It's all about changing perceptions and breaking down barriers and it could be emotional.

A new Channel 4 series Big Ballet charts the trials and tribulations of 18 ‘plus-sized’ dancers as they bid to don tutus and tights and perform Swan Lake in front of an audience.

Mentored by top ballet stars Wayne Sleep and Monica Loughman, the amateur dancers seek to explode the myths that big girls can’t dance.

Sleep, once told that at 5ft 2in he was too short to become a ballet dancer, defied the establishment and became one of the greats.

In this three-part series, which starts on February 6, Sleep aims to break down ballet’s biggest remaining taboo – weight.

The ‘over-sized’ troupe, which were sent for training at the Northern Ballet in Leeds, include Carol Hartley, 39, of Mirfield, Claire O’Connor, 40, of Greetland, and Emma Wilson, 38, of Liversedge.

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Whether they succeeded or not remains under wraps, but Carol, a size 22 and one of the biggest women to take part, said it was all about inspiring others.

Carol, a customer services manager at Camira Fabrics in Mirfield, was a professional showgirl dancer from the age of 17, but quit four years later when she fell in love.

She married Richard, now 40, at the age of 23 and the couple have a son, William.

Carol said she was “dead thin” while dancing, but put on weight in her 20s.

Her love of dancing was rekindled by the 25th anniversary celebrations of her former dance school run by Chris Beaumont in Birstall.

She heard about the TV show and decided to apply.

She said: “I was apprehensive at first because I thought people would say: ‘Look how fat Carol is’ and I had a few nervous moments.

“But on stage I felt like I was floating. It felt amazing and I forgot how big I am.”

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Carol, who dropped two dress sizes during the intensive training, said she wanted women to feel comfortable in their own bodies.

“I was a dancer, but I was never very good at ballet,” said Carol.

“But I want to inspire others with big boobs, a big bottom and a big shape that they can do this.

“There’s so much pressure on ballet dancers to have the androgynous look with no boobs and or bum and that is a slippery slope towards eating disorders.

“I am doing this for the kids who have given up ballet because they are not stick thin.”

Carol, who is 5ft 9in, refuses to talk about her weight and said her weight loss was “just a side effect.”

She added: “I feel like a proper ambassador. If I can persuade just one person not to give up ballet because they think they are too fat then I will have achieved my goal.”

Another of the dancers, mum-of-four Claire, whose mother Barbara Peters ran a dancing school in Huddersfield, quit ballet when she was 14, believing she was too fat to continue.

“There’s no doubt the show helped me face issues with my weight,” said Claire, who is only a size 12.

“Wayne Sleep asked me why I was there because he said I wasn’t big but in my eyes I am.

Big Ballet mentors Wayne Sleep and Monica Loughman.
Big Ballet mentors Wayne Sleep and Monica Loughman.
 

“Being on the show helped me conquer a lot of my fears and was probably the best experience of my life after having a family.

“I came out feeling that at last I had become the ballerina I always wanted to be, but didn’t have the ability or the body for.”

Claire, married to Chris, 38, has four children Harry, 17, Charlie, 10, Claudia, seven, and Kitty, five.

She set up a Halifax-based dance business, Baby Ballet, in 2005 which she now franchises.

Mum-of-three Emma, meanwhile, was a dancer from two-and-a-half to 18. A size 14-16 and 5ft 8in tall Emma was always “too tall and gangly” for ballet.

Primary school teacher Emma, married to John, 40, said the show could be emotional.

“There are some real stories to tell,” she said.

“But mine is not one of them. I am too normal for TV! It was a surreal experience.”

Big Ballet starts on February 6 at 9pm.