IRIS Discussion & Development

Julia, IRIS Research Associate, reflects on the first meetings for Stopgap’s pilot dance training programme for young disabled and non-disabled dancers.

A pair of dancers, one crouching on the floor, the other relaxing over her shoulder and back

Image Description: A pair of two female dancers, one crouching on the floor, the other is draped over her back and shoulders, her head resting between the first dancer's shoulder blades. They are both dressed in white tops and dark trousers.

On 12 and 14 of August 2014 Stopgap Dance Company held two intensive discussion days on the topic of inclusive dance practice. The purpose of these talks was to collate information that will ultimately form an inclusive dance-training program called IRIS (Inclusive, Integrated, Responsive, Specialised), which aims to nurture the talent of young disabled dancers interested in extending their technical and artistic skills.

Lucy Bennett, the Artistic Director of Stopgap Dance Company, together with Siobhan Hayes, the Creative Learning Manager, chaired these sessions, as they are the driving force behind developing the programme. The idea came from the need to pinpoint talented young disabled dancers and provide opportunities for further development to those who would like to take dance more seriously and/or consider it as a career option.

The first discussion day was held on Tuesday the 12th of August 2014 at The Point, Eastleigh. A trusted group of inclusive practitioners and academics working in the integrated dance field were invited to attend. Following an introduction to the concepts behind the programme and its aims, Lucy and Siobhan held a responsive ‘Hot seating’ session, offering the participants the opportunity to ask questions and voice their worries. Next on the schedule was the ‘Pass the Paper Game’, requiring each participant to write down their thoughts in response to issues surrounding disability and dance, and pass it to the person next to them every 60 seconds, allowing everyone to note their ideas and comment on those of others. The following task involved using the information from the ‘Pass the Paper Game’, identifying potential solutions to the issues raised.  The participants were given a set of stickers labelled with a ‘tick’, symbolising a good idea, a ‘question mark’ for an idea that needed a bit of work, and ‘w’, for a weird concept, which could potentially work.  Combining these two tasks was a good opportunity to put together everyone’s viewpoints and experiences as well as possible solutions.

On the 14 of August, the second day of the discussion forums, a group of experienced inclusive dance teachers were invited to take part in these discussions as their valued practical expertise and knowledge would contribute to shaping the outline of the course.  In the morning the teachers were acquainted with the practical side of the IRIS programme and how it may be implemented. The teachers’ connection with dance and their experiences were identified. The afternoon session started with a practical session to provide a taster of the principles Stopgap Dance Company work within their classes. To carry on with the brainstorming, the teachers were asked to write down possible ideas for games and exercises that would work with the different elements of IRIS. The vision of Stopgap Dance Company is to set up pilot groups lead by teachers trained under the IRIS programme that would improve the opportunities for young disabled dancers interested to take dance to the next level.

My role during these two days, as a Research Associate for the company, was to document the talks and find creative ways of presenting the evidence, which shall be accessible in the coming months. Further to this, I am collating articles revolving around dance and disability and identifying the current inclusive dance practice of other dance schools, companies and individuals. This research will be weaved into our findings and be used as a tool in advocating the need for pushing the boundaries of disabled dance. It has been great to work with a leading integrated dance company who employ such inspiring artists and contribute to the development of opportunities for young disabled artists.

Julia Janikova

Learn more about Stopgap’s IRIS programme here.

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