Big Ballet

Big Ballet | New Channel 4 Documentary begins this week

Big Ballet

Big Ballet follows a troupe of plus size amateurs as they attempt to realise their dream of dancing Swan Lake. Rebellious ballet legend Wayne Sleep was the shortest dancer ever to make his debut on the Royal Ballet stage and now he wants to unlock the world of ballet for a wider audience and break one of the biggest taboos in the ballet world: size. Under the watchful eye of Wayne and Prima Ballerina Monica Loughman the dancers will ruffle the feathers of the ballet establishment as they attempt what some experts say is impossible.


Backstage at St George’s Hall, Bradford before their performance of Swan Lake.

Dance legend Wayne Sleep, the shortest ballet dancer ever to debut on the Royal Ballet stage, is on a mission. To prove that people who are big can dance ballet. Along with ballet mistress Monica Loughman, he is auditioning for dancers who have a passion for ballet and – vitally – are a dress size 12 or higher, making them ‘too big’ for traditional ballet.



Big Ballet meets men and women from all walks of life – call centre workers, single mums, university lecturers – who have long wanted to dance. This burning desire to dance has often been stifled by the prejudices of the ballet world, leaving a trail of broken dreams, including 38-year-old Traffic Warden Sarah, who hasn’t danced ballet since her mum stopped her lessons when she was six: “I was a little bit tubby as a child, a little barrel shaped and always had a bit of a pot belly. I’d resigned myself to know that I was never going to be a dancer. You get older and you lose all your fairy tales.” Station manager Mike, 48 who learned how to dance from YouTube videos, says “I don’t feel my size when I’m doing it. I feel like I move about and am just the same as anybody else.”



Dance graduate Emma, 22 thinks no-one wants a “chubby ballerina” and is fed up being judged on her size and not her ability when she goes to auditions.  “You go to most auditions and they say ‘She’s got mixed up – Weight Watchers is further down’”.  Council worker Hannah, 18, says “Ballet makes me feel so much better about myself, it makes me feel beautiful.”



While many of the Big Ballet auditionees are novices, or have never danced before, others like 52-year-old Christine have years of experience. Having loved ballet since she was small, Christine achieved her ambition of winning a place at The Royal Ballet School. But, having been told she wouldn’t fit their criteria because at 4’ 11” she was “too short and the wrong build” she became obsessed with the way she looked and stopped eating, eventually returning home and severing all ties with ballet.

Rehearsals at St George's Hall, Bradford before their performance of Swan Lake.

Rehearsals at St George’s Hall, Bradford before their performance of Swan Lake.

But not everyone thinks Big Ballet can work and Wayne knows all too well that the ballet world is an exclusive and judgemental one, and the idea of putting on Swan Lake with big people will cause upset.



As world-famous choreographer Derek Deane explains: “It is the iconic ballet, it’s the ballet everybody knows, but also physically it is one of the hardest. You know fat, cellulite, bums and large breasts…I’m sorry but it doesn’t lend itself to the pure form of classical ballet.” Adding “I don’t know how you’re going to do it. I’m not sure it can be done.”



The series opens with over 200 auditionees being whittled down to 18 to form the Big Ballet troupe. Can Wayne and Monica harness the dancers’ passion, teach classical ballet and put on a performance the likes of which no-one has ever seen before?

Mentors Wayne Sleep and ballet dancer Monica Loughman.

Mentors Wayne Sleep and ballet dancer Monica Loughman.

The first (of 3) episodes of Big Ballet will be broadcast on Channel 4 on 6th February, 9pm

Backstage at St George's Hall, Bradford before their performance of Swan Lake.

Backstage at St George’s Hall, Bradford before their performance of Swan Lake.

Big Ballet

Big Ballet


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33 Responses to Big Ballet

  1. Cecile February 1, 2014 at 9:37 pm #

    Hm this looks interesting! I can’t wait to see how it turns out.

  2. Ballet News February 3, 2014 at 11:41 am #

    Dan Proctor commented : It doesn’t matter if you’re “Big” or “Petite”, as long as you’re “Passionate”

  3. Ballet News February 3, 2014 at 11:41 am #

    Hannah Grace Colbath commented : long live dreams! Even if you are over size 12!!

  4. Ballet News February 3, 2014 at 11:41 am #

    Emanuela Marchetti commented : Actually romantic ballerinas, like Taglioni, were their size, and didn’t look like contemporary ballerinas at all, love it!

