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Samantha Strauss trained for years to become a ballet dancer, but an injury sidelined her career. In this essay, she outlines her journey from teenage dance prodigy to the writer of the highly-successful television show Dance Academy and its accompanying film, in cinemas today.
Samantha Strauss had it all, but an injury sidelined her dance career. Here\'s how she made a new dream come true. Photo: Supplied
I was eighteen and standing in the back garden near the mango trees at my parents’ place in Queensland when I saw a shooting star and all of a sudden I couldn't stop crying. My lovely dad was used to teenage girl hormones but this downpour went next level. It had just hit me. For the first time in my life I had no idea what to wish for. And I'd never felt so lost and afraid.
and couldn’t imagine a life without it. Like lots of little girls I loved ballet - desperately and wholeheartedly - even if it didn’t always love me back. Over time, I would learn I had good feet and good flexibility, but with a problematic turn-out, I hoped my work ethic would ultimately get my body over the line. For years, training inside a hot tin shed during hot Queensland summers, I would resent the girl in the mirror and the ways she fell short of being perfect. On stage, I felt the opposite – exhilarated, magic, more alive than I ever did in real life.
It would take some time to find this feeling anywhere else but that’s kinda the end of the story.
Xenia Goodwin and Thomas Lacey in Dance Academy: The Movie. Photo: Supplied
My parents, in their annoying wisdom, refused to let me quit school in order to train full-time but after Year 12 there was no stopping me. I was in front of the mirror 50 hours a week, eyes on the prize, and finally, finally, my hips started to do what they were meant to and proper progress was made.
Until one day, through circumstances beyond my control, I broke my back and was told I would never be able to dance again.
All those years and nothing to show for it other than a screwed-up body and a case of depression. As I shut out the world, I turned to books. I’d always loved Young Adult fiction, the novels of Melina Marchetta and John Marsden, stories about young girls bravely overcoming impossible obstacles. But in this time of crisis those characters now became my best friends; their triumphant journeys my lifeline. I read
, a story of an Olympic swimmer by New Zealand author Tessa Duder, every single day, obsessively, over and over. I would take it to my X-Rays, crammed full of carefully picked four-leaf-clovers, hoping for a miracle. Alex eventually got her dream and surely so would I?
Samantha Strauss on the red carpet at the Dance Academy premiere. Photo: Supplied
After a year spent lying on the couch, my practical mother kicked me off and made me go to university. Eventually, I found my way into a film degree and grabbed on to a new dream with both hands – if I couldn’t be a dancer, I would do this, I would tell stories and, dammit, I would be the best at that. I’ve no doubt this is a recurring problem of my personality but at least this dream fit better. And I never had to wear a leotard again.
Writers will tell you it’s hard work, that we bleed into keyboards, but I’ve bled into pointe shoes and believe me this feels nothing like that. The writing life is wonderful. We get to sit in comfortable chairs, gaze out the window and live in the land of make-believe and wish fulfilment. What doesn’t happen in real life can happen to our characters.
series was born. In my arrogance I wrote and wondered what if... What if I wasn't the girl whose hips wouldn't turn-out?What if I was the girl who had the talent to become one of the best dancers of my generation? Three seasons and 65 episodes later, the end of the series became clear. There was no escaping it. Our lead character, Tara, broke her back and was told she would probably never dance again.
The point was never reaching her goal; it was having one - pouring everything into it and having it taken away.
the film - in cinemas today - picks up 18 months after that accident with Tara still caught between those two versions of herself: who she is now and who she always thought she would be.
The feature film based on the incredibly successful two-time Emmy nominated Australian TV series, \'Dance Academy\', that saw a group of teenagers through the ups-and-downs of elite dance training at the National Academy of Dance.
In the lead up to the film actress Xenia Goodwin, who plays Tara, trained bravely and relentlessly in another hot studio, in front of another unforgiving mirror, striving for that impossible perfection, determined to make Tara’s comeback as authentic as possible. I’m extremely grateful I only had to write about it.
is the story of a fairytale dream but it isn’t a fairytale. Because no matter how many stars you wish upon, or how many four-leaf-clovers you pick, you may not ever get your dream.
You might get something much, much better. I did.
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