Big Ballet, Have You Watched This?

… and if you have, what’d you think?

While searching youtube for ballet a couple days ago (literally typed “ballet” into the search bar), hoping to find something besides my usual favorites, I came across Big Ballet. Curious, I clicked on it and was instantly hooked, ending up watching all three episodes that night.  Now watching it all the episodes through for a second time…

I tried embedding the videos, but for whatever reason it’s not working right now. As I’m much too tired to try to figure it out right now, it’ll have to wait for a later date. But all three episodes are found on youtube.

This is the first I’d heard of there being a reality show about a group of larger amateur dancers who are trained to put on a recital, a short version of Swan Lake. After a  quick online search, I found that apparently not everyone believes this show is a good idea believing that it exploits overweight women.  The women (and there was also men too, though they were not really big in my opinion, though bigger than a typical male dancer, I suppose) in the show looked absolutely thrilled  to be there, so I don’t know about that.

In general, I love this show.  Some of these dancers are really good, and I find it really inspirational to see people with different shapes from the dancer “norm” body (seriously, in the comments for one of the videos someone said something like “But some are not even ‘big’.” and someone replied “Yeah, but in ballet that’s considered too big” or something like that) dancing so beautifully and being trained to perform. They seemed so happy while dancing, too, and several (at least) expressed how it was a dream come true. I hope this doesn’t get taken the wrong way, but watching some of the more allegro sequences I thought ‘if these ladies can jump and turn so well then I have no excuse blaming my poor technique on the weight of my chest.’ I’m amazed at how strong they are!

Another thing I really like is all the shots of people wearing regular clothes doing ballet moves out in public. It’s nice to be reminded that there’s a lot of us ballet amateurs out there, and to see people doing ballet outside of class.  Feels good to know I’m definitely not the only one.

However, I think it would have been nice if the show could have been focused on all amateus who don’t fit the body norm, not just large people (but then I realize they wouldn’t have been able to use the title “Big Ballet”).  While casting, even before the first audition phase I believe, people were turned down for not being big enough, which just seems wrong. The ballet body ideal is so specific that there are many – would be accurate to say most  of the adult population – of us who don’t fit it, despite not being of a BMI higher than 25 or 30 or what ever the cutoff was ( they said sizes 12-22, but I have no idea how that matches up to American clothes sizes). My point is that if there was ever something like this near me – the performing amateur ballet thing, not the reality tv part – I would love to audition, and it’s seriously messed up if I wouldn’t be big enough, though I’m obviously not small enough for ballet either…

At times some of the other people on the show made some pretty insensitive comments (I’m thinking of the ex-Artistic Director specifically), regarding ballet dancers and body type. So discouraging!  Also, I noticed that Wayne Sleep  kept pointing out how they are so talented, but it’s been their size that holds them back. That made it a little bit less releatable for me because besides not having the “right” body type for ballet I also don’t have much talent… but like, those of us without much talent can feel a need to dance too, you know?

(I hope I’m not just horribly missing the point here…)

Criticisms aside, an enjoyable eway to spend a few ballet-related hours!

16 thoughts on “Big Ballet, Have You Watched This?

  1. Sarah

    I’ve been meaning to watch this for a while, but I’ve been putting it off because I thought there’s no way a bigger dancer could achieve the strong, light, weightless and even vulnerable and ethereal look that some ballet’s (i.e. swan lake) call for. But maybe I should put my prejudice aside and give it a watch. I do have a ballet exercise dvd were the class is made up of a huge mix of people, young, old and all different body sizes, and the most beautiful dancer amongst them is a fairly large, older woman, so I think this just shows that ballet can look amazing if done by a great dancer, no matter what their size or age. I’ll add this to my you tube playlist and give it a watch 🙂

    1. kit Post author

      I was amazed at how weightless some of them seemed, especially while jumping. Some of the larger people I’ve taken class with have been some of the most graceful, so I did go into watching the show with a somewhat open mind. At the same time, I was a bit concerned about all the force on their ankles from landing the jumps (some of the larger people I’ve taken class with have sat out the jumping portion, and I’m assuming it may have something to do with this).
      Let me know what you think if you give it a watch 🙂

  2. Trippmadam

    I watched the first part two weeks (?) ago. It was/is on Youtube, I think. What I like about it: the participants seemed to be happy to have an opportunity to perform. Also, some people out there seem need a reminder that bigger people do dance and many of them are actually good at dancing. However, I feared the show would be turned into kind of a freak show, or the audience might think it was meant to be a freak show.

    I remember always being the biggest girl in class when I did ballet. Flamenco is somewhat more forgiving when it comes to size, but most professional companies of more than local renown feature young and slim dancers. Antonio el Pipa has some bigger dancers in his latest work (, and late dancer and choreographer Antonio Gades prided himself on using a (somewhat) diverse cast.