  5. Ballet News February 3, 2014 at 11:41 am #

    Daniela Giacomoni commented : Bravo!!!

  6. Ballet News February 3, 2014 at 11:42 am #

    La Lou commented : I just hope people will see that show as an opportunity to consider new things and broaden their views and not just to criticize the ‘oversize’ ladies & guys exposed.

  7. Ballet News February 3, 2014 at 11:42 am #

    Maria Lavrentyeva commented : theres hope for everyone i guess…

  8. Ballet News February 3, 2014 at 11:42 am #

    Isabelle Rowland commented : next step: Prix de Lausanne

  9. Ballet News February 3, 2014 at 11:43 am #

    Amanda Singer commented : I wish someone would create something that was inclusive of everyone. While I can appreciate and respect the efforts of this show and the minds behind it, I feel it’s going to continue a void between the “typical” ballet dancers and now these “big” ballerinas. It would be great to see a company or show put together made up of all different sizes, shapes, heights, weights, races etc. talent, experience, drive and most of all a passion and yearning for dance would be determining factors for placement on the troupe. Ballet has discriminated against bigger dancers for a long time, how is creating a group of strictly “size 12 or larger” any different? I hope this goes in a positive direction.

    Note- I am of a build far from desirable for the world ballet, and struggle to find my own place.

    • Diana February 6, 2014 at 2:58 pm #

      Yes! That’s the way it should be.

  10. Ballet News February 3, 2014 at 11:43 am #

    Adriana Fernandes commented : Tatiana Steinbach we have to see this sis!

  11. Ballet News February 3, 2014 at 11:43 am #

    Tatiana Steinbach commented : Adriana Fernandes wow! How can we see this? Will it air on tv?!

  12. Ballet News February 3, 2014 at 11:44 am #

    Adriana Fernandes commented : Tatiana Steinbach it says Chanel 4 Feb. 6th at 9pm. Let’s watch it together? We can record and watch it later

  13. Ballet News February 3, 2014 at 11:44 am #

    Karla Alejandra Guevara Román commented : Im a big ballerina

  14. Ballet News February 3, 2014 at 11:44 am #

    Violeta Gandullo Zamora commented : Shared♥♥♥♥

  15. Ballet News February 3, 2014 at 11:45 am #

    Elise Bruckert commented : Any video?

  16. Ballet News February 3, 2014 at 11:45 am #

    Sophie Richardson commented : The lady in the blue tutu in the middle- is she a professional dancer?! If she is ‘too big’ for ballet then that really says something…..

  17. Ballet News February 3, 2014 at 11:45 am #

    Lisa Haughton commented : she is one of the presenters, Monica Loughman, an Irish ballet dancer who used to dance with Perm State Ballet and now runs her own company in Ireland.

  18. Ballet News February 3, 2014 at 11:46 am #

    Anita Ark commented : It’s great to see, ballet reaching out to all, however in the professional world, ballet is much about dance as art, so looks and shape of the body for both sexes is very important, can a male dancer lift a 12-15+ stone female with easy and grace! sorry ladies. All walks of life we are discriminated, ballet is NO different. In the amateur world this show is great to show case all things different. P.S. I am not defending the way ballet is as I am far for the normal to be a ballerina, but we all can dream one day, I am helping myself by doing adult ballet Huntingdon dance centre

  19. Ballet News February 3, 2014 at 2:54 pm #

    Having previewed Big Ballet, I can report that in the beginning at least, during auditions, it’s reported in a positive and happy way. Obviously the process of actually training over 5 months to put on a performance is another matter. Monica is not to be messed with and discipline is at the core of ballet. For me, the biggest issue (no pun intended) is that while those chosen all say they have the absolute passion for ballet and want to do it, none have had the same passion for cutting down on food. Yes, anyone can have a go at anything. Is it healthy to be overweight ? That’s another question and not directly what this show is about. But no, you can’t expect to be a professional ballet dancer unless you have the right proportions because it’s an aesthetic art form and because, for women at least, you have to be lifted. This show isn’t about making professional ballet dancers, and that’s an important distinction. It’s giving these people the chance to follow a dream that in some cases was denied them in their early years. No-one is kidding themselves that they will be able to dance professionally. The aim is to put on a credible show.

