Energetiks Talks with Dena Kaplan
With Dance Academy: The Movie now under wraps, an appearance at Southbound Festival around the corner, a USA/Australia tour celebrating the release of her single 'Wait For You' currently underway, and a second feature film, HONEY 3 (also her second dance movie this year) in the bag - it's a great time to be Dena Kaplan. The South African-born Aussie seems to have a knack for just about anything she puts her mind to, from ballet, contemporary and the whole spectrum of commercial dancing, to acting, dj-ing, producing and singing, coupled with the work ethic to make it all happen. Yet despite the 3 year hiatus between Dance Academy's final season - and Dena's countless projects since then - Dance Academy fans seem determined not to let the twice International Emmy-nominated series, and 'Abigail' (the cold-on-the-outside-vulnerable-on-the-inside nemesis-come-heroine played with relish by Dena) fade from memory. With thousands of fan clubs and websites dedicated to the show's characters, and screenings in over 160 countries, the creators and cast of Dance Academy have brought to life characters and a show that celebrates the triumphs and challenges of the life of an aspiring dancer; as well as dealing with real issues that audiences of every walk of life can relate to. A substantial amount of which have been undergone by Kaplan's character. Needless to say, Abigail and the rest of the Dance Academy stars' return to screen has been met with great excitement, and the film's release, which is currently slated for 2017, will be highly anticipated by Australian and International audiences alike.
We caught up with Dena to talk about filming, plans for the future, auditions and what keeps her motivated! See below -
E: When did your dance journey begin, and what is your first memory of dancing?
Dena Kaplan: My first memory of dancing was copying my big sister at the back of her ballet class when I was about 3 or 4 years old, I would try copy every single move, eventually the teacher allowed me to join the class!
E: Your mother and grandmother were both dancers, what was it like growing up with that background – do you think dance was kind of an inevitable direction for you?
DK: I had constant support, love and nurturing mentors. It was an incredible way to grow up as an artist, to be surrounded by enthusiasm and understanding, and also a shared passion! My grandma spent a week in NY with me running me around to auditions and watching musicals and ballets with me every night… it’s very special to be able to share the love of dance. Dance is in my genes, and in my bones I took to it easily and naturally.
E: The term ‘triple threat’ doesn’t even cover your talents - you’ve got so much going on! – Is it an equal passion you share for dancing, acting, singing and dj-ing or does one in particular stand out?
DK: I love them all… At the moment my main focuses are my music and acting career, I love dancing and always will but I have given it a lot of time in my career and now I am enjoying focusing on other things. I always say if Beyonce can do it all, why cant I?
E: Which artists/people inspire you?
DK: FKA TWIGS, Jennifer Lawrence, Anna Lunoe, Misty Copeland and Lena Dunham - to name a few.
E: Being born in South Africa, raised in Melbourne, living in the U.S. and then moving to Sydney... where do you call home these days?
DK: Sydney is home for me these days, I love it there. I try and embrace each and every city I find myself in.
E: What was it like getting the news that Dance Academy the Movie was happening, and how has it been working with the original cast and getting to revisit the character of Abigail again?
DK: It was the best news I’ve ever received, Dance Academy was a gift from day one, and the movie was a big fat bow on top! Abigail is the best character to play and I was so excited to revisit the role and work with all my amazing cast mates again. The film is going to be spectacular!
E: Apart from Dance Academy the Movie, what else is on the horizon for you, and what do you really want to focus on over the next few years?
DK: I have another film coming out in September called HONEY 3, I shot that in Cape Town a few months ago, I just released my first single and music video and am also about to embark on an Australian tour with Hayden James which I am so honoured and excited to be a part of. I have a lot of new music I am working on, and I am always auditioning and working towards the next project acting wise :)
E: What are the most valuable lessons that you’ve learned through your experiences in the industry so far?
DK: Be brave enough to make your own rules. I never followed the crowds or the way people went about having a career in the arts, I did it my own way and I was willing to try everything, dancing, singing, acting, DJing… its all creative and it all fulfills the artist in me. I have always been ambitious and brave enough to jump in the deep end and it has paid off.
E: What makes you laugh?
DK: Silicon Valley, its the greatest TV show ever made.
E: Any hidden talents or party tricks?
DK: I can do a killer imitation of my hilarious South African parents and their thick accents, it gets requested a lot.
E: How do you feel about the audition process, do you enjoy or dread it, and what helps you prepare?
DK: I enjoy dance auditions, I feel confident when I am dancing. Acting auditions I still find scary and weird. It never goes to plan and it always feels awkward. I enjoy the preparation process though! I love reading scripts and breaking down characters.
E: The entertainment industry can at times be one of the most hyper-critical and competitive industries to be in. How have you handled growing up in that kind of environment, and not let rejection, negative feedback or insecurities discourage you?
DK: Like everyone, I’ve had days where I have wanted to quit, people who have treated me terribly, moments where I have treated myself terribly, months where I have felt hopeless and rejected and it felt like I would never get a job and then when it rains it pours and everything turns around and all of a sudden you are a working performer and it’s crazy good and you remember why you did it and continue to do it! There are ups and downs for everyone. I have worked really hard to be where I am now but I promise you, it came with a lot of heartbreak!
I think if you can find things in life that make you happy outside of your main focus of performing that will keep you sane. When things weren’t busy for me I would make sure I did other odd jobs to keep me creative and inspired, and not obsessed with getting a job! In regards to a competitive environment I grew up with two sisters who are both artists and I’ve never felt an ounce of competition around me, just support. There is enough space in the world for everyone to have their moment. Be nice and kind, people remember and will want to work with you.
E: Can you share the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
DK: I did Mia Michaels class and she said the simplest words to us at the end: “DREAM BIG” it always stuck with me. I always do dream big, I don’t limit myself.
E: What’s something on your bucket list right now?
DK: A HOLIDAY!!
E: What’s been your most enjoyable role to date?
DK: Abigail has always been my favourite role, nothing has come close! She’s the queen.
E: You’ve spent a lot of time overseas, do you think there’s anything unique or distinguishable about Australian performers?
DK: I think we have great natural grounded instincts and a great work ethic. I love being an Australian overseas, we are so well respected.
E: What’s something that gets you excited?
DK: New York City. Music Festivals, Almond Butter :) and my new nephew!!!
E: Favourite way to spend a day off?
DK: A workout, a healthy brunch, a massage and movies and popcorn night.
E: Can you describe one incredible memory or moment that really stands out to you in your career so far?
DK: I have to say, filming in the middle of Times Square yesterday was a moment for me. I played a DJ set in Washington and then arrived in NY and we were shooting our film in the middle of the city, it was a very proud moment for me to be fulfilling my dreams in the city that inspired me from the very start.
E: Can you offer any advice for our readers who are aspiring dancers or performers?
DK: Create your own path, be brave, stop wasting your energy on what other people think or do and focus on your own creativity, do your research, take a varied amount of classes with all different teachers, read, travel and believe that you are worthy, if you don’t, no one else will. Also, most of my success has come from people helping me on my way, be kind and gracious and people will want to help and nurture your career and one day you can return the favour.
E: Great advice! Thanks for chatting with us Dena, and we look forward to seeing what wonderful things are in store for you next.
Stay tuned for news on Dance Academy: The Movie,
and to keep up to date with Dena's projects follow her here:
For info on Dena's Wait For You Tour Dates see here
Interview by Elly Ford