By Sam Dallas

Dance Academy co-creators Joanna Werner and Samantha Strauss have mixed both real-life experiences and fiction into their latest television cocktail.

Both Werner and Strauss did years of ballet and dance before getting into the TV industry.

Werner grew up in the country and did ballet and dancing for about 14 years, however Strauss’ career was unfortunately cut short due to a broken vertebra when competing at an elite level, which caused her to change directions.

These experiences earlier in life sparked the idea for their new teen drama, which they eventually pitched to ABC Television.

It all happened while filming H20 – Just Add Water in Queensland in 2006.

“[Sam] said to me ‘what show would you make if you could?’,’’ explained Melbourne-based producer Werner, who established Werner Film Productions in 2008.

It was this one answer – a dance show – that drove Strauss to write the script for Dance Academy – a script Werner said was the best she had ever read.

“We started working on it together for a number of years before going to the ABC and they immediately got on board and loved it and then we took it to [broadcaster] ZDF in Germany – it’s just a fairytale.”

ZDF will screen the show in September this year while Australian audiences will be able to enjoy the series – touted as “a high energy teen drama” – starting at the end of this month.

The $10.7 million Werner Films production follows the story of six teenagers attending Sydney’s National Academy of Dance, seen through the eyes of Tara Webster (Xenia Goodwin).

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A scene from Dance Academy

Tara leaves her country home in the hope to be the best in the Academy, thus earning a place one day at the National Ballet Company… but she’ll have to compete as not everyone is going to make the cut.

Werner, who has produced such works as The Elephant Princess and The Heartbreak Tour, went on to tell INSIDEFILM that casting was the biggest problem with the 26-episode teen drama series.

“One of the biggest challenges was finding the cast that could do everything that we had scripted,” said Werner, who initially had Tim Burton’s Alice In Wonderland actress Mia Wasikowska in mind.

“We had to start fresh and really hope that we would find that mix of actors who could dance – and dancers who could act.

“We wanted to make sure the dancing was authentic and real.”

Werner, who was also co-executive producer on the project, described it as like So You Think You Can Dance auditions, seeing hundreds of performers nationwide.

Eventually the six teenager parts went to Goodwin in her first TV role, Alicia Banit (Summer Heights High), Dena Kaplan (I Am You), Tom Green (The Ground Beneath), Tim Pocock (X-Men Origins: Wolverine) and Jordan Rodrigues (Home and Away).

“It was completely different to how they filmed Home and Away – I learnt a new way of doing it,” said 17-year-old Rodrigues, who plays Christian Reed, of the shoot which took six months in Sydney and rural NSW, wrapping up in January this year.

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A scene from Dance Academy

“I love experimenting with different characters and the storylines.”

“I think with Dance Academy, people can relate to the characters,” Rodrigues said while on a lunch break from his Brent Street full-time course.

Funding came from Screen Australia, Screen NSW, ZDF, ZDF Enterprises, ABC and the Australian Children’s Television Foundation, with post-production funding coming from Film Victoria's Melbourne Film Office.

A second ABC series is in the works with filming likely to take place early next year, according to Werner.

“We’re starting to get the script team together… we’re looking to shoot it in Sydney and hoping to bring an international element to the show.”

Dance Academy premieres on Monday, May 31 on ABC1 at 5.20pm. It will screen five nights a week (for the 26 episodes) and “catch-up” episodes will be screened on ABC3 on Sundays at 3.40pm from June 6.

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