsure at first because she had grown up avoiding girls like her in the ballet world. “But when I really got into the psyche and the head of a character like that, it was so complex, and so exciting to play someone who from the outside is brutal and cold, and inside is really vulnerable and quite broken in many ways… Once I started playing Abigail, it was a gift.”
Alicia, meanwhile, auditioned for Kat, Tara, and Abigail, but was originally most drawn to Tara. She says going through the audition process made her realise Kat was the most like her in real life, and the character she could have the most fun with. Thomas Lacey, who joined the series in Season 2 as Ben, first auditioned for the role of Sammy in Season 1. He says he feels lucky to have gotten the role of Ben, because he relates to him a lot.
The biggest difference from filming the TV show versus the movie was having more time for everything, especially the dance scenes.
“A one-minute dance scene we would have shot in the series within an hour or two, and for a 30-second dance scene in the film, we had 10 hours - an entire day - to do it,” reveals Alicia.
“I was quite brutal,” says Jeffrey. “It would be nothing for us to film a dance sequence for a whole day, and it might be dozens and dozens of takes on multiple shots. It was a huge undertaking… all of them were infinitely challenging. I will say that very little of the dance sequences ended up on the editing floor, it just took that many pieces for what I wanted to achieve.”
Some of the cast had six weeks of “boot camp” before filming of the movie began.
Dena tells BuzzFeed, “Xenia (Goodwin, who plays Tara), myself, and Thomas would just be in the studio every day doing hours and hours of ballet, pilates, physio - you name it. Xenia and I had probably the biggest dance storylines, and we were working with company dancers, so we were flying down to Melbourne every second week to work with the Melbourne Ballet Company… it was a bit of a shock to the system to put pointe shoes on again. I was covered in blood, I was so injured and hurt, and it’s all part of it. It kind of helped, it felt very method.”
The original draft for the movie script included Sammy’s ghost.
“I did a whole draft where he was a ghost and it was just a bit bad,” says Samantha. “It didn’t work. We wanted to have him in it but then we had to let go… writing a film is really different to writing a TV series, because you can follow all the other characters in a TV series whereas when you try to do that in a film it becomes too disjointed. We had to make it really about Tara and follow her, and almost treat the film like a roadtrip movie, stopping in with other people along the way.”
On the show, the creators always knew they wanted to kill a character in order to explore grief, but they were originally going to have Ben die, not Sammy.
Samantha says, “I remember reading
Looking for Alibrandi, and when [John Barton] died it helps you learn how to grieve for someone. So we always wanted to kill someone… We were going to kill Ben. But then we really thought that Sammy was the heart of the show, and he was the one who was most closely connected to everybody, so I think we killed him for maximum impact. Thom Green, who played Sammy, is just so loveable and such an incredible human, and I think that comes through in that character. It was really sad not to have him in Season 3 and REALLY sad not to have him back for the movie, but I think we made the right decision about who to kill.”
There could be more
Dance Academy in the future.
“I would love to do a sequel and have Abigail be the lead. That’s my dream,” says Samantha. Dena has the same idea: “I think there’s an Abigail spin-off there – I think it’s necessary!”
The cast are all really close in real life.
“We have a Whatsapp group… we all speak every day,” Dena reveals. “We’d finish filming and all go to someone’s house and get takeaway and watch TV together. It sounds like a cliché but we really are a close family. I haven’t had anything like it on any other film set before.”
“On set and off, we have too much fun sometimes,” Thomas says. “We would have to do scenes over and over again because we couldn’t keep it together, we were hysterically laughing.”
“They’re like my brothers and sisters,” says Alicia.
Dance Academy: The Movie is in Australian cinemas now, and you can catch the first two seasons of the show on Stan Australia. BuzzFeed Daily
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