The film is set in 1984 during the miners' strike and centre's on the life of Billy, his love of dance and his hope to become a professional ballet dancer. Billy's father and brother are both out on strike. Billy's mother is no longer alive and Billy and Tony's nan also lives with the family.
Billy is taken to the boxing gym by his father, but he finds out that he doesn't really like the sport, and has no real talent for it. Part of the boxing gym is used by a ballet class because their usual studio in the basement of the sports centre is being used as a soup kitchen for the striking miners. He is drawn in by the ballet teacher, and with her help, secretly starts taking ballet class. Billy's father finds out after the boxing teacher makes comment of Billy's absence. Billy is then forbidden to dance but continues secretly.
As a consequence of Tony being arrested during a confrontation between police and striking miners, Billy misses an important audition for the Royal Ballet School. His ballet teacher goes to their house to tell his father about the missed opportunity. Billy's macho father and brother, fearing that Billy will be seen as a "poof", become outraged at the idea of him becoming a professional ballet dancer.
Once having seen Billy dance however, his father understands that ballet is Billy's passion; and he takes him to an audition in London himself. Billy is accepted and moves to London on his own at age 11 to attend the school.