In this blog, Laura Jones outlines the aspirations of our new online dance programme Home Practice and the impact Covid-19 has had on disabled individuals.
These past 6 months have been tough on so many people for many different reasons.
Like many others, over the past months, I’ve been having to adapt to a whole new way of working and a different way of life, including working and accessing dance virtually through platforms like Zoom and Facebook Live. My 6-year-old self’s dream came true – having a job that means I could actually get paid for dancing in my lounge!
These online and digital opportunities have been so valuable in surviving lockdown, in feeling connected, in moving and keeping fit (both physically and mentally), in continuing to develop as a dancer, in accessing culture, and, amid this terrible situation, in finding a silver lining in the art’s ability to adapt, evolve and make use of the technologies and platforms available.
And that is exactly what Stopgap has done with the invention and development of our new Home Practice program. Having seen the opportunities and benefits to digital dance practice at home, and having the time to reflect on the needs of many dancers who may face barriers in accessing mainstream dance opportunities, Stopgap has designed Home Practice to be a valuable, accessible tool for those looking to develop their dance practice.
There are many access benefits to this new program of work: From overcoming the physical barriers of not being able to get into a dance studio, perhaps because it’s upstairs or inaccessible by public transport, removing geographical barriers, (we’ve had people join Home Practice sessions from not just different regions, but different countries) to giving dancers the ability to work at their own pace, particularly with recorded session on YouTube or Facebook Live. You can pause and practice, working to your energy levels and your pace, fitting it in at a time that suits the individual. It’s also a safe, private space to explore your potential as a dancer and to understand and unpick some of the building blocks and complexities of contemporary dance. Something I can appreciate, as even for me, as a professional dancer of nearly 20 years, I can still feel that tinge of intimidation when I enter mainstream class and I’m the only one with a physicality like mine. With Home Practice, you are not comparing yourself to the others in a studio, or feeling judged for moving in a different way, but taking the time to reflect and develop, with the guidance of the Stopgap teachers.
This is refreshing and valuable, but also in dramatic contrast to the backdrop of a whole host of challenges that disabled and the so called ‘vulnerable’ people have been facing during this pandemic:
- The significant and justified worries of disabled people and those living with impairments or long-term health conditions, as vital support networks and safety nets eroded, for example, the government’s decision to suspend the Care Act 2014, putting us at higher risk and our Human Rights in danger. 
- The reports of many disabled people receiving inappropriate and “unlawful” DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) letters, leading to fears that treatment will be decided on how our lives are judged to be valued rather than the ability to recover from the virus,  leading to many disabled people, organisations and allies putting their names to an open letter to the NHS asking for reassurance for equality of treatment. 
- The news that disabled people make up ⅔ of Covid 19 deaths, when we are only 21% of the population. 
- The feeling of othering, when the majority of the population are told they don’t need to worry as it’s mainly the ‘vulnerable’ and those with pre-existing health conditions that are at risk. And the knowledge that shielding and isolation will continue for those who are at increased health risks long after the general lockdown is lifted.
I am also very aware of how disabled dance artists have been hit doubly hard, as the arts is sadly going to be one of the last industries to reopen. In the UK, not only do we produce world class arts, but we have been leading the way in inclusive and integrated work. I have been proud to be part of this and export our knowledge, expertise and high-quality dance across the world. However, with fears of what the shape and scale of the recovery will be in the arts, the UK Disability Arts Alliance has been formed as a cross artform group to make sure that Disability Arts is not side-lined and an afterthought, but becomes an integral part of the rebuilding of the industry. The #WeShallNotBeRemoved and #InclusiveRecovery campaigns showing the determination to be heard, valued and included. 
Who knows what the future will bring in terms of the pandemic and a “new normal”. Although worrying times, I am ever hopeful for the positive discoveries made during lockdown in terms of access and inclusion to continue long beyond lockdown and the need for physical distancing. Stopgaps Home Practice certainly promises to do just that.