Dancer Mary Bates – I Want to Keep Living That Dream

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Imagine that you are a bundle of dancing talent and your entry into what is considered a professional platform is barred by the way you look?   The lack of entry has absolutely nothing to do with your talent, but with the way you look.  This is what happened to Mary Bates and she did not let those false opinions stop her from dancing.  She dances and teaches others helping them to develop their own passion for dance.  Mary is now with Big Ballet and showing the world her talent, creativity, spirit and determination to do what she is – a professional Dancer!  

 

 

Mary, you are the founder of EXP Dance. First question, what does EXP stand for?

EXP Dance stands for Expressive Dance.mary-exp

 

You’ve been dancing, teaching and performing all of your life and you’ve done work for some fairly prestigious clients. What was it about Big Ballet that you felt suited you?

 

Dancing has always been a part of my life ever since I was 5, however after many unsuccessful auditions because of the way I looked I turned to teaching. When approached by Rare Day/ Big Ballet they thought that my story suited their casting requirements. Ballet was the first style of dance I studied and I now teach in the same room where I first learnt to Plié. I was told at the age of 11 in a Royal Ballet School audition that I wasn’t right for Ballet and I knew it was down to my physique, so Big Ballet was perfect for me. Ballet is so graceful and feminine and when I perform I feel alive and swept up in a magical story.
Why were you not “allowed” to be part of a professional — actually I don’t want to say “professional” because you ARE a professional – let’s say part of a performing dance company? What was the excuse or the reason that you were given by those kinds of companies?

 

I was never ever successful in auditions, I was either two short, wrong hair colour, too big – wrong build, I knew that deep down I’d be able to cope with the choreography, I just was never ever lucky enough to be given that opportunity…until Big Ballet! Now I want to continue performing, the spark is there, it never went.

 

Did you have any doubts that you would pass the audition process?

I initially thought what on earth am I doing back in an audition, I had given this up 6 years ago but then thought no why should I give up that dream I once had of becoming a dancer.

 

 

Big Ballet invited people who were not necessary professionals in dance. They were looking for women and men who had skill but were also of a certain size. What did you think about the skill level of the other performers in the program?

 

On the day it felt like there were hundreds of us there, from all different backgrounds, sizes and ages. AJ (Prince) I knew already as I used to teach him before he went to university, so it felt better knowing someone there, another student who I currently taught was also there which made the process a little more daunting but my mum was there, which made it a lot better…she has always supported me through everything.

 

 

And, what did you think about your skill level?

I knew that I could dance and I knew that I could pick up choreography however I hadn’t studied ballet since university so I was nervous as didn’t know what to expect. Then to find out it was was Swan Lake, I couldn’t let this opportunity pass by.

 

With all of your experience, were there things that you had to work on to be able to participate in the show?

I knew that my technique in ballet had to improve and I needed to become more graceful. When I dance and teach, I focus heavily on Urban and Jazz styles so for me Ballet was like a whole knew discipline again.

 

Dancing in shows is all about being a team. Were there times that the team aspect or philosophy suffered? Or did everyone really bond and help everyone else?

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We all had one thing in common and that was our love for dance. Yes when strangers meet and are put in a situation working closely with one another tensions and cracks appear but we worked together as a company to pull through. There was never anything major that happened throughout filming just the odd bit of banter and disagreement.

I guess we’re asking about egos in the program. Everyone was cool – no issues?

I think that overall it was cool, as mentioned above we worked through our disagreements.

 

Why did you start a dance school? What was in it for you?

I wanted to open EXP Dance to offer the community of Roundhay, North Leeds a chance to learn Urban and contemporary dance styles. The area is heavily populated by dance schools that offer the traditional Tap, Modern and Ballet and I wanted to do something different. Since opening in 2007/8 I have worked hard to continue developing EXP Dance classes and always try to provide versatility, confidence and growth.

 

Describe what dance means to you.

Dance is a part of me, it’s what I know, it’s what I love. It allows you transport yourself into another world, one with no worries, arguments or stresses.

 

marybates-signObviously not everyone is going to feel that. How do you, as a teacher try to instill that into your students?

