My role within Stopgap
Nicky Norton, our Community Dance Development Officer, writes her first blog, explaining how her role came about and what her job entails…’on a jolly all week and just skipping about’ is what her husband thinks. However, this blog proves otherwise…
Having worked for the company in various guises over the last three or four years – researcher, mini-bus driver and flyer-stickerer to name but a few - it was a chance opportunity that came my way to make my place within the company more permanent. Vodafone were offering enticing pots of funding for charities to employ people. After what seemed like a very short space of time and a relatively painless process of form filling, I was offered the funding. Thus began my newly created role of Community Dance Development Officer within the company.
Which was what was supposed to happen, only my body decided otherwise and I fell ill for three months. Here lies an entirely other blog about tales of saying yes to everyone, believing oneself to be indestructible and ignoring the warning signs – hands up freelance dance artists if this reminds you of someone… However, the funding remained for me, miraculously Stopgap still wanted me and all I dipped out on was the chance to meet Gok Wan at the induction day for new recruits to the World of Difference group.
At the heart of what I do and indeed at the heart of Stopgap’s Creative Learning Programme is the belief that everyone can dance, regardless of their disability or what might not appear to be a traditional dancers body. At the heart is the desire to share a common set of values about the art form, how we make it, what we make and why. Alongside this there is the shared interest in learning, creating and appreciating dance. For me, my role as the development officer is to offer and extend the scope of opportunities for disabled people to dance. To offer high quality teaching and an ethos to learn, develop and progress with an art form that is expressive, creative and challenging for each individual.
Over these 18 months I have learned so much myself as well as seeing the learning of others advance and develop. I have seen that with patience and persistence change and progress can happen. I have seen my own strengths explored and my weaknesses challenged. I have made myself complete countless funding forms, attended meetings to represent the company, spoken at school assemblies, visited potential venues and organisations with a view to creating partnerships, forged a friendship via email with someone who thought I was a bloke but offered Sg2 their first foreign engagement. To name but a few more administrative aspects of my job.
Something I was very keen to have happen when I first took on this role was a platform of some kind to celebrate the work, energy and efforts of our young people who dance with us. “Northern Lights” (December 2013) was just such an event and has now been joined by “Electric Sunshine” (July 2014). Joyous occasions, showcasing dance and community. The logistics for these events has been made pretty straightforward thanks to a great team of interns, placement students, volunteers and the other wonderful members of the Stopgap Team. I am looking forward to our second winter platform, which hopefully will have more groups and partnerships joining in the fun.
The final element to my role within the company, is the more pedagogic and creative side. This takes the form of orchestrating a constant stream of work placement students (10 so far this year) and leading a regular youth group with one of our partnership organisations. For me this last element has been the greatest challenge and certainly the one that has taught me the most. A case of ‘practicing what we preach’ within the company – valuable experience when offering educational workshops, demonstrations and setting up youth groups. Not only do I understand the delivery side of our creative learning programme, but I also see the ongoing end results of what dance can offer. This permits me to speak eloquently about what Stopgap can offer and potential outcomes. The chance to teach and choreograph and be inspired by the young disabled people I work with has afforded me endless rewards.
I am blessed that I love what I do. I am blessed too that I get paid for the work I enjoy. And in some small way I am affecting change in perceptions about community dance in general and community dance for disabled people in particular.