Although it has only been a few weeks so far, the time I have spent with Stopgap has already greatly changed the way that I think about dance, and about myself as a dancer. As a person with a physical disability, my relationship to performance has often been a fraught one: a constant conflict between the realities of my body and the restrictive aesthetics of mainstream dance. Prior to coming to Stopgap, I had never worked in an integrated space, and ability-based exclusion was the unquestioned norm against which I was expected to work. This was a fight framed as individual, affecting only my body as the different one, and the ultimate goal was always assumed to be approximation of nondisabled movement.
Having the incredible privilege to take company class with the Stopgap dancers has completely shifted my thinking about what it means for me to create movement, to be skilled and beautiful in a dance context. As long as the goal for my dance work was to move as a nondisabled person, I would always already be wrong. Being in a space where the disabled body is welcomed, expected, valued, has started to reshape my understanding of what the project of being a dancer is for me. It has shown me that my “good” can look different; that it is inherently different, and that this difference is an asset, as well as a challenge that other dancers and choreographers are hungry for.
I am still learning and exploring, and am still largely unsure of what my aesthetic can look like. I am – with the help of Stopgap – beginning to pull apart my expectations of performance for myself from the unreachable ideal that has for so long kept me at arm’s length from the art that I love, but the two are incredibly difficult to untangle. As there are few models of excellence for the kind of body that I have, I still find myself struggling to find my space in integrated dance. I am neither a wheelchair dancer nor an amputee, which makes my examples for movement and modification more limited. Widening the aesthetic of integrated dance to include other bodies that move less like the nondisabled body is a process I am excited to be a part of and to see Stopgap continue take on. Their work as a group is deeply appreciative and respectful of bodily difference and disability helps them to make work that is both engaging and profound. It is an honor to get a chance to glimpse their practice and to begin to realise my place within the art form I so deeply love. I suspect that this is just the first step in a far longer, inspiring journey.