There’s this show. This amazing, wonderful, touching, soapy, delightful show called Dance Academy. I started watching Dance Academy last week after my friend Melissa (@phantomrat) confessed to really enjoying it. There are currently 2 seasons, each with 26 half hour episodes. I finished the series in 3 days. Nonstop, up all night, three day marathon. There’s been a bit of a domino effect too with fellow twitter friends. We’ve all mainlined the show like it was TV crack (which it is) and become completely obsessed. And to the credit of everyone watching, no one is revealing what happens in the last few episodes of season 2, so that everyone can enjoy it unspoiled. That’s a rare gift in TV marathoning. With that in mind, I will be discussing the end and several other major plot developments so if you are not done with the show, STOP READING AND COME BACK WHEN YOU ARE. TRUST ME.
I’ll actually be doing recaps of several Dance Academy episodes, because I have too much to say. Here’s what is fascinating me about this show. The writing is absolutely stellar. Not just good for a teen soap either. It’s simply solid, high quality television writing. I’ve been reading a few interviews with the show’s creator and I think a big reason is that even the small details are thought through. Take for example Abigail’s eating problems. Most of the time, Abigail is simply careful about her diet, though we do see her wishing she could be more lenient. But when exams come and pressure to be perfect rises, her response is to stop eating. Even as well done as the story is, this could seem like just another show perpetuating the stereotype that dancers starve themselves. But there’s a subtle, yet very distinct focus on the opposite. These kids eat. They eat and they snack and the they spend hours exercising. Sure it’s more intense than most of us are used to but it isn’t extreme and it isn’t unrealistic.
That’s just one example, but it’s indicative of the show. There aren’t “tonight, on a very special Blossom” episodes. Lessons are learned and drama occurs but so does character development and maturity. Most impressively, that development doesn’t take place in a single episode. It takes time and is woven throughout. That’s why a few of us on twitter added “My So Called Life” to the description. Dance Academy is far more than its surface appearance.
Now because I could go on at length (and I still kind of will), I’m going to focus on five storylines that stand out to me. Abigail doing the musical, Sammy’s romantic relationships, Tara’s growth (yes, it happened!), Grace & Zach, and Sammy’s death.
Let’s start with Grace and Zach. In what is an oft used TV trope, Grace starts thinking there is something between her and Zach, a teacher. I love a couple things about this. First, this wasn’t the tired hookup in a club that results in a “he’s her teacher” shocker the next day. Furthermore, we never have to wonder about Zach’s intentions. He’s clearly there to teach and won’t let Grace play her games. Even when she tries to kiss him, he is compassionate but firm that she’s a student, he’s married and THIS WILL NEVER HAPPEN. But the show doesn’t stop there. Instead we spend most of S2 learning that Grace has serious daddy issues. She desperately longs for his attention and over several episodes, Dance Academy subtly transfers that to Zach. It’s also immediately nipped in the bud as Zach goes to the headmistress and so does Tara with the truth. As someone who hates the student/teacher trope more than anything, I love the show’s mature & realistic way of handling it.
Abigail and the Musical: I liked Abigail from the beginning. Every time she’d do something horrible, I kept hoping she’d grow and be a better person. (And she has. Though she still has an inclination towards devious which I love.) But Abigail choosing to star in a fringe musical could seem like a random way to let Dena Kaplan sing on the show. Since she only sings a few lines and they fit in the plot, that doesn’t really hold up. This decision is actually key in showing how Abigail’s character has developed. See, we’ve seen through a season and a half that Abigail is insanely disciplined because she wants to be the best. There’s pressure there but Abigail wants to excel as well. So we know this about her. We also know that people like Tara & Grace, who have a more natural talent, are Abigail’s greatest frustration. She can work tirelessly but they still get the lead roles. Until the musical. Because with it, her dance discipline paid off but her natural talent made her the perfect choice. When a story is built up so naturally. The reward is so much sweeter.
