Carol Hartley is another very inspirational woman who shows us how dreams come to our door if we let them. Carol was considered an exceptional dancer when she was younger and in fact, that was how she earned her living. Years go by, she’s married, has had a child and gained a lot of weight. Though some of the outside things changed, the inside didn’t. She still had the passion to dance and, despite her size, she still had the skill. When the opportunity came up to audition Big Ballet, Carol brought all of that stuff out of the closet, dusted it off and made her place with the dance company. Now, Carol shows men and women alike that if you have the desire and the skill, you can do it. Other people’s perceptions of what a dancer “should look like” doesn’t matter.
You stated that you started ballet at the age of 14 and paid for your lessons yourself by working as a babysitter. What was in you to led you to want to dance? Can you explain it?
I did some dancing at school and loved the way that it made me feel. I found that I had quite good coordination and an ability to pick up choreography quickly. I also loved the feeling that I got when I was on stage, in drama classes and knowing that I was entertaining an audience.
Did the people in your family support your decision to learn how to dance?
My parents were never really that bothered to be honest, they never stopped me from dancing but they didn’t turn up for any performances either. My passion was shared with my friends and my dance teacher Chris Beaumont was my biggest source of support.
You went on to dance professionally doing performances with other companies and supported yourself financially. When you “retired” after getting married, did you miss it?
Yes, of course, I did at first but I was so madly in love and had begun a career in Customer Services so I just accepted that my time had come to retire.
Did you continue to dance at home and on your own or did you tuck the desire away inside of you and leave it dormant until Big Ballet came along?
I still took classes with Chris Beaumont as a way to keep fit, that kept me happy! Then Chris’ 25 year anniversary approached and she invited all ex-pupils to take part in her annual show. That was 4 months before Big Ballet!
You went on to build a career as a business woman. How did you draw on your dance and performance skills to become successful in the workplace?
I’ve always been a people pleaser, on the stage and in life, and I find that now, in my job as Customer Services Manager, that I love the challenge of solving a problem! There’s nothing better than the feeling that you’ve helped someone, and that although they may not have been happy to start with – they left happy!
When the offer to audition for Big Ballet came along, why did you decide to go for it?
I thought it was going to be in bad taste at first – laughing at us – but as soon as I realised that the programme was going prompt, so many different conversations about size, weight, the ballet industry, body confidence etc., I wanted to be a part of that. Knowing that I was confident in my body, and that I could dance, I was ready for the challenge of doing ballet after over 20 years of not doing it!!! And what a challenge it was!
How did your husband feel about it?
He was absolutely 100% behind me and said that I started to get a spark back once training had started! He’s still very supportive of my continuing journey.
What internal/emotional or memories did you draw on to give you the courage and strength to audition for Big Ballet?
To be honest, I was completely unprepared. I had just returned from a 2-week holiday and didn’t even have a pair of ballet shoes! All I wanted was to show them that I could dance and that even though I used to be thin, that I could still dance in my larger figure, that it truly didn’t matter as I was still passionate about ballet and being part of telling the Big Ballet story. I suppose I also wanted the opportunity to train with Monica Loughman and Wayne Sleep! They’re both so passionate about making ballet accessible to everyone. A few of us went to see Monica at her studio in Dublin, Ireland and we could see first hand how diverse her own company is, and her genuine passion to ensure that ballet is available to everyone. She’s an inspiration.
What kinds of things did you do to prepare for the opportunity to be selected?
I was actually on holiday just before the auditions so I had the chance to use the pool to do some gentle stretches and a few laps! The only other thing that I did was mentally prepare, I had a lot of time to think about the way I felt about being a larger dancer and why I wanted to do the programme.
We all have naysayers around us (and in our own minds!), what say you to them now?
They can say what they like, it doesn’t bother me, it just makes me more determined to prove them wrong! My husband would confirm that I’m very stubborn!
You’re a Mom – or as you say in your country – Mum. What does your son think about you as a Mum first, and then as a “celebrity” so to speak?
My son is 12 years old and any parent of a boy that age would understand when I say, he says very little! He has said though, that he is ok about me doing this, as he can see that it makes me happy. He even came to see the performance and dressed up in a suit and tie for me! He’s used to me appearing in newspapers and being on the radio, his friends and teachers at school know and he’s told me that he’s very proud! That makes me proud too!
Competing in an audition and being selected had to do something for you on the inside. What does this accomplishment do for you and how do you feel?
I’m very proud, I feel like I am an ambassador for anyone who does not fall into the norm. My aim now as a Big Ballet ambassador is to continue to dance and to do what I can to encourage adults to return to ballet class, to encourage dancing schools to open classes for adults, for young children to feel confident in their dancing ability, and not compare themselves to their peers, for dance teachers to look past shape and size and focus on technique and performance ability. Everything I do now, I have this in the forefront of my mind.
Do you feel like you are a celebrity?
Not at all! Although it nice to be recognised by strangers and told how much they enjoyed the programme. I will never get used to it though and I don’t think I will ever feel like a celebrity! I’m just me!
Are you more accepting of yourself because of this triumph or do you feel like you’ve got to lose weight and/or make other adjustments to your appearance and to who you are in order to feel complete?
I actually did lose weight during filming, just because of the amount of exercise that I was doing. I didn’t intend on losing weight and I don’t feel any pressure to do so now. The only thing that I feel that I need to do, is make sure that I am fit enough to train and last through a performance, and for that, I need train, eat regularly and not drink too much wine!!! (oh dear!)
Tell us about your future life and what role dance will play in it?
Eleven of the original Big Ballet cast have continued to train with ex-English National Ballet soloist, Daniel Jones. We advertised for someone who would train us going forward, and he answered our ad! Daniel is training us twice weekly and we have lots of exciting things in the pipeline!
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