(2014) Ovation proudly presents Big Ballet, a three-part series that chronicles the highs and lows of a plus-size amateur troupe mounting a production of Swan Lake. Led by ballet legend Wayne Sleep, who worked through his own size issues as the shortest dancer ever to debut on the Royal Ballet stage, and Prima Ballerina Monica Loughman, Big Ballet shows the world that it's not about the size of the dancer, but the size of the dancer's heart.
Wayne Sleep, Monica Loughman
Upping the Pace
Meet the Dancers
Tanya had a passion for ballet from early childhood, but her parents doused her flame by urging her to go to college and get a "real" job.
Tanya wonders what her life would've been like had she stayed the course of dancing. Perhaps the dance world will start to think differently about size and shape after watching Big Ballet.
Tanya plays a swan in the final performance.
Animal lover and branch manager of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, 31 year-old Stella started her ballet career at age five.
But it all came to an end at age 16, when Stella grew beyond the "standard size" that ballet called for—something she hopes Big Ballet will prevent other young dancers from experiencing.
Stella plays a swan and a lady-in-waiting in the final performance.
To Shona, dancing is as much a part of her life as breathing. She started teaching dance at age 16, and now runs her own dance school. A busy mother of three, she divides her time between dance and a full-time career as a life insurance executive.
In the final performance, Shona plays a swan, Spanish maiden, and dances in the Mazurka.
Traffic cop Sarah, 38, began her ballet career as a 5 year-old, but had to stop after one year because her mother couldn’t afford to pay for lessons.
As an artist, Sarah credits Wayne as her inspiration. Returning to ballet has made a deep impression on Sarah’s life, and she now regrets giving up ballet as a youngster.
In the final performance, Sarah plays a swan, lady-in-waiting, and a gallery girl.
Multi-talented radio executive and performer, Raj, 33, was new to classical ballet at the start of Big Ballet. But he wasn’t new to dance. An accomplished Bollywood dancer, he had small roles in such films as Casino Royale and Mischief Night. He hopes to show TV viewers that Bollywood and Ballet aren’t worlds apart.
Raj plays Von Rothbart in the final performance.
Rachel, 33, was interested in dance as a child, but never took it beyond the hobby stage.
After pursuing her education and career as a hospital administrator, Rachel decided to return to her hobby, primarily as a means to stay in shape. But when she lost her friend and ballet classmate to cancer two years, Rachel decided that it was time to pursue dance in earnest—and honor her friend’s adventurous spirit.
Rachel danced the Mazurka in the final performance.
Nicola, now 27, was an accomplished ballerina for 15 years until Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome caused her to gain weight. Going from a size 10 to 18, she no longer felt comfortable dancing.
Nicola signed on with Big Ballet to prove that even though she’s a plus-size dancer, she can perform just as well as any normal-size dancer.
Nicola plays a Russian maiden, black swan henchman and a swan.
Mel started her dance career in an unusual manner – through martial arts. It wasn’t until six years ago that she started taking dance lessons as part of her fitness regime.
Now 31, and an accomplished dancer, she views ballet as the quintessence of movement, requiring perfect coordination of mind and body. In addition, she finds communication as essential to dance, with physical dynamism as important as poise. Her participation in Big Ballet, she believes, will showcase this.
Mel plays the Pink Princess, a black cygnet and a swan.
Mary is a unique success story. As a six year-old, she took up dancing. Now 29, she’s been dancing ever since and even runs a dance school in the room in which she first learned how to dance.
Mary plays a gallery Girl, a maiden, Spanish dancer in Coda, Mazurka dancer, and a swan.
At 25, Jessica has been dancing since she was three. After a brief layoff at sixteen, she took it up again in earnest as she trained for her dance degree.
Like many others in the competition, Jessica was turned away at theater school because she was too large. She trusts that Big Ballet will show kids of all ages that they are not too big, too slow, or too ungainly to dance. It just takes hard work and will power to overcome obstacles and achieve your goals.
Jessica won the role of the Black Swan in the final performance.
