Sg2 Apprentice Company

Investing in the future of the dance sector


In this Signature Blog our Assistant Artistic Director Siobhan Hayes delves into the how and why of Stopgap's apprentice company Sg2, reflects on the journey they have taken over the past three years and celebrates the achievements of the four graduating dancers.

Listen to this blog being read on SoundCloud…

Inclusive dance might be becoming more mainstream but there are still gaping holes in the provision of routes into the dance industry for disabled dancers. Many vocational and grassroots institutions are still unsure of how to train and assess disabled dancers and this, along with a lack of general support, flexibility with training timetables, accessible studios etc. etc. mean there are often just too many barriers for disabled dancers to train to be a professional. This is contributing to a significant lack of disabled people being represented in the industry, which was picked out in the Arts Council’s most recent diversity report. Our Executive Producer Sho wrote about this in his signature blog ‘Getting back on the road with outdoor arts’ – which you can find on our website here.

Stopgap’s offer to help this problem is Sg2, our apprentice company which is designed to prepare disabled dancers for the dance industry, for working as both artists and inclusive dance teachers. Stopgap passionately believe in inclusive dance and the importance of investing into the future of the sector, and we successfully trained two disabled dancers, Hannah Sampson and Nadenh Poan, in the first iteration of Sg2 from 2013 to 2016. Both Hannah and Nadenh are now artists with Stopgap’s main touring team. Additional funding from Arts Council England enabled us to run our most recent iteration of Sg2 which started in 2018.

Sander, Kat and Fin in an outdoor performance of 'Frippery' early in their apprenticeship

Image Description: An early Sg2 photo of an outdoor community performance of 'Frippery'. Three Sg2 dancers are dancing wearing red military style trousers and blazers. Sander (left) and Kat (centre) lean to the left from their wheelchairs, arms and bodies reaching and tilting. Fin (right) balances on one leg, arms wide and right leg stretched high behind. They all have mouths wide and big comical expressions. Photo by Mary Doggett

September 2018 saw three disabled dancers: Finlay James, Kat Ball and Sander Verbeek, join Sg2 to begin their three-year paid training course with the company, they were then joined in 2019 by Abbie Thompson who was on a work placement course through Northern School of Contemporary Dance making them a company of four. The Sg2 course was designed to respond to the individual needs of each dancer and aimed to support their development into unique dance artists and inclusive dance teachers. Sg2 was delivered by myself, Siobhan Hayes, with support from our Artistic Director Lucy Bennett and a number of Stopgap’s dance artists and teachers.

The Sg2 programme was divided into modules designed with the dancers and the industry in mind. We covered a variety of essential skills needed to work as a dance artist today, some of the more obvious ones included: Dance Technique, Somatic Practices, Teaching in the Community (which included our inclusive teacher training course Seedbed), Rehearsal and Performance skills. We also gave the dancers an opportunity to learn the ins and outs of Working with a Producer, demystifying the creative process with the Making Dances module, and learning the art of translation both for teaching and dancing in the Translation Skills module. This modular structure helped us to provide lots of variety for the dancers whilst also managing the development of both the course and the dancer’s training.

Individual photos of the four Sg2 Dancers. Left to right: Abbie Thompson, Fin James, Kat Ball, Sander Verbeek

Individual photos of the four Sg2 Dancers. Left to right: Abbie Thompson sat on the floor learning forward listening⁠⁠ in the dance studio; Fin James in class lying on his front, arms raising him up⁠, an intense expression⁠; Kat Ball smiling during class⁠⁠, sat in her wheelchair; Sander Verbeek in class, dancing in his wheelchair, right arm raised and bent and his gaze downward⁠⁠. Photos by Chris Parkes

The programme was on track for the dancers to graduate in May 2021 after touring their new work, and then everything changed. For many 2020/21 has been amongst the hardest 18 months they have ever known. Within Stopgap, the COVID-19 pandemic cut through the middle of Sg2’s training and completely changed the course and training the dancers received. This was not something anyone was prepared for and the Sg2 dancers stuck through with it despite the unprecedented challenges. Their entire course had to move online, and this made us re-think how we needed to deliver their training. We reflected on what we learned through teaching inclusively online in a blog here, titled ‘The Future of Inclusivity’.

Fortunately, Stopgap is incredibly resilient and adaptable to change, so although COVID19 made things harder and was by no means ideal, Sg2 were able to continue. We made some fundamental changes during COVID – obviously all touring was cancelled so new opportunities for the dancers to create and perform were found. Creating solo performances for digital platforms became the new creative outlets. Technique classes went online and 1-1 sessions were found to be most effective and supported both the dancer and the teacher to get the most from the time. More mentoring and pastoral care was needed as online work can be incredibly isolating and plenty of time away from a screen.

An image of Sg2 dancers Abbie Thompson, Fin James, Kat Ball and Sander Verbeek working in a studio

Image Description: A photo of our four Sg2 apprentice dancers moving together whilst being observed by Siobhan. They are in a bright studio space with wooden floors, darker wooden panelled ceiling and a large mirror reflecting big windows. The dancers are side-on to the camera. On the left, Fin and Sander face each other, Fin lunges to grasp Sander's knees with his head bowed. Sander sits watching in his blue framed wheelchair, hands holding the large wheels steady. On the right, Kat and Abbie are in a similar position, with Kat half standing, pushing up against the back her black framed wheelchair with one arm floating high, and Abbie lunging with hands outstretched to support Kat. Photo by Chris Parkes

Fortunately COVID didn’t prevent us from getting back in the studio together before Sg2 finished. With lots of planning and COVID safety in place we filmed a fantastic documentary about how the Sg2 dancers dealt with the pandemic and a screen dance version of Here and Where, a piece created by the Greek choreographer Maria Koliopoulou. It was so good being back in the studio together again and a fantastic project to finish with.

I am really very proud of all that the Sg2 dancers have achieved in their time with Stopgap. They have each grown as artists and developed as teachers. They are all more resilient, independent and resourceful than they were at the beginning. Each one has discovered more about themselves and are on the path to finding their place in the dance world. I have really enjoyed being part of their development. It is a real privilege to be part of someone’s journey and I am very grateful to have been part of these dancer’s stories.

I have many great memories of our time together, my favourite memory, well there are two, are: 

  1. Watching the dancers dancing together in the studio again for the first time.
  2. Absolutely smashing it at bucket ball on our very last day! Couldn’t have finished in a better way.

Congratulations Sg2 on making it through, and not only making it but growing and flourishing. Well done for all you have achieved even in difficult circumstances; I am sure you have grown stronger because of it. Keep discovering and keep learning.

Sg2 Graduation, Wednesday 29th September, 2021

Stopgap’s apprentice company Sg2 will be celebrating the end of their three year journey with us on Wednesday 29th September. We are marking this milestone with a watch party over on our YouTube Channel at 7.30pm-8pm BST.

Join us as we watch ‘Here & Where‘ – a dance and documentary piece. Choreographed by Maria Koliopoulou, directed and edited by Floyd C Konde. The evening will be introduced by Assistant Artistic Director, Siobhan Hayes.

We hope you can join us – find out how by clicking the button below