New Year, New Horizons

building a better future for disabled dance creatives


Like all other cultural organisations that receive core funding from Arts Council England, Stopgap Dance Company has been spending a lot of time thinking about how to enhance our impact through high-quality cultural activity. In this blog, Executive Producer Sho Shibata reflects on key drivers and outlines the kind of new partnership working the company needs to undertake if we are to build a better future for disabled dance creatives.

Listen to an audio version of this blog read by Sho...

We’re heading into that time of the year when Arts Council England will be preparing to publish their diversity report of funded organisations and programmes. As I wrote in my blog back in June last year, the stats for 2019/20 were grim reading for people working in inclusive dance:

  • Disabled people only made up 5% of the workforce of core funded dance organisations. This is the lowest percentage against all other artforms
  • Only 3% of this workforce are artists
  • Only 7% of project grant applicants for dance are disabled. This is compared to 11 and 12% in theatre and visual arts respectively

You can read the Arts Council’s Diversity Report from the link available at the end of this blog.

The above statistics were that of pre-pandemic year, and we anxiously await what the impact of Covid-19 has been for 2020/21…

As a core funded organisation of Arts Council England, Stopgap are one of many organisations examining what our business plan and focus are going to be for 2023/24 onwards, and we have begun realigning our strategy with Arts Council England’s new 10-year strategy ‘Let’s Create’. As a part of this realigning process, we have very much kept the above percentages in focus.

Image description: Nadenh sits in his wheelchair, Hannah and Siobhan sit on wooden packing boxes and Tomos sits on the floor, all of the dancers are focusing on their arms and hands and creating angles with them. Behind them hang a variety of empty picture frames on a pale grey wall.]

In 2023/24 and beyond, Stopgap will keep on making and touring inclusive dance productions. This is what drives our company and while there’s a lack of representation of disabled people on our dance stages, we have to keep going.  But our ability to create high-quality touring works will not have longevity if disabled talents of the future are not supported. Given the persistent lack of opportunities for young disabled dancers, we will have to continue our work in this area. Investing in the next generation and showcasing great inclusive dance will always be the bedrock of our organisation.

But the Arts Council’s Diversity Report clearly shows whatever we have been doing as a core funded organisation since 2006 has not been enough. For these poor percentages to shift, we need other dance organisations to step up with us. All of us in dance must work more collaboratively and strategically to identify conscious and unconscious barriers for disabled people and make a robust, shared plan for change with tangible targets and deliverables. To figure out what this shared plan might look like, People Dancing and the inclusive dance companies that receive core funding from the Arts Council, have come together to form a working group. We are looking forward to partnering with other dance organisations and companies to establish an industry wide action plan over the coming months.

But there are improvements we can make within Stopgap too, that we can get started in 2023/24. In the last few years, we have succeeded in supporting Chris Pavia to launch his career as a choreographer. To date, he has created and toured outdoor dance works The Awakening for Stopgap, and we co-produced his independent work with the disability arts organisations Daisy and Carousel. Last year, Chris was a resident artist at Watts Gallery in Surrey, creating some digital solo works in-situ during lockdown. This work will be premiered in the summer. His development though, has been relatively ad hoc, and we relied heavily on the fact that he has been in full-time employment with us since 2000. His opportunities to be exposed to different choreographers and their ways of working largely happened because of his employment with us, and although we were consistent in giving him pockets of advice, time and funds to explore his choreographic career, they were piecemeal. Nadenh Poan has most recently created a duet in similar circumstances, but his development again happened because he has been under contract with us since 2013.

For us to cast the net wider to give opportunities for disabled creatives outside of our organisation, we need to design and implement a structured, long-term programme and work in partnership with dance organisations who have the space and platforms to support their journey. We will also need to bring funding partners and producers on board to make sure there are funds and management support in place for the artists’ exploration and development. Stopgap are still mulling over what this programme looks like and it will undoubtedly take several years, but if we get it right, we think there will be more disabled dance creatives ready to present dance works and apply for funding to realise their artistic vision in the future. Some of these artists may well go on to gain employment with companies like us or with other core funded dance organisations.


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