Film

‘Dance Academy’ Is A Must-Watch Movie (Even If You’re Not Into Dance-Based Teen Drama)

When you're an ambitious young woman, no one tells you that it's okay if you want to stop.

If you want to be a snob about dance-based drama for teens, that’s your choice, but you’re about to miss out on something pretty great.

Hitting cinemas this week, Dance Academy is the big screen follow-up to the extremely popular Australian TV series Dance Academy. Picking up where the series left off, the film follows a group of recent graduates from a prestigious school of dance. The movie, set between Sydney, New York and Texas, is the epic conclusion to three series of dancing and drama.

If you take nothing else from this movie, take this: if you’re going to reboot a teen drama after all its stars have grown up, moved overseas and gotten famous, make a movie about the characters growing up, moving overseas and getting famous.

What Happens When You Don’t Achieve Your Dreams?

Fans of the original series will love the movie, but it comfortably stands alone. It’s funny and sweet and deeply heartfelt. It might be a cheesy teen dance movie, but it’s a cheesy teen dance movie done extremely well. Dance Academy has always been remarkable for the respect it has for its teenage audiences, presenting difficult topics with gentleness and humour.

A couple of years have passed since the series finished airing and as its fans have matured, so has the franchise. After all, following your dreams means something very different when you’re 20, rather than 15.

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Dancers!!

Having slipped and broken her back during her final audition for the national ballet company, Tara (Xenia Goodwin) — once slated to become one of the most important dancers of her generation — has found herself serving drinks at the Opera House bar. Her friends are all dancing professionally: teaching hip hop, staring in children’s TV, performing with prestigious companies. Meanwhile, Tara must face the possibility that she’ll never dance again.

Lost without the one thing that’s been her driving character motivation since episode one, Tara drops everything — including a million-dollar compensation lawsuit — to fly to America and give dancing one last desperate shot. She gambles with her relationship, her friendships and her health, all in the hope that she’ll catch the eye of a big wig and be invited to dance for a major company. She pushes herself to the edge emotionally, mentally and physically in pursuit of the dream she’s had since she was a kid.

Tara finds herself in the rural Texan cottage of her former teacher, Miss Raine (Tara Morice). Compared to the blunt and often harsh character we saw in the series, this Miss Raine is happy, settled. She makes dinners, grows apple trees, smiles more. As she sees Tara off on another ill-fated quest to save her trashed dreams at the expense of every other part of her life, Miss Rain tells her: “I was wrong. At the Academy when I told you that you had to choose. Ballet used to be my whole life. It isn’t anymore.”

This exchange goes right to the heart of what makes this movie so great. It’s in this moment that all the tropes (which Dance Academy does so well) are flipped gently on their heads. After three seasons and two thirds of a movie, rooting for Tara to succeed, we suddenly ask ourselves: would it really be so bad if she didn’t achieve her dreams? Because when you’re an ambitious young woman, no one tells you that it’s okay if you want to stop.

“How Far Would You Go?”

I saw this movie with a teenage friend. Walking to the cinema before the film, we talked about what she wants to do after she finishes school and she rattled off a list of goals. “It’s probably too much,” she told me. “But I’m already doing too much. I figure I can just keep doing too much forever.”

It matters that this film is for girls. It will appeal to all sorts of people but it matters that it speaks directly to women who are still finding their place in the world. It says that the love between friends is just as important as romantic love. It shows women supporting each other in ways that are complicated and sometimes difficult. It makes no big deal of two men dancing a love scene together. It says that love — all kinds of love — is messy and hard and complicated.

When we’re growing up we have this idea of how our lives will turn out. One of the hardest things about getting older is learning which of those plans to abandon, which to compromise on and which are worth fighting for. The trailer for Dance Academy asks the question: “how far would you go, how hard would you fight, to live your dream?” That’s a nice poster quote, but the real question this movie asks is how hard should you fight?

Dance Academy says that the people in our lives matter just as much as our ambitions. It depicts valuable friendships as a goal to strive for, as a marker of success. It says that dreams are okay but friends might just be better. And that’s a pretty wonderful thing to see on screen.

Dance Academy is in cinemas now. All three seasons of the TV series are on iView until May 1.

Alexandra Neill is a writer and critic. She blogs at alexandraneill.com and tweets at @alexbneill.

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