Film Review: Dance Academy

by Sam Robinson

Rated PG. Starring Xenia Goodwin, Alicia Banit, Dena Kaplan, Jordan Rodrigues. Directed by Jeffrey Walker.

It might depend on your age or geographic location as to whether or not you’ve seen the Australian TV series for tweens, Dance Academy. Across three seasons, airing from 2010-2013, the series followed the highs and lows of Tara Webster (Goodwin) and her dancing cohort at the prestigious National Academy of Dance, in Sydney. This series rose to great popularity, and has aired in 180 countries around the world, with fans campaigning for more adventures. Well, they’ve finally received their wish with this feature-length film, aptly titled Dance Academy.

This adventure finds the cast of the television series eighteen months after graduating from their dance specialising high school. Tara is still trying to rebuild her strength and dancing ability after a tragic accident that closed the TV series – slipping on a bead in the middle of a very important ballet audition. She’s working at the world-famous Sydney Opera House, however serving drinks at the bar – surely an insult to injury. It’s a conversation with ballet selector Madeleine Moncur (Otto) that prompts Tara to drop a lawsuit that may well win her a million dollars in compensation, yet would mean she could no longer pursue her dream of dancing. Soon, we are whisked around the world as Tara pursues her passions, overcoming adversity and reuniting with her classmates along the way.

I should state straight up that I’m unfamiliar with Dance Academy as a series, and now, franchise. This meant that for the first forty minutes of this film, there was a lot of catching up to do (followed by a Wikipedia workout when I got home). Make no mistake: this is an epilogue, a ‘what they did next’ tale. However, once you settle in with Tara, best friend Kat (Banit), boyfriend Christian (Rodrigues), and co., it’s quite an enjoyable journey – especially when Tara jumps on a plane to New York City, the city where dreams come true.

Director Jeffrey Walker (Modern Family, also Bronson from Round the Twist) turns Dance Academy into a celebration of dance, hard work, and the human body. It’s easy to forget just how talented the cast are – both in dancing and acting abilities. Walker captures dance sequences with beautiful lighting, perfect music choice and heightened emotion. He manages to make Tara’s dream your own, and you feel every setback – none more so than when a friend falls seriously ill.

This brings a contrast: well-trained, fine-tuned, flexible bodies for the stage; versus failing, broken bodies on a stage floor or in a hospital bed. It’s a stark juxtaposition that causes Tara to question “the universe” and ask whether all the hard work is really worth it, when life is so very fragile. Dance Academy shows us the fleeting nature of life, and that love matters.

The Verdict: Dance Academy is a beautifully written and shot story of well-loved characters, all grown up. If you’re new to the Dance Academy franchise, you’re bound to enjoy this adventure; and if you’re an old fan, you’ll no doubt lap this up. 3.5/5

Dance Academy opens in Australian cinemas on Thursday, 6th April.

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