I try to pass on my knowledge and passion of dance to all my students. Allowing them to make mistakes so that they can learn from them. It’s important that your students take note, apply, correct, learn and try again. To learn from not only me but from their peers too. To make them appreciate all forms of dance and not just those they are comfortable with. To respect others and develop confidence whilst in the dance space.

 

If you were not a dancer, what would you be? Would anything come close?

I have never been a professional dancer, this was a lifelong ambition of mine but sometimes they don’t always work out, that’s why I chose teaching. I still have that opportunity to perform but it’s in a classroom/education setting rather than on stage. I like to pass on my knowledge and love of dance to my students in the hope that one day they will do the same. I will always have something to do with dance or theatre, it’s what I know!

 

You will continue to be a part of Big Ballet. Tell us what it does for you in your life – inside you.

When you spend all day teaching it’s nice to do something for yourself, to escape and set yourself targets and boundaries. I always like a challenge and for me Dance will always be part of my life. Big Ballet has taught me to go for things you believe in, to not give up, to follow your dreams. I want to keep living that dream.

 

BB-LogoWhat’s next?

Eleven dancers from the original production are currently working on a new venture with Daniel Jones, ex principal/solo dancer from the English National Ballet. Together we rehearse and train twice a week and are working together on a production of The Nutcracker Story which we are about to perform in London, so watch the space as we are not going anywhere just yet, we are only just beginning.

Shona Stringer – I Am A Dancer Who Teaches Dance

 

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As a child she played “Dance Teacher” and she actually manifested that in her adult life.  Shona Stringer is another Big Ballet dancer whose dreams resurfaced with the opportunity Big Ballet presented.  Audition with us to see if you can be on our reality show where we show the world that talent is not about the size and look of your body.  Thanks to Big Ballet Shona pushed past her fear to successfully audition as a dancer for the show.  She says that now, she not just a dance teacher, but she is a dancer who teaches dance!

 

 

 

When did you start dancing?

I started dancing as soon as I could walk. My big sister danced so as soon as I was able to I joined in the class.

 

Who’s idea was it that you start dance lessons?

It was just a natural thing, I talked, I walked, I danced.

 

Did the love of dance hit you right away as a little girl, or did it grow on you?

I’ve loved it for as long as I can remember and that has never faded throughout. I went straight from dancing class into teaching.

 

At the age of 16, you started teaching dance. Were you considered exceptional?

I don’t think I was considered exceptional. From being a child I had played Dance Teachers, it was something I always knew I would do. I had a very encouraging Dance Teacher myself who gave me the opportunity to teach within her school and I learnt an awful lot from her. From there I went on to study and take my IDTA Dance Teacher qualifications for which I gained high marks but that was through the amount of hard work I put into my study and classes I taught whilst studying. Just because I am not qualified doesn’t mean I have stopped learning too. I learnt an awful lot through working with Wayne and Monica last year and now with Daniel. I take every opportunity I can to gain knowledge and experience which all in makes me a better teacher.

 

Were you also out there performing?

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I never performed professionally. I enjoyed performing in amateur production as a child and a teenager which included 42nd Street, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and Hello Dolly, I love a good musical!

 

Why didn’t you transition to a professional dancing company at some point?

 

Mainly due to a lack of confidence and ability in myself, I only ever attended one professional audition for work in the UK and was completely overwhelmed by it.

 

What was the desire to open your own school about? Why did you start your own versus continuing to teach at your alma mater?

 

After I had my daughter Abigail I no longer wanted to work a 9-5 job and teach dance on a weekend, I decided to open my own school with the blessing of my own teacher so I could spend more time with Abigail through the week. My dance school is something we are able to enjoy together and it now means I am able to earn a living from doing the thing I love most in the world, I am very lucky.

 

 

When the Big Ballet auditions were announced, you signed up. Why?

 

The chance to perform in a ballet which I thought any chances like that had passed me by long ago. The chance to meet Wayne Sleep. The chance to learn and gain even more knowledge that I would be able to pass onto my own students. Most of all the chance to call myself a dancer again.

 

What does working with Big Ballet do for you?

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It’s brought my passion for dance back to life again. I’m no longer a woman who teaches dance, I am a dancer who teaches dance. I’ve made some of my very best friends through Big Ballet who I am certain will be friends for life, we’ve been on quite a journey together so far.

 

What do you feel it does for other people who have watched the program?