I could go on about Sammy for years. I love him and Tom Green did phenomenal work with the character. Before I get into Sammy’s romances in particular, I have to share a little personal opinion. I have this issue with the “people should be able to love who they want”. Well not with that exactly. I’m all for that. But it isn’t how it really works you know? That ideal is usually perpetuated about how homosexual couples should have the same freedom to love as heterosexual couples. Which I strongly agree with. But a lot of the time, the saying only seems to apply if you stay gay. There’s often just as much of a stigma if someone is bisexual. And I don’t mean got drunk in college bi. It’s like there’s a judgmental attitude towards anyone who doesn’t stay gay. Which I find totally unfair because if it’s all about freedom in love, that should be true across the board.
Whew. Okay so all that is to say why I really liked Sammy’s romances. Because they were all about who he wanted to be with. there wasn’t a big reveal of Sammy being gay. In fact, he only once says the line and even then notes that he’s not sure he wants the label. He simply tells Kat (and later Christian) that he has feelings for Christian and in season two, he just lets his friends know that he’s dating Ollie. There’s no major breakthrough or lesson. It’s life. That’s not to say it’s easy. We see Sammy struggle with his emotions and stress over being lumped with “the girls” now. But the audience is never hit over the head with the story. And when Sammy & Abigail have a moment, because they care about each other and have history, it feels completely natural. We don’t know what would have happened but throughout, the development felt natural and earned.
That’s the concept I can’t stress enough. Dance Academy naturally earns every major development.
Now Tara. I don’t like Tara. I’m not a fan of naive characters in general but then I found she just became a self-righteous brat. But I look online and it seems a lot of people love her. So part of me wonders if the fact that I’m 12 years older than she’s supposed to be has a lot to do with my opinion. Regardless, despite being the main character, she’s my least favorite. But I noticed something towards the end of season 2. Tara’s growing up. Her fickleness between guys is stopping. She didn’t switch back to Christian. She stuck with Ben. And yes she’s still selfish and judgmental but she’s learning from it faster. Learning what matters more. I’m not a fan of Tara, but if the writers keep allowing her to grow and mature and become a better person who thinks of others before herself, I might be singing a different tune by the end of season 3.
There are too many moments in Sammy’s death to cover properly, which is why I will be recapping all 3 final episodes of season two. However, the thing that I want to highlight here is how realistic it was. Most shows would have us be there as Sammy’s walking along the road. We’d hear the car spin out of control and the look in his eyes and the aftermath as the paramedics tried to save him. But that doesn’t happen in real life. In reality, someone gets a phone call (like Miss Raine did) and one by one, the deceased person’s loved ones are informed. That’s how it happens. You don’t get to see the final moments in real life. Not with random accidents. The reality is a normal day, where you talk and laugh and fight with your best friend, until the moment you find out you’ll never do that again. Joss Whedon has always held the title of one of the best writers of a death episode and it’s aftermath, with “The Body”. I honestly think Dance Academy comes very close. And in terms of the actual death (not the funeral), I might actually say it equals BtVS. Because it is real. There’s no foreshadowing, no make the most of life. Every moment leading up directly relates to the competition and who these kids are right now. And then, very suddenly, it doesn’t relate to that at all. I’ve seen some comments on tumblr that people want to know how the writers will justify Sammy’s death. I think the point is that there is no justification. Sometimes people die. They die suddenly and without reason or justification. It wasn’t their time and it didn’t solve world hunger. It just happened and it sucks. That a TV show would take a risk and show that, not with a less loved character but with the boy one could argue was the heart of the show is a mark of the writing talent. But that justification, that reasoning that the fans so desperately want? You won’t see that. Death is rarely justified.
To end, I’ll note that I know Dance Academy has been approved for season 3 funding but it took 20 months between S1 & S2, so you’ll be waiting a while. I need the time to recover. I had no idea that a seemingly cheesy teen soap could be so honest, poignant, and heartwrenching.
Favorite Characters: Abigail, Sammy, and Kat.
Favorite Quotes: “I think I like you. No, that’s not true. I know I like you.”
“Why’d you break up with me?” “I guess it just stopped feeling right.”
“Not everyone looks in the mirror and likes what they see.”
“Every dancer knows being technically perfect isn’t enough. You have to know why you dance.”
“Why would you partner me with someone so good? I’m not prepared for that.”
“Then he died. What sort of a person does that?”
“If you cry it’s real. And if it’s real he’s gone.”