    • Melatron February 6, 2014 at 11:46 am #

      In reference to this: “none have had the same passion for cutting down on food” – not all of the participants were the size that they were because of over-eating. I was larger during my time in the show because of a reaction to a potent mood stabiliser, general stress and tension and, surprisingly, under-eating. As you will hopefully have observed, during the 5 months my body composition did begin to creep back to normal but it is still on it’s way back and gradually I am beginning to get my body under control again. Health and fitness is very important to me and I was hoping that it would be reflected in the programme, especially since I allowed the cameras into one of my conditioning sessions at the gym (sadly this was also not shown in the final programme). I am a firm believer in being in absolute condition for the activities that you carry out, hence my dedication to Yoga, Pilates and general body conditioning for dance, and whilst I am well aware that I will not be a professional ballet dancer I hope in future that those talented dancers who have the ballet facility but also share a body type similar to mine (i.e athletic, with broad shoulders) will not be excluded from a career in professional ballet simply because of their bone structure. Of course professional ballet requires an aesthetic and also involves the lifting of women, but weight can be lost and bodies can adapt to the movement that is required of them. Mel

  20. Ballet News February 5, 2014 at 2:56 pm #

    Robyn Cooper commented : So how can we ballet lovers in Australia watch this? Is there a website somewhere?

  21. Ballet News February 5, 2014 at 4:16 pm #

    Anna L Russell commented : I Always wanted to do this!!

  22. Ballet News February 5, 2014 at 4:17 pm #

    Kate Holly commented : This is awesome!!

  23. Ballet News February 5, 2014 at 4:17 pm #

    Robyn Cooper suggest you contact your local broadcaster and ask why they don’t show it – they won’t if they think there isn’t enough interest.

  24. Ballet News February 5, 2014 at 4:17 pm #

    Robyn Cooper commented : Good idea! Will do!

  25. Ballet News February 5, 2014 at 6:45 pm #

    Priscilla Payson commented : Check my listings on my channel 4 and didn’t see it listed. What station is it showing on because my channel 4 is WACP Atlantic City / Philadelphia on Verizon?

  26. Ballet News February 5, 2014 at 6:46 pm #

    Priscilla – Channel 4 is a UK channel. You’d need to ask your local broadcaster whether or not they’ll show it at a later date – it’s good to show interest otherwise they might not be aware of it.

  27. Ballet News February 5, 2014 at 8:01 pm #

    Jan Green commented : I would love to watch that…but can’t get it sadly….

  28. Ballet News February 6, 2014 at 11:34 am #

    Sam Rhodes commented : I’m excited for this

  29. Ballet News February 6, 2014 at 12:03 pm #

    thanks Mel – you make a valid point. You are also right about the parts cut from the programme – indeed from my perspective I saw scenes that focused on eating (usually junk like sugary sweets) – or talking about eating chocolate etc,. I’m aware that that might not be how it actually was, and perhaps that’s why your scenes were cut from the final programme. The programme is generating a buzz, which is great for ballet, and as you say, it is more important to be whatever is a healthy weight for you, than to try to fit into someone else’s ideal.

    For me, the message that anyone can have a go is absolutely true, so long as they have realistic expectations. I also think it would be a considerable health risk to go on pointe and be over-weight, though not applicable in this show because you only had 5 months to train.

    I thought the documentary was put together very well, and the spot on The One Show last night won’t have hurt viewing figures tonight.

    • Melatron February 6, 2014 at 12:42 pm #

      Thank you for responding, Cheryl. It has been interesting to read your point of view about the programme, because it has highlighted some important issues that haven’t been focused on in the show (healthy weight, body maintenance etc). Its a shame that the show’s producers and editors didn’t have the confidence in presenting ‘normal’ individuals and instead had to focus on ‘fat dancers’, perhaps unwittingly turning the show into a ‘fat vs thin’ spectacle. I am so glad, however, that it is helping to raise the profile of ballet and hopefully more people will become ballet geeks like me as a result.

      For some of the participants going en pointe would indeed be a health risk, however again a few of us have undergone pointe training and work towards the all-important technique that is needed to securely dance en pointe. I hope that more and more people will be encouraged to try out ballet, or even encourage their children to give it a go, but that they find the teachers that they need in order to do it fully and safely.

  30. Ballet News February 7, 2014 at 10:35 am #


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