 

I believe it’s given many people the nudge they needed to get back into the dance studio or even take a dance class if they have never danced before but always wanted to give it a go. Dance can bring so much joy into a person’s life you can literally lose yourself to dance.

 

One of the things you work at besides dancing is a Life Protection Advisor. What is that?

 

I work alongside my husband who is a Mortgage Advisor. I advise on life protection and am a qualified Will Writer.

 

Often we find employment that helps to bring out our other passions. Does this work relate to dance in any way?

 

No it doesn’t relate to dance but it does help pay for the ballet shoes!

 

What do the kids think about Mom and all of her dancing work? Did they enjoy watching the show too?

 

They love it. They came to the live performance and we had much fun as we sat down as a family to watch the TV programme. My daughter dances so she is very proud to have a Mum who is a ballerina. My boys both play golf but they too enjoyed the performance and always enjoy my schools dance shows.

 

Shona, what is next in life for you as far as dance goes and life in general?

 

Wow, I really don’t know. If that question had been asked of me 18 months ago I would have said I’m just a dance teacher. Now who knows the sky is the limit! We are all working very hard in the studio each week to train and better ourselves as performers. Hopefully the world will want to see what we have to offer as a dance company as I am certain we have so much more to give. I certainly won’t be stopping dancing anytime soon, I feel like my time has just begun.

 

Learn more about Shona:

www.zestdance.co.uk

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Shona-Boocock-Academy-of-Dance/129977563729676.

 

Jessica Bell – the Black Swan

 

Jessica Bell as the Black Swan
Jessica Bell as the Black Swan

Could you possibly imagine signing up and paying for school and being told that you can stay if you lose weight within six months?  That’s what Jessica Bell was faced with.   Many people suffer because of the ideals that other people hold true.  However, in Jessica’s case, she fought against these ideals and set her own standards and allowed nothing to stop her from dancing.  She has her own dance academy where students of all ages are given the opportunity to embrace the passion of dance and learning that if that’s all that matters to them (that passion), then that’s all that matters. 

As a dancer with Big Ballet UK, Jessica continues to prove that talent and skill is not limited to size.  She speakers with us about her insights, her challenges and her life.

 

 

Jessica, when did you start dancing? How old were you?

 

I began dancing aged three, studying ballet tap modern and gymnastics.

 

What did dance do for you as a person?

 

Dance allows me to express feelings/emotions that may be too difficult to express in another way. Dance also makes me feel at ease. It’s enjoyable, fun, hard work and very rewarding.

 

What has your dance career been like throughout your life?

 

I began dancing as a petite blonde little girl with what would have been described as the perfect ballet body. I had the flexibility others dreamt of, the timing, the musicality and the passion. Then as I got older, I was taller than everyone else, and began only getting the male role in duets, and was put towards the back of group pieces as I always looked a lot older than my age group.

As I hit puberty and adolescence I gained hips and a more womanly figure. I’d cut bread and carbs to try and control the size of my stomach. One day during a dance competition when I was 15 I did a gymnastic move and my stomach was stuck out – my mother thought I was pregnant and after many arguments about it not being physically possible, it was discovered I had an ovarian cyst. It had to be operated on immediately as the cyst was so large. After draining 8 liters of fluid from the cyst it still weighed 21lb (hence the large stomach).

I still wanted of dance, I applied to theatre school and was accepted but under the proviso I lost weight within the first 6 months. Then my place would become permanent. Unfortunately I had another cyst and this continued every 5 months until the age of 18 when I fell pregnant with my daughter. And that was to end my dance career until I went to university.

 

 

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You are the founder and an instructor at the Black Swan Performance Academy. Please tell us about the school and why you started it?

 

I started the Black Swan Academy for a number of reasons. After attending dance school and believing you had to be a certain size and weight to succeed in a career in dance, I got involved with Big Ballet. This brought along a whole new way of thinking. I remember being younger and bigger than other girls but could jump and turn and twirl and interpret music just as well and in some cases better. But, yet everything boiled down of size, and I wanted to open a dance school that no matter how big or small old or young you were, I wanted dance ability or suitability to be recognised as a passion, not on appearance.

Another reason is after having my daughter I wanted to return to dance, but there was nothing in the area for older dancers. Anyone who dances knows, yes you get older and bones get creakier, but the desire to dance never leaves you, so I now have a very successful adult ballet and tap class within the school also.

