Burn scars can't stop Sheffield mum inspiring others through dance

Rochelle Barrett, 28, from Wincobank.
Rochelle Barrett, 28, from Wincobank.
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A Sheffield mum who was badly burned as a baby has used dance to give her new confidence - and is now trying to bring her community together.

Rochelle Barrett, 28, from Wincobank, was just eight months old she was covered in boiling water after an accident with a kettle.

Rochelle Barrett with her children Romarv Wilson, five, and La'Raiya Nelson, nine.

Rochelle Barrett with her children Romarv Wilson, five, and La'Raiya Nelson, nine.

She was so badly burned that doctors told her mother to expect the worst. But Rochelle pulled through, and after an agonising three months in hospital was sent home.

Although her face recovered - doctors were not sure why her skin cells regenerated so well - much of the rest of her body is covered in scars.

Rochelle suffered at school - names such as 'burnt toast' will never be forgotten - and her self esteem took a huge hit.

She also had a critical boyfriend in her teenage years, who told her she would never find anyone that would find her attractive.

Members of Rochelle Barrett's DNA Dance Centre class.

Members of Rochelle Barrett's DNA Dance Centre class.

"My confidence went way down," she said. "I would always cover up with clothes. I had no self-esteem.

"Things like swimming, I just refused to do. I had people staring at me all the time."

But Rochelle's perspective changed after having the first of her two children.

"I thought I needed to change," she said. "I chose to work on me so my confidence could reflect back on them."

Rochelle with her Miss Caribbean UK sash.

Rochelle with her Miss Caribbean UK sash.

She did this through dance.

"That was my outlet for the emotions I had," she said. "It's a form of self-expression.

"I performed at different festivals and shows, and that's when my confidence started to grow. Wearing certain clothes didn't have so much of an effect any more.

"I also take my kids swimming, so I had to overcome that fear of wearing a swimming costume.

Rochelle wears a bikini for the first time.

Rochelle wears a bikini for the first time.

"The process took a good few years. I had to learn to like myself. It's constantly mind over matter and thinking positively. I'm not defined by my scars. I didn't want to be a victim either. It's something that will be part of me forever."

As her confidence grew, Rochelle decided to try to give something back for her community. She set up DNA, a dance school for children.

She started with 12 youngsters who 'just wanted to dance', teaching them different skills each week for just £3 a session. Word spread, and she now teaches 35 children from ages three to 14 at Hinde House School and Shiregreen Community Centre. They have performed at Tramlines and have several Christmas shows lined up.

"Setting up DNA was one of the best things I have ever done. I didn't realise how much of a calling there was in the S5 area for something like that," she said.

"There were so many children but there wasn't a safe place for children from all different walks of the community to just get together."

Rochelle has also set up a class for mums, which has proved popular, and now has her sights set on her own dance centre.

She has also ventured into something that at one stage was unimaginable - the world of pageantry. She entered last year's Miss Caribbean UK competition, conquering her nerves to step out on the stage in front of an audience.

"I thought it would be a great opportunity for my children to see their mummy getting involved. I thought, wouldn't it be great to bring scars and disfigurement to it. It's such a good way to challenge people's opinions of what are seen as imperfections," said Rochelle.

The hardest part of the competition final was the costume round, which had a carnival theme.

"I had never worn a bikini, and then I had to do it in front of 500 people. I was really nervous. I didn't know what people would think or say," said Rochelle.

"But my mum said that I had got this far, and this was exactly why I entered. She said to go up on stage and show exactly who I was.

"The moment I stepped out I forgot about my scars."

Rochelle won the Miss Personality crown, voted by the other entrants. But the greatest prize was the present she got from her daughter when she got home.

"My little girl drew a picture of me in my dress and crown.

"I come home and thought if I could do this, I was capable of doing anything I set my mind to. It gave me a huge boost of confidence and belief to not be afraid of failing."

Visit www.facebook.com/DNADanceS5 for more on Rochelle's classes.

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