All of us have passions, gifts and dreams. For various reasons — fear of failure, fear of fear itself– not all of us pursue those things that are in our hearts and allow ourselves to be happy by living fulfilled lives.
Donna Hargreaves started learning dance when she was a little girl. When she got older and it was time to determine career choices, dance wasn’t considered because she was “too short.” But, she never allowed this passion for dance to leave her. At the age of 49 – a time when a lot of women’s lives are “winding down” so to speak – her dream came tapping at her door. She auditioned for and was accepted as a member of the “Big Ballet” troupe in the UK. We are so pleased to be able to present an interview with Mrs. Donna Hargreaves whose life serves as inspiration to anyone who was told they were not the right size, age, and even look for what is in their hearts to pursue.
You started ballet and tap lessons when you were a very young little girl. Who’s idea was it that you learn how to dance – yours or your parents?
It was my choice to dance, I pestered my parents, and they supported the request wholeheartedly. I felt in love with dance from the very moment I took part in my first dance class.
In terms of dancing styles, what appealed to you more, tap or ballet?
As a young girl I did all genres of dance, ballet, tap, modern and stage (as it was called then). If you had asked me then I would have said the tap, modern and stage were my favorites, I loved the ‘showiness’ of these disciplines.
Did you absolutely love it? What did dancing mean to you when you were a little girl?
I really did love my dance classes, it taught me discipline, grace, confidence, athleticism and I gained great friendships. My dance teachers and dance friends understood who I was and what I loved.
What does dancing mean to you now?
All of the above and at 49 years of age, the reawakening of endless possibilities, I have found the ballerina in me again.
Eventually you stopped with the lessons. Why did you stop?
When I was 18, I reached a crossroads in my life when decisions about my future had to be made. At 4 feet 11 inches tall, I am small for the dance world. So I followed my head and chose a career in nursing, which I have to say, I do not regret at all.
In your younger years, who, if anyone, was the biggest supporter of you being a dancer and what kinds of things did they say to inspire you?
I am eternally grateful to my parents, for their financial support of my dancing. I am the eldest of 4 children, 3 are girls and we all danced. My parents never once questioned one penny that was spent on dancing, despite money being tight at the time.
My dance teachers were also an inspiration, for the endless hours spent improving my technique, sharing their dance knowledge and planting the seed of love for dance in my heart.
Let’s fast forward, you’re a mom, a wife and a business owner, did you continue to dance at home and on your own even with all of the other obligations?
I never ever let dance leave my life, I have continued classes, but mainly in tap and modern. Even now, I continue to participate in tap classes at Victoria Stansfield School of Dance in Wakefield. I have even continued to take further tap exams with the International Dance Teaching Association.
I feel that in addition to the dance exams that I have taken, dance gives me a wonderful form of discipline and exercise.
When the offer to audition for Big Ballet came along, why did you decide to go for it?
Initially I was unsure, as it would be a large undertaking and commitment. My husband, family and dance teacher encouraged me to audition, as I think they recognized how much I would gain from the experience.
I wanted to be part of something that challenged the preconceived ideas of shapes and sizes in the ballet world. Dance should be accessible to everyone.
What internal/emotional or memories did you draw on to give you the courage and strength to audition for Big Ballet?
A believe in myself, which would give me a chance to ‘live the dream’
A willingness to learn and be taught by Monica Loughman and Wayne Sleep
An eagerness to please
A need to try and challenge myself
A need to fulfill childhood dreams
What kinds of things did you do to prepare for the opportunity to be selected?
As I previously explained, although I have never stopped dancing, I had not participated in a formal ballet class for over 30 years!!
On the morning of the audition, I asked my daughter Kathryn, a professional dance teacher herself, to show me a few technical steps such as pirouettes, sissone and chaines; which she did, but she assured me that I would never be asked to do steps such as these, as I had not done ballet for so long.
When I called her to say that I had got through to the 2nd round of auditions, and that I had to do all the steps described above, she was shocked to say the least, but also very proud that I had given it my best shot. On a very personal level, I had just tried so hard, given my all and loved every minute.
We all have naysayers around us (and in our own minds!), what say you to them now?
This is my own personal journey, I give it my all, and I am having the time of my life, don’t judge it, and be inspired.
What kind of business do you run and how does this business tie into who Donna is and what she wants to do in life?
I am in partnership with my sister, we have a Beauty Salon and Boutique. My greatest achievement every day is helping ladies of all shapes and sizes look and feel beautiful.
Is it fulfilling?
My job is extremely fulfilling as I enjoy what I do, fashion excites me, people interest me, and I am satisfied when ladies play dress up and go home happy.
These skills have also been used in my new role, as Head Of Costume with Big Ballet Uk.
You’re a Mom – or as you say in your country – Mum. What do your children think about you as a Mum first, and then as a “celebrity” so to speak?
Yes I have 2 children, Kathryn is 20 and is a dancer and now a dance teacher, Ben is 17 and has just finished his lower sixth form and as now captain of his senior rugby team.
My children are the best thing that I have ever had in my life, they accept me for who I am, support all I do, criticize me for all that I do wrong and give lots of love, what more could I ask.
I think in their eyes I have not changed, I am famous for being their mum, I am happy with that recognition.
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 was very nervous, but I also loved doing the audition. Within a very short time I realized how much I wanted this chance to dance. Getting a place in the Big Ballet troupe was unbelievable and the start of an amazing journey.
Do you have your own facebook page?
Our facebook page for Big Ballet UK can be found at https://facebook.com/bigballetuk?ref=stream
We are curious as to why you have not put up a website about yourself. A lot of people would jump at the chance to take advantage of being a celebrity. You seem to keep a low profile about it all. Is this true?
For me, this whole experience is about the team approach to dance. We are a group of people brought together from different backgrounds, through auditions with an overwhelming passion for dance. For me, our future lies within the strength of the group, not the individual. I do not personally see the need to have my own website or social media sites as my strength is in the group.
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 am a healthy size 12, 49 year old, mum of 2 wonderful children, who has the best husband, Nigel, who has been in my life 37 years. All in all life is good, no need for adjustments. We can all criticize ourselves or others, but why? Life is short, live it to the full.
Tell us about your future life and what role dance will play in it?
I am 50 next year, a milestone age, I am super excited about what life has in store for me.
My new role as a ballerina, with Daniel Jones and Big Ballet Uk, is my biggest challenge, but I know the rewards will be phenomenal. I am ready to work hard, fulfill my new role and enjoy every minute
You said the journey has been magical. Tell us about your journey and why it was magical.
In my real life, I am a wife, mum and boutique owner, who was given the chance of a lifetime and I ran with it. Everyday the journey gets more surreal and magical and long may it continue. This ballerina is here to stay.
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