Yes, Strictly Ballroom started out as a short 30-minute play in 1984, with eight second-year NIDA students at its helm. It was an idea that Baz Luhrmann had after the students were given the opportunity to self-devise their own plays. After a little bit of research, I found out that while other students began coming up with lengthy ideas, Baz merely pinned the words 'Strictly Ballroom' up on a wall at NIDA, from which other students then signed on (perhaps intrigued!).
The students Baz chose to be a part of it were: Catherine McClements, Sonia Todd, Nell Schofield, Helen Mutkins, Jaime Robertson, Glenn Keenan and Tony Poli. With help from their dance instructor, Keith Bain (who was then head of movement studies at NIDA), they all learnt their own dance moves in eight weeks, and the play was an instant success. Catherine played Barbara Pierce, a young Catholic woman married to Ross (Luhrmann), who is also her dance partner.
In 1986, under the Bond Theatre Company (founded by Baz and Nell in 1982), NIDA sponsored the group in their trip to the city of Bratislava (in what is now Slovakia), for the Czechoslovakian World Youth Drama Festival where Strictly Ballroom won best production and best direction for Baz. It also received a 30-minute standing ovation from the crowd! Also whilst they were in Bratislava, the group performed scenes from the Australian play Summer of the Seventeenth Doll by Ray Lawler (Catherine played the part of Kathy 'Bubba' Ryan).
Original NIDA cast:
Glenn Keenan as Scott Hastings
Tony Poli as Vince Musolino
Nell Schofield as Corine Carpenter
Helen Mutkins as Sandra Dixon
Sonia Todd as Jenny Ferguson
Catherine McClements as Barbara Pierce
Baz Luhrmann as Ross Pierce
Jaime Robertson as Kirk Railings