    I’d really like to see some older and bigger dancers in professional ballet companies, too, just as I’d like to see a few older and bigger fashion models.

    1. kit Post author

      It would be nice to see more diversity in professional ballet companies, modeling, and other aspects of the performing arts. I do hope shows like this open up the possibility of that more, as well as the (seemingly?) increasing number of adult ballet amateurs who would be a supportive audience – at least I know I would go watch this live. I love to watch good dancing, regardless of the size of the performers’ body size. Flamenco looks beautiful, by the way.
      I think the articles that I read online about BIg Ballet were going with the assumption that it was going to be a freak show or gratuitous fat shaming or something. I’m not sure when exactly this show first aired, but I think the articles may have been written before the show came out. It didn’t seem very freak show to me at all. I think maybe regular people (people who don’t know much about ballet) may have been put off by the constant mention that the dancers are big, but those of us who have taken ballet classes or researched ballet at all know what a BIG deal the whole size thing can be, unfortunately. Before starting ballet I never dreamed that size was such a big deal or such a deciding factor in who gets to continue their training vs quit. I think I was just blissfully in denial, just thinking it was coincidence or something…

  3. Joyce

    I watched the first episode last night because your post. I had been avoiding it, because I was worried it would be exploitative. But so far It’s been really good! Everyone’s story is very inspiring.

    I think it is nice for all people to see their body type represented in dancing….

    I know this might not be the same, but I was really happy when I discovered Sara Mearns because her upper body is a bit broader than the standard ballerina, and I have biggish traps and lats too.

    1. kit Post author

      I’m glad to hear you gave it a chance. To be honest, I’m really glad I hadn’t even heard of this show before I stumbled across it on youtube, because I would have worried that it would be exploitative or mean-spirited (especially given the articles that were NOT giving it the benefit of the doubt).
      I agree that everyone should see their body type represented in dance. Whenever I see a ballerina that is a bit curvier than the norm I get happy ( an example of one is in the video for the Royal Ballet class for World Ballet Day, as well as a few unidentified ballerinas in pictures I’ve found). I hadn’t heard of Sara Mearns but I looked her up and read an article that mentioned her broad shoulders or back. I have a bit of big shoulders myself (especially now that I’m learning to engage them) so it was a good find. Keep the body diversity coming!

  4. imitationballerina

    Yes! I’ve watched it twice. Some of the dancers are actually really good. I remember watching the girl who got the part of Odette do pique turns and I was really impressed.

    1. kit Post author

      i agree, she’s a really good dancer! Her audition for Wayne (when they improvd Swan Lake) was really cool.

  5. Basia

    Loving it! Yes, that Wayne is quite a stirrer, but it wouldn’t be TV if there was no drama… I’m enjoying the point that they are able to dance no matter what size they are. Inspired me, because I keep thinking it’s all about my weight. But it’s not about looking as skinny as Monica on the show. (although I wouldn’t mind looking like her, she’s very beautiful)
    Got my hubby hooked, so tonight we watch the final episode together woo hoo!

    1. kit Post author

      Glad you’re loving it! 🙂
      It is pretty inspirational that people are dancing – and dancing WELL – despite their size. Besides the size, the fact that people of a variety of ages come out has also been inspirational to me.
      Monica IS beautiful – and really skinny. But I think it’s a body shape or build thing more than anything. When I first lost my excess weight I was superskinny (meaning low percentage body fat) and even then there was no way I could pass for someone with a stereotypical ballet body. The bone structure, muscle and fat distribution just screams “No!” and if I lose my muscle there’s nothing left to jump with, LOL.
      That’s awesome that your hubby got hooked as well. It must mean the show is good, ’cause I even caught Boyfriend watching out of the corner of his eye as he did his paperwork, LOL.

      1. Basia

        Ha ha! Guys are funny. I’m glad hubby supports my ballet. He keeps telling me I need to practice more if I want to get as good as I keep talking about getting :-S
        Yes, I don’t think I’ll ever have the shape of Monica… Hourglass body…. Even if I lost the last little bit of body fat!! Oh well, but it is inspiring 🙂 can’t wait to get home tonight after yoga for the last episode.

      2. kit Post author

        That is so cool that he says that! I always feel like when I practice when Boyfriend is home I get in his way, especially when I’m trying to do chaines across the living room and he’s trying to relax in his armschair with his feet up. But he supports me ballet-ing because he says he can tell that it makes me happy 🙂
        The last episode is pretty cool, they do the performance! (That’s kind of a spoiler, but I figure by now it’s been past the time you got home and watched it…)

      3. Basia

        It was really great to see them pull it off even though it seemed like they’d stuff it up! Now it seems that if I want to see the whole performance I need to go to another utube video…. I get that they didn’t show the whole thing in the doco

      4. kit Post author

        There’s a youtube video showing the whole performance?! At the end of the show I think it said something about going to Channel 4’s website to see the whole thing, but I never got around to it…

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