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At Stopgap, we love opening our doors to artists hungry to learn with us, it’s a valuable experience for both our current team and those we welcome in. The apprentices in our company bring us the opportunity to continue dispersing our knowledge and practice, whilst their presence and skills bring a fresh perspective into the studio. Our most recent apprentice Emily Lue-Fong quickly became a part of the team and it soon felt like she’d always been here. Read on for insights and personal recollections from a year of growth and development…
Embracing Stopgap through experiential learning
With enthusiasm and energy matching just like their colourful crocs you’d be forgiven for thinking Emily and Christian had known each other their whole life, not just a year! Joining the company in the autumn of 2021, Emily has completed a Professional Placement with us under the guidance of artist, teacher and mentor Christian, and has since gone on to become an understudy for Frock and access worker for the touring team. Run through Northern School of Contemporary Dance on their MA in Contemporary Dance Performance course, the professional placement offers nine months of working within the context of an established dance company. We caught up with the pair to spend some time reflecting on this process, but first, here’s a little introduction to them both:
Emily Lue-Fong (She/Her)
Role: Former Professional Placement Student, current Frock understudy and Access Support
Journey into dance: Started young > Centre for Advanced Training (CAT) scheme at The Place > training at London Contemporary Dance School > MA degree through Northern School of Contemporary Dance > Stopgap!
New skill: Knitting
Proudest achievement this year: Performing 'Reflections', Nadenh’s new duet, at The Place this year!Find out more about Emily
Christian Brinklow (He/Him)
Role: Dancer, Teacher and Professional Placement mentor
Journey Into Dance: Started age 13 with street dance and popping > getting more serious about dance age 15 > A-levels > training at Northern School of Contemporary Dance & MA Degree > Freelancing > Stopgap!
New Skill: Learning how to massage and treat the whole body through sports massage (very handy for a company full of dancers!)
Proudest achievement this year: Snap! Performing 'Reflections' at The Place!Find out more about Christian
So, of the dozen companies offering a placement, what made Emily choose Stopgap?
“Artificial Things was my first introduction to Stopgap, when they came onto the GCSE dance syllabus. Whilst at dance school you of course do a lot of research around different companies, and when considering my future options, I got really interested in Stopgap because of their work around inclusion and diversity. At school they don’t really teach you very much about inclusive practice and you don’t hear about disabled artists and their work. So, I really wanted to find out more.
Coming out of the pandemic I really enjoyed the idea of outdoor work and touring to bring dance to more people, so having the opportunity to understudy Frock was amazing.
Another big reason for me was being able to engage with the community and having the ability to develop my teaching skills. I had been a teaching assistant for a couple of years whilst in training for the CAT scheme and Children and Youth Dance (CYD) at The Place and felt that Stopgap would be able to provide me with more tools to explore my teaching practice within an inclusive setting.”
During Emily’s placement, her training is overseen by a mentor and this was Christian’s first experience of mentorship; “I look after people when they’re here with us. For me, it’s really bespoke, you are checking in with what the person needs, meeting regularly, ensuring they are getting on well. My goal is making the transition into the company as smooth as possible, ensuring they feel welcomed and supported.”
Over nine months with the company, what were some of the key learnings from the placement?
Emily says, “Both working with Stopgap and with Christian has taught me to develop willingness to be open for anything. Coming into a really established company where you don’t really know what your role is yet is quite scary, but having support and knowing how to be adaptable means I can slot in.
I’ve learned a lot about teaching and facilitation, especially through things like Stopgap’s Inclusive Teaching Syllabus IRIS, the teaching training programme Seedbed, and the latest digital project Dance for Kids with IRIS; all have been valuable for me in deepening my understanding. When I first joined the company, it felt that everyone just knows inclusive practice and it comes as second nature, so these were great opportunities to learn about things like translating movement, terminology and accessible teaching practices.
I’ve learnt the value of making movement your own when dancing. Working with different disabled and non-disabled dancers in the studio has been really fun to explore and discover new possibilities whilst learning from each other.
There are so many opportunities within Stopgap which I didn’t know the extent of until doing them! For example all of Stopgap’s youth companies, being able to work with them has been a highlight of each week. I’ve learnt the importance of allowing myself to take regular rests and breaks. Stopgap are great for making sure we have down time and aren’t constantly working or over-working, which I’m grateful for as it can be full on at times.”
Christian says, “Something I’ve realised recently is how much I love investing in people. For me, you can be working with the most talented person in the world, but if you can’t connect with them for whatever reason, it’s incredibly hard to invest fully. Thankfully working with Emily was such an easy experience as we get on so well. Because of the work, the dedication, the passion and time that she put in, it just made me want to invest more in her through the whole of the process.”
Learning on the Job
As a member of the company, Emily got to be part of several different projects, one being in Nadenh’s new choreographic work Reflections, which you can read more about in last months blog. The choreographic process began soon after Emily joined the company, working closely with Nadenh and Christian to create a duet that would go on to be premiered at The Place for Resolution Festival 2022. Christian shared this about the evolution of their working relationship, from mentor to duet partner: “I think that’s when we became good friends, the mentor switch was flipped off and we were just dancing together. In this setting, I think you shouldn’t feel like you need to isolate parts of yourself, as a mentor I’ve brought all of myself with me in order to fully invest and make things bespoke.”
There’s something here to be said about how in the context of a placement, the flexibility between the identity of mentor and colleague allows for greater connection and development when your artistry is treated with equal value. Emily echoes this when discussing the format of the placement with us, ‘there’s definitely a levelling out of hierarchy, I didn’t feel like I was just always seen as a student’, and Christian reflects ‘I felt I had just as much to learn from Emily as she did from me’. This is something at Stopgap we are always trying to implement throughout the organisation – by adopting a non-hierarchical structure it allows a decentralisation of power, giving everyone more autonomy and greater responsibility over their work. It also allows for more transparency and you feel empowered to share your ideas directly, creating so much more opportunity for reciprocal learning.
This person oriented approach also allows people to follow their own interests, for example, Emily is continuing research into the Flying-low technique and considering ways to make it more accessible. She says, “as an apprentice there is time and space available to develop your own interests and practices, then being able to come together to collaborate with the other company members is a lot of fun. I think the placement is a great way of immersing yourself in a company and getting to know people who enjoy and have similar values as you do. There is a lot of learning on the job and everyone at Stopgap is super helpful and supportive, which makes it easier! There are opportunities to perform and go on tour which is great as I think it’s quite different to taking class with the company and being able to adapt in different environments, especially outdoor work which is such a skill.”
In many of our creative learning spaces time and time again we reflect on the value of investment in people, nurturing a space for progression. Christian reflects that “watching Emily finding herself, becoming more confident, being able to speak all of these amazing ideas – makes me emotional thinking about it. I’ve been privileged to witness her journey from emerging out of training and developing into a phenomenal artist. It’s astounding the development that you can go through in a relatively short period of time.”