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For three seasons Dance Academy entertained children and young adults alike, as it followed a group of students studying the rigours of ballet. This week the cast returns with the theatrical release of Dance Academy: The Movie. Taking up a year and a half after the dramatic conclusion to the series, we catch up with the former students to see how their lives have been after graduation. DAVID O’CONNELL spoke with actress Dena Kaplan about dance, and to see how the dedicated and sharp tongued Abigail had fared in the intervening time.

“It’s a bit of a dream,” exclaimed Kaplan. “No other role I’ve played since Abigail has even compared. She’s such a layered dynamic character.”

It has been a role that is a bit of a fan favourite, among the dedicated followers of the series. In part this is due to the Abigail’s growth, from a sometimes antagonist to a staunch friend.

“I think she’s matured greatly,” she says. “Throughout the series she has lost one of her best friends, and I think that really showed her the importance of friendship with the group. In terms of dance she’s gotten to the point that ballet doesn’t define her. She can dance for fun and doesn’t need to be competitive any more. That’s a huge amount of growth as she’s such a competitive person. As we’re seeing the characters later in life, they’ve all matured a lot.”

Throughout the show, Dance Academy has never been shy in showing the hardships people face in perusing dance. The series itself ended with one of the major character (series narrator Tara) sustaining a career ending injury, and having to give up on that dream. The film launches a while after those events, but brings its own complex and often dark challenges.

“Our amazing writers never treated it like a kid’s show,” Kaplan says. “They treated it as the real world. The real world of dancing is ruthless, competitive, and heart-breaking. I think it’s really cool they show that side. I think it’s wonderful for children to watch and see the realistic truth about the performing arts industry. That it’s incredible, but really is hard work.”

For Kaplan, that realism presented it’s own challenges. Although a dancer herself from a young age (and from a family with a strong tradition of dance), Kaplan had stepped away from dance to peruse acting and music. “I hadn’t been dancing for 3 or 4 years (after the break between series and film), so it was tough playing a character who was in a company,” she says. “We don’t use any doubles, it’s all us dancing.”

That dedication certainly shows on the screen, and allows Kaplan to deliver a fairly damning and funny snipe against Black Swan. However it also took a toll on her body. “In the first two weeks of rehearsals I’d torn a ligament dancing at an extreme level,” she says. “It’s an elite sport. Dancers have the thickest skin in the world to deal with it both mentally and physically. The show doesn’t shy away from that.”

All that work has paid off. Kaplan is the sort of person that keeps herself busy doing multiple things in the arts, including deejaying in WA as part of Sets On The Beach last month. In filming Dance Academy she actually fulfilled a dream.

“Filming in Times Square was actually the biggest ‘pinch-me’ moment in my entire life,” she says. “I’ve lived in New York City after school. I did what Tara did, went to auditions for everything you could possibly imagine. Broadway musicals, even that scene where she dancing in a bar, I went through all of that craziness. A few years later I’m making a movie in New York City! Wow kiddo, you’ve really made it!”

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