When Carly-Ann Purcell was growing up, she had dreams of becoming a dancer.
But life was not always easy for the now-37-year-old and she simply didn’t have the opportunities as a child to indulge her passion.
Carly-Ann, from Southsea, grew up in a single-parent family in Berkshire and money was tight.
But she never gave up on her dream.
And now, through sheer grit and determination, she runs two dance schools in Portsmouth which she uses to inspire and empower adults and children.
She has taught hundreds of people across the city to dance – inspiring in them joy and self-confidence.
Most Wanted Street Dance School, for children aged from five up to 18, started 10 years ago.
And last year, she launched Neptune Girls – an ultra sassy dance class for women (and men) aged over 18 that focuses on empowerment and turning a negative into a positive.
But how did the journey start for Carly-Ann?
She says: ‘I always wanted to dance when I was younger but there was nothing where I was growing up,’ she says.
I wanted to break down any barriers people might have had
‘My mum wasn’t really able to take me anywhere outside of the local area.
‘My inspirations were Michael Jackson, Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake.
‘I got involved in every sport because that was a compromise for not being able to dance. I was on pretty much every sports team at school.’
Carly-Ann went on to university in Portsmouth to study psychology – another passion of hers.
She qualified as a gym instructor and led exercise classes while at the university.
‘Once I had income I started going to London to do dance classes. I wanted to do street dancing and at that time there wasn’t anything like that in Portsmouth,’ she says.
She trained at the famous Pineapple Dance Studios and took classes at Husky Studios, both in London.
‘Sometimes I would go up a couple of times a week. It was £50 each time.
‘Then my friend and I started trying to bring some of the teachers to Portsmouth – and that’s how Most Wanted started.
‘I was offered a job at Portsmouth City Council to teach street dancing in local schools. From that, as I was teaching so much at The University of Portsmouth and started teaching in schools, I was offered a job in the sports development department as a dance development officer at the university.
‘I started building things up. At the after school clubs, the kids wanted to perform. So that’s when it grew into a dance school.
‘Most Wanted was really an organic evolution of what I was doing.
‘I grew up wanting to dance and then I got involved in providing opportunities for kids. It was really rewarding.
‘It was about reaching out to families on a low income – which was exactly the same as me when I was younger.’
A special celebration will take place at the New Theatre Royal in October for Most Wanted’s 10th anniversary.
And Carly-Ann has been lucky enough to train at some of the best dance schools in the world – including in Los Angeles.
‘One of the highlights of my dance training career was when I saved up to go to LA for three months. I trained every day at Debbie Reynolds Dance Studios.
‘I did so many different styles of dancing as well. That’s when I realised that I loved the style that I do at Neptune Girls.’
The classes, which are suitable for anyone over 18, focus on a sassy, diva style of dancing, like the moves seen by artists such as Beyonce.
There are now classes in Portsmouth, Chichester and Southampton.
‘A lot of people danced when they were children or teenagers’ says Carly-Ann. ‘But when they hit 18 they either go on to dance professionally or they just stop. There seems to be nothing for all the people who don’t want to become professional dancers.
‘But so many people want to dance.
‘I know myself that it can be really intimidating.
‘I wanted to break down any barriers people might have had that stopped them from coming to classes.
‘We are there because we enjoy moving to music. It’s such a positive thing. I want to get more people involved in it.’
The classes allow women the opportunity to embrace their feminism and wear high heels – if they want to.
‘Pretty much every performance we do, we will be wearing heels,’ Carly-Ann says.
‘Women say they feel more comfortable and sexy. For a lot of women it takes a while to build up to it.
‘Most people turn up to the first class in trainers.
‘A lot of women message me saying they have body image issues – and that’s quite upsetting to hear.
‘I’ve had people ask if they are too big to come to the class. But we don’t discriminate. People have this misconception that you must be stick-thin to be a dancer.
‘We try to push our body positivity on to people. It shouldn’t stop you from coming to a class, listening to music and learning some moves.
‘We had one lady who couldn’t look in the mirror at first.
Now she stands at the front of the class.’
In September, Carly-Ann will study for a masters in positive psychology and coaching psychology. She sees that as the next step for Neptune Girls.
‘It’s quite important to me to do something that benefits others,’ she says.
‘I am really proud that I feel like I am achieving that. It’s important to stop and recognise what you have achieved as part of positive psychology.
‘That’s where wanting to empower people came from. I realised that you have to go and make things happen for yourself. It boosts your self-esteem.
‘Most people, even the most experienced dancers, might be a little bit apprehensive about going to new classes.
‘For a new person, they are going to be nervous. But to do that and get that sense of achievement is what’s so empowering.’
To see a video of Carly-Ann go to portsmouth.co.uk.