My Placement with Stopgap

Angela's Reflections


Hear from Angela Bettoni as they reflect on their placement with us during March and April this year.

Introducing Myself

Hello, my name is Angela, and I am a white standing person with Down Syndrome. My preferred pronouns are She/Her. I’m half Italian and half Sri Lankan and I live in Malta. I’m doing my degree in the Creative Arts and am hoping to do my dissertation on ‘How to empower people with learning disabilities to break ableism in the performing arts.’ I’m a 21-year-old writer, performer, and disability rights advocate for making the performing arts in Malta more mixed-ability.

Angela Bettoni.

Source: Elisa Von Brockdorff. Description: Angela, a person with Down Syndrome. Her long dark brown hair is falling down her shoulders. She holds a microphone close to her mouth.

My Interest in Stopgap

I met Stopgap Dance Company for the first-time last summer at the Malta International Dance Festival which they opened with their outdoor performance called ‘Frock’. I also took part in the workshop they offered, and these allowed me to get an insight into their world of mixed–ability on stage.

Six dancers in a line and balance teacups on their elbow.

The six dancers of Frock in a line, each balancing a teacup on their elbow. At the front of the line on the left is Cambodian wheelchair dancer Nadenh, wearing a floral yellow dress. Then Hannah, Alice and KJ, three white standing dancers dressed in a white shirt, tie, braces and black trousers. Then Jannick and Christian, two white standing dancers, one dressed in a blue check dress and the other in a pink top and floral skirt. Behind them is a cloudy blue sky and green reeds in the bottom left.

As part of my degree, I needed to do a placement. I wrote to Stopgap to see if I could spend three weeks with them to get experience of how it is like to work with a professional  mixed-ability dance company and to learn how to be more inclusive in my own work.

How I prepared for my placement

Before I went on my internship, I did my homework on Stopgap by watching their YouTube videos and following them on Instagram and Facebook so that I could become familiar with the work they do.  My internship mentor, Christian Brinklow sent me some guided exercises to do with the Home Practice videos, which I did before I arrived. He also sent me an easy-read schedule of what I will be doing each day at my internship with Stopgap.

Pages from Angela's daily schedule.

Pages from Angela's schedule. The first page lists things to bring along each day such as dance clothes, food and a notebook. On the next two pages, at the top in bold writing is the number of the day and the weekday. On the left of the page there are photos while on the right there are separate boxes which explain what the day is going to be covering, the contact for that particular day and how long the day it’s going to be.

My Time with Stopgap

During my time with Stopgap, I learnt how to take risks and try new things out, working on my core muscles, contact work, learning how to run a class, and inclusive choreography and teaching. I also participated in two of the youth group outreaches where I learnt how to run an inclusive class. I also got to watch the rehearsals for Stopgap’s new indoor production ‘Lived Fiction’. I filled in for the dancers during their production week, to help the lighting designers.

For the last part of my placement, I attended a 3-day Inclusive Dance Intensive (Creative Tank). Two of the things I learnt were on how audio descriptions can be used and how they inspire movement, and how to incorporate noise while moving be it vocal or physical. I also learnt a few pieces from their production ‘Lived Fiction’ and accessibility.

I was also invited to watch the sharing of ‘Lived Fiction’ and after the show I was one of the participants who took part in a focus group where we talked and reflected on the accessibility of the show and if there was room for further improvement.

Every single one of the staff and the company’s dancers all helped me in their own way. My mentor, Christian helped me by making sure that I was catching on. He was always keeping an eye out for me and would encourage me and empower me a lot in my dancing. He also helped me to turn my weaknesses into strengths by working one-to-one with me during breaks.

Another company dancer, Nadenh Poan, helped me with my eye coordination and speed. He did this by doing a game where he would suddenly come in front of me in his wheelchair, so I had to immediately react and move. He also helped me to pay more attention and give more importance to my base (lower part of my body and my legs).

Hannah Sampson, another company dancer, always made sure that I was one of the team. Anna-Louise McMinn, Chris Pavia’s access worker, helped me by setting a whole one-to-one class with Chris over two days, to help me to work on fitness and strengthening my core muscles more. This was while the other company members were rehearsing for their show.

Anna, Christian and Lucy would help me daily by really going out of their way to take videos and photos for me which I could use for my placement. Not only were they all great mentors in their own unique way they also became my friends, and we formed a very close and tight bond with each other.

