dance1.1coverGrade:  A-
Entire family:  Yes
2010, 325 min. (13 episodes), Color
Unrated (would be PG for mature themes)
New Video
Aspect ratio:  1.78:1
Featured audio:  Dolby Digital 2.0
Bonus features:  D

What a drought it’s been! For the past several weeks I’ve received no screeners appropriate for family viewing . . . until Dance Academy turned up on my doorstep. Like H20: Just Add Water, it’s an Australian-made half-hour TV drama aimed at ‘tweens and teens, but good enough to draw in the whole family. I haven’t seen Center Stage, but my dancing daughter tells me Dance Academy is like the TV version.

If you have younger children, though, be warned that while it would still be rated PG, Dance Academy is a darker, edgier drama than the campy fantasy we got in the mermaid show. One male dancer with a troubled past steals and fights. A female dancer comes unhinged because her breasts are getting bigger and she thinks it will topple her chances of becoming a prima ballerina. The edgier content is evident from the very first sequence, when one of the girls auditioning for the National Dance Academy in Sydney is directed to the men’s locker room instead of the women’s, and is standing there in her bra when a boy walks in. Of course, except for the color, what we see is no different from the bikini tops the mermaids wore in H20, but the context is totally different.

Though Dance Academy is an ensemble show, the focus is on Tara (Xenia Goodwin), a naive first-year student from isolated sheep country who lacks the training of her counterparts. She crushes on the cute guy, tries to find out which friends she can trust, and navigates the tricky regulations and unwritten rules of the Academy—a live-in high school for both sexes where dance takes top priority over other classes (as with Glee) never shown.  

There is no such school as the National Dance Academy, which seems to be a composite of The Australian Ballet School in Melbourne and the Sydney Dance Academy. The premise is that this is Australia’s best school for dancers, ballet especially, so there’s a wide cross-section of “best” dance prospects. The series revolves around three teenage boys and three girls.

Ethan (Tim Pocock) is a cocky third-year who looks like a California surfer dude and, like his blonde and fun-loving half-sister Kat (Alicia Banit), comes from pedigree stock. Their mother is a famous prima ballerina. Christian (Jordan Rodrigues), who appears to be of Filipino descent, is the bad boy with a bad attitude and street toughness who gets put on court probation early in the series. Sam (Tom Green) functions as the best boy friend of the main female characters. His dream is to dance, which goes against his Jewish father’s dream of him being the third generation to go to med school. Then there’s Abigail (Dena Kaplan), who hovers between mean girl and vulnerable young woman.

dance1.1screenLike H20 the plot is continuous from week to week, and the dramatic arcs, characters, and writing are strong enough to hook you and keep you selecting “play all.” And by “you” I mean the whole family. Though the plot threads often revolve around dance and there is plenty of dancing footage (both accomplished and rehearsal), there’s much more to the series. Seeing all the beautiful teens and 20 year olds on the cover was enough to make me wary, but I quickly got into the show. So did the rest of the family. And in the end, it’s pretty wholesome with positive messages, despite the edginess. That’s a tough line to walk, and the reason Dance Academy has such broad appeal.

This two-disc DVD release contains the first 13 episodes from Season 1 of the hit series, with the only bonus feature a photo gallery. I don’t understand why the seasons are marketed in two installments, because fans are going to want to buy every single release. Season 1, Vol. 2 gets a little more serious, with Sammy questioning his sexuality, Kat skipping class, Tara torn between Christian and Ethan, Christian getting deeper in trouble with his “mate” Aaron, and Kat’s parents trying to live more like a family than ballet royalty.