 

Obviously your size never stopped you from dancing, but did it stop you from having the kind of professional dance career you wanted? If so, please talk about your feelings about that.

 

Whereas my size didn’t stop my passion for dance, it did however stop my suitability for a professional dance career. I would have loved to have been performing on a large stage every night like the one we performed on for the final performance in Big Ballet. Maybe having things been different and I didn’t have medical complications I may have had that flat stomach and a dance career, instead I am a mummy :)

 

You were chosen as the Black Swan character for Big Ballet. Why do you think you were given that role?

 

I believe in Big Ballet I came across as a hard faced individual, and like my mum describes me – an ice queen. The fact of the matter is I, as every human being does, have a lot of built up emotions, angers, personal battles with myself that I find easier to express through dance rather than storming out and crying, like others prefer to do. I have an awful lot to be thankful to Wayne and Monica for, for believing in me, and helping me overcome personal barriers with acting and portraying emotion facially. It took a lot for me to build up the confidence or perform the role of the black swan. I think there has always been an inner diva inside me and a sexy Jess trying to get out!!
For those who don’t know much about ballet, what is the Black Swan character’s story?

 

The black swan in Swan Lake is the evil wizard Rothbarts daughter. Rothbarts uses the black swan to entice the prince away from the innocent white swan. The black swan is a very sultry, sexy, evil and manipulative character.

 

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Because you are actively dancing, did you have to work hard to be up to the Big Ballet performance standards?

 

I think during Big Ballet because I had just finished 3 years at university studying dance, I had the stamina required, although contemporary Dance and ballet use completely different muscles! As I had done so much ballet before I had to work extremely hard to reprogram my body to adapt to the Russian style ballet.

 

Was there ever a point where you wanted to give up?

 

I honestly loved the experience, and would continue full time with it if it was financially viable.

 

Why did you even decide to audition for Big Ballet?

 

I decided or audition for big ballet, as I had just finished university and wanted audition experience. I did not think for one minute a girl with bright red hair would be suitable for a ballet performance or company. I remember there was as seal attempts at sending the initial application off, as I wasn’t overly confident.
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What did Big Ballet do you for you? How has the challenge impacted your life?

 

Big ballet has proved for me if that you put your mind to something you can achieve anything. Alongside Big Ballet I was working full time and also being a single parent, the training took its toll, but made me realise even though I am a mum I can still do things for me as well. It is amazing the amount of support we have received from the programme and it’s supporters.

 

Is the school and dance your full time profession?

 

Unfortunately not, I am still firmly routed and still have a full time job alongside the school. In the future I hope dance will be my main source of income.

 

You are also a dancer with Fosse. What are you doing with that?

 

I am performing in a production of Fosse, showcasing the talents of choreographer and dancer Bob Fosse. This differs from the ballet I have been doing with Daniel Jones and Big Ballet, but it brings out the show dancer in me. I love most styles of dance. I love a challenge!

 

What would you say to anyone who wants to follow in your footsteps but shies away from their dancing dreams because they think they are not good enough or not the right size?

Never give up, my mum has always told me if you want something bad enough you’ll go out there and get it. This may be my stubborn side but that’s exactly what I did and will continue doing.

 

Is this the life that you dreamed of? If not, how does it differ and what can you do to make it more in line with what you were looking for in life?

I always dreamed of being a dancer, I never thought it would be in ballet to be honest! However I am embracing all of the challenges being thrown at me and so far I am keeping up :) I think I share a lot of peoples dreams, and that’s to be healthy, not overly wealthy, and most of all happy with the life you lead.

 

Jessica is on twitter @jessbigballet

 

http://www.bigballetuk.com/

#bigballet

 

 

Carol Hartley – A Big Ballet Ambassador

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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.

 

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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.

 

 

Carol-Hartley-Dancer-1You 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!

 

 

Big BalletWhen 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!Carol-Hartley-Hannah-Baines

 

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?BB-Logo

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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#BIGBALLET

This Ballerina Is Here to Stay – Donna from Big Ballet

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.  

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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.

 

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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.

 

Donna with daughter Kathryn
Donna with daughter Kathryn

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?BB-Logo

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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