A teen soap opera set in a prestigious school for aspiring dancers, that’s Dance Academy in a nutshell. The first season aired in its native Australia in 2010 and crossed over in the U.S. on TeenNick. The first season is now available on DVD in two separate two-disc volumes, each containing 13 episodes. It’s a mild show, sort of like a junior version of Fame, ideal for young teens or perhaps even preteens. Older viewers, especially those who’ve seen similar material, are likely to find the show a bit dull. It’s all puppy love, who is crushing on who, who has done something embarrassing, and other common youth-oriented issues.
Tara Webster (Xenia Goodwin) is the central character. She’s a suitably non-descript everygirl, the type who is easily relatable to the widest amount of viewers. One she leaves her rural farm for the opportunity to attend Sydney’s National Academy of Dance, it’s a forgone conclusion that she will be admitted. Her teachers ride her pretty hard, seeing lots of potential amidst her somewhat sloppy technique. Tara quickly develops a serious crush on an older student, Ethan (Tim Pocock), who views her as too young to take seriously. A rivalry is quickly established between Tara and Abigail (Dena Kaplan), a manipulative student who initially appears to befriend Tara before slyly turning the tables.
As the first season of Dance Academy tracks Tara’s first year, including such issues as whether or not the school will retain hip-hop dance as part of the curriculum, it seems no teen soap cliché goes unturned. It’s important to keep in mind, however, the intended demographic. The often cynical, jaded eyes of more seasoned viewers will likely find nothing of interest here. Even the dancing itself is curiously not spotlighted. Anyone hoping for a showcase of thrilling routines from episode to episode should look elsewhere. Dance Academy is all about the melodrama. The enthusiastic cast is capable and turns in consistently decent performances (the breakout star here is the luminous Alicia Banit as Tara’s friend Kat). Despite frequent intimations of more adult desires amongst the characters, the tone remains appropriately chaste, befitting a show aimed at such young viewers.
Volumes one and two of Dance Academy: Season 1 are bare bones DVD releases, free of supplemental features. The decision to split the season between two separate volumes is regrettable, though seemingly not uncommon among youth-oriented titles. Surely those interested in one volume will want the other. A complete, four-disc set likely would’ve been more economically priced. It should be noted that Dance Academy: Season 2 is currently available as well, also split between two DVD volumes.