Ready to Dance
ABC3's Dance Academy has gathered a thriving fanbase overseas, and plenty of accolades at international festivals. How did they get it so right?
Next week one of ABC’s quiet achievers returns for its anticipated second season.
Dance Academy returns to ABC3 with 26 new half-hour episodes, set at the National Academy of Dance. The series has won a Logie Award, Australian Directors Guild Award, at the Chicago Film Festival, Kids Screen Awards in New York and been nominated by the Australian Writers Guild, International Emmys, Seoul International Drama Awards, Asian Television Awards, Banff World Media Festival and the Kids Choice Awards.
With investment from ABC and Germany broadcaster ZDF, the show now plays in numerous territories -as evidenced by the show’s fanmail.
“At the moment we’re getting a lot of fan mail from Spain, France, Italy, so we see a lot of comments on Facebook in different languages and they all say the same thing: Christian’s hot, we love Kat, Tara should be with Ethan not Christian,” says producer Joanna Werner.
With its mix of adolescent storylines and dance performance, the show now adds two new teen characters, Ben (Tom Lacey) and Grace (Issi Durant from So You Think You Can Dance). Kip Gamblin (All Saints, Home and Away) also joins as a new teacher.
“The characters are now 16 turning 17, so it’s just that little bit older. We are certainly still in the G- rating, but we’re just trying to push the drama a little bit further,” she says.
“In the second season we wanted to extend the worlds and the storylines of the characters, so that it didn’t feel insular and just inside the Academy. So we meet families outside the Academy.
“The big premise for Series Two is to introduce the world ballet competition Prix de Fonteyn which is the equivalent of a world cup, held fictitiously in a different city every year and this year it’s in Sydney. Ultimately it’s an international competition for the best male and female ballet students around the world. Our kids have to get through the National round, the International round and hopefully end up as the ultimate winner.
“Within that all of the relationships have higher stakes. The stories are a bit more sophisticated and the actors know the show. They came back with a six week ballet boot-camp, whereas in the first year everybody came in with different levels of fitness and ability. This year having seen themselves on TV they all came back having worked so hard on their fitness. So the dance has really risen a level.”
Aimed at 10-14 year olds, Dance Academy incorporates social themes for its audience, from romance to self-esteem, delinquency, anorexia, sexuality and alcohol abuse. Unlike more profile soaps, one storyline involving a gay-crush didn’t attract any media headlines or questions about suitablity within timeslots.
“We treated it like any other relationship and we didn’t push it in any big way publicity-wise. We just wanted it to be really truthful and the actors did such a great job.
“I was really proud that the networks were really happy with it, being ABC and ZDF in Germany. They were really supportive of it all the way along.”
Werner says she observed the audience using online forums to discuss the storyline, with positive outcomes.
“There was a lot of discussion about ‘Is Sammy gay? Does he have feelings for Christian?’ and kids were explaining it and discussing it, saying ‘It doesn’t matter if he is gay.’ It was really interesting.”
While the show is pitched at 10-14 year olds, writers skew storylines towards the upper end, given that children’s audiences often want to “view up.”
“A lot of tween-aged kids start switching off Kids TV and start looking to your Gossip Girls which may not really be appropriate. The ABC were really keen to have a show to keep that age group interested.”
Another storyline involving two characters diving into unfamiliar waters also had to be mindful of the young audience.
“We really thought long and hard about it and we had lots of meetings at the ABC because we had to have a G rating, ” says Werner. “For us it was about friendship and it was about them doing something outside their comfort zone that cemented their friendship. We went to all pains in the storyline to make sure they said things like ‘Have we checked for rocks, do you know about the high tide marks’ and there were some consequences you know, when they got out of the water that Ethan told them off and told them they could become a paraplegic. I had my doubts as to whether a scene like that could have got through on a C certificate but on a G rating it was deemed appropriate that we’d put enough in the script to look at consequences.
“It’s all about consequences. We had an episode in the last series where Kat has a party and it gets out of control, and there are jelly shots and things like that. We write them in such a way that the young audience won’t understand there is alcohol involved and we don’t make it obvious. There there are lots of ramifications and they all got suspended and put on detention and police came in.
“We’re not trying to be Skins, but we are trying to have a really truthful team storytelling, not pretending that teenagers are actually twelve. We want them to be actual real teenagers and going through real things.”
The show also makes the most of its setting, filming exteriors around The Rocks with interiors at Gore Hill. Nestled underneath the Harbour Bridge, there are magical shots of Sydney and its postcard icons.
“We really wanted a cinematic feel to the show. It’s such an optimistic show so it had to have that feel. For myself and (co-creator) Sam Strauss, it’s what we wish we were doing when we were teenagers so it has a very wish-fulfillment feel to it.
“But the backdrop of Sydney is gorgeous and every now and then I saw a few reviews that said maybe there were a few too many shots of the Opera House. But we just really wanted to celebrate Sydney. I don’t know if we in Australia really celebrate our location. I don’t want to succumb to cultural cringe or anything like that, but you watch Gossip Girl or Sex and the City and you love watching them for the location.
“We just completely take it for granted now that the Bridge is there. We don’t frame shots for Harbour Bridge –we sometimes frame it out now!”
Returning to the series are Xenia Goodwin, Alicia Banit, Tom Green, Jordan Rodrigues, Tim Pocock, Dena Kaplan, and Tara Morice as Miss Raine.
Season Two also features Peter O’Brien, Susie Porter, Sascha Horler, Jessica Tovey, Jolene Anderson and Jeremy Lindsay-Taylor.
Werner is especially chuffed by the show’s growing popularity amongst teenage boys, and she noticed an increase in the number of males who turned up to audition for the second season.
“We’ve been delighted that there really are boys watching, and we’ve had some fantastic feedback that boys are now starting ballet in higher numbers and that’s awesome. I remember when we were doing the auditions we saw so many more girls than boys but we saw quite a few boys and I’d say that a third of them started ballet because of Billy Elliot,” she says.
“It’s great to think that one show can have such an effect on so many numbers.”
Dance Academy returns 6:30pm Monday March 12 on ABC3.