A collage of photos of Angela's time in the studio.

A selection of three photos of Angela with the Stopgap team. On the left a smiling group photo, in the centre a moment during class, on the right is the company sat in a circle discussion.

A few experiences I would like to share, taken from the journal I kept during my placement

Dancing with the company members and developing new skills in risk taking:
“Another exercise which I haven’t done before, was when we had to respond by being touched on a certain body part while we were moving in the space, and becoming a base for our partner to work on. If we had the chance to work on this more, I think that we could have created some very beautiful duets, to see what could have come out of it.”

Working on my core muscles, contact work:
“While the cast was rehearsing, I was in another studio in the afternoon having my own private dance class with Chris who was helping me to improve my strength in my muscles and in my core. I really, really enjoyed that.”
“He really adapts it to my strength and to my needs.”

Learning how to run a class and inclusive choreography and teaching:
“It was truly inclusive, and I really loved the safe environment we had.”

Two dancers with Down Syndrome supporting each other in a lift in a middle of a studio with a big glass mirror behind them.

Angela flys above Chris in a balance. Chris lays on his back and supports Angela to lay horizontal in the air with his feet holding up her hips and his hands supporting hers. They are in a wooden panelled studio with a big mirror behind them.

Watching rehearsals for new indoor production ‘Lived Fiction’
“I honestly cannot believe what I experienced and watched for the first day of production week. I have never seen anything like it before. It was really, really the power of mixed ability happening right in front of my very eyes. It was so, so sensory. I can’t even describe what I even felt. It was something beyond what I have ever felt in my whole life.”
“I just love watching the rehearsals of Lived Fiction. It’s really, really beautiful and really enchanting to watch, and the fact that I also get to be part of that journey even though I’m not part of the show and I simply love it.”

Watching the sharing of ‘Lived Fiction’
“The performance was something really out of this world. I was sitting in the middle seat of the front row. From the minute the show started I was immersed into it. It impacted and touched me in so many ways. I felt so many emotions that I never felt and experienced before. Being on that seat in the front row really made a huge difference to me…”

Filling in for the dancers during their production week, to help the lighting designers:
“This afternoon I got the opportunity to be an extra body on stage to help with the lights and I just love being lit up. The heat of the lights against my skin standing on the place that is my home.”

Angela on stage under stage lights.

Angela, a person with Down Syndrome dressed in dark blue t-shirt and long black dance trousers, her long dark brown hair falling onto her shoulders. She is standing in a pool of light. Behind her there is a screen projecting words.

Learning about audio descriptions and how they inspire movement, noise:
“Today we explored with the open language words but this time with noises that we have to make ourselves. At first it was tough to remember my phrase especially with the noises and sounds. My group was with Hannah and Mo. As they are part of Lived Fiction, they really coached me in this exercise and at the end during the sharing I felt very happy with myself in what I have managed to achieve in a space of one day.”

Learning a few pieces from their production ‘Lived Fiction’ and accessibility.
“Today from everything that we have done, two of my favourite things was learning Hannah’s choreography to the Sistine Chapel which is one of the scenes in Lived Fiction. We were doing it to the audio description that was used in the show. My second favourite thing was the last exercise where we were reading what we had written when we were in partners to put it into movement. My absolute favourite was when we were taking turns dancing and responding to different words during our sharing and exploring with contact and being part of someone else’s story and sharing our own story with everyone else.”

“Today was really a day to remember. I even got the chance to work with Mo for contact work and I really enjoyed doing that because I got the chance in exploring different ways of moving, different levels and dynamics. It was a very sensitive and delicate experience. Everything just started to make sense for me in actually experiencing the work behind Mo’s and Christian’s duet in Lived Fiction.”

What it means to be here

“They are all such amazing, amazing people and I love every single one of them. They have really become my family. I have never felt so included, so seen and so accepted before. So human the way I am with them. I really feel at home with Stopgap. I really, really feel at home. It’s really my place. Each day I go in I find myself constantly changing, learning, and flourishing. Everyone in the company play such a major role in this. They challenge me, strengthen me, believe in me and empower me. …These three weeks have been such a beautiful experience. I really needed these three weeks. I know that I have to go back home tomorrow and I don’t want tomorrow to come but Stopgap has taught me how to be the change that I want to be and to take ownership of that.”