Hannah dreams of dancing professionally.
Sure, now. But as a child, her confidence was shattered after she was turned down for Performing Arts College. Her performance on Big Ballet is her chance to prove to those who doubted her that being large does not automatically mean being a lesser dancer.
18 year-old Hannah plays Odette in the final performance.
Emma is a 38 year-old teacher who started hoofing at age three because her mother thought it would be a good way to channel her hyperactive energies.
However, at 18, she quit ballet after being ridiculed for her height, and never looked back. Until now, with Big Ballet.
Emma plays a gallery Girl, lady-in-waiting, and swan in the final performance.
At 22, Emma, is fairly new to ballet, as dance injuries have limited her time on the boards.
She broke her foot during training, as well as fracturing her leg during a dance recital in college.
Still, Emma’s a gamer, and hopes that her experience in Big Ballet will encourage other plus-size dancers to pursue their dreams.
Emma plays a swan and the Queen in the final performance.
Donna, 48, began her dance career at age five. She trained in ballet and tap but found the obstacles too overwhelming, and eventually stopped to pursue a nursing career.
Donna now owns a boutique and beauty salon.
At 4’11” she was told her body was the wrong shape and size for ballet. Now she’s happy to prove all the naysayers wrong.
Donna plays a maiden and a swan in the final performance, she also dances in the Neapolitan.
Claire, 40, is the daughter of a Royal Academy of Dance examiner. Dancing is in her genes.
She started a ballet school designed to gently introduce young children to dance in a non-competitive, non-judgmental way. She herself gave up ballet at age 14, having been called out for her body type.
Claire is thrilled to be on Big Ballet with the chance to prove that size and shape don’t matter.
She plays a swan and a maiden in the final performance. She also dances in the Coda and the Neapolitan.
52-year-old Christine has many years of dance experience under her belt. As a ballet aficionado since early childhood, Christine got her wish to dance at the Royal Ballet School.
But when told her stature was wrong for ballet, she returned home and severed all ties with ballet. Now a fitness trainer, Christine is happy to return to ballet after so many years.
She plays a maiden and a swan in the final performance.
At the tender age of 14, Carol began her dance career, and within three years had landed a professional gig on a cruise ship in Cyprus.
She eventually stopped auditioning for roles as she spent more time with her soon-to-be husband. Carol’s experience performing in Big Ballet has helped boost her confidence and reignite her passion to dance.
In the performance, Carol plays a maid, a black swan henchman and a white swan.
As a child, 20 year-old AJ discovered his passion for ballet at a workshop in his hometown. At first, he was leery of ballet "being for girls," but when his talent surfaced, he quickly got over it.
Starting to dance in earnest at age 9, AJ is currently studying to be a professional dancer.
AJ won the role of The Prince in the final performance.
Meet the Mentors
At the very young age of 13, Wayne Sleep won a Scholarship to England’s exclusive Royal Ballet School. Five years later he was asked to join the prestigious Royal Ballet Company, where he became a Senior Principal Dancer and had numerous roles created for him.
Wayne has been a Guest Artist with several ballet companies, including English National, Scottish, and London Contemporary Dance.
In 1980, Wayne started his own dance company, DASH, which made its mark in London’s West End, then embarked on a world tour, wowing audiences on five continents. DASH presents dance in such a way as to appeal to a wider audience, using a mix of styles including ballet, jazz, tap and contemporary.
Monica Loughman is the renowned Irish ballerina, and Artistic Director of Monica Loughman Ballet, Ireland’s Ballet Company.
Through her company, Monica stages main-scale ballet at The Convention Centre Dublin and elsewhere throughout Ireland. She established Ireland’s first full-time professional ballet training Academy in 2012.
At 16, Monica trained as a ballet dancer in Russia and was offered a job with the Tchaikovsky Perm State Ballet, where she performed for ten years as principal and prima ballerina. In 2003, upon her return to Ireland, Monica started a youth ballet company called Irish Youth Russian Ballet. Ten years later, this became the world-renowned classical ballet company, Monica Loughman Ballet.