Company Producer Sho Shibata responds to the article ‘How I shamed the ballet world’ by Chief Political Correspondent of The Daily Telegraph. This response is also published by The RAD Gazette in October 2015.
“The recent article on the issue of assessing disabled children has sparked an interesting debate at Stopgap Dance Company. Stopgap has 20 years of experience in nurturing disabled dancers from the grassroots to the international stage, where they perform in the company’s contemporary dance productions. Stopgap has experience in presenting works at flagship venues both in the UK and abroad.
Unlike ballet, contemporary dance does not have one aesthetic ideal dictated by an idea of a ‘perfect body’, and its diversity enables inclusivity. It is therefore, easier for contemporary dance to find a way of nurturing disabled dancers. This is not to say that ballet should signpost contemporary dance as an alternative for disabled children.
Ballet is and will be the most popular entry point to dance for many children and the scale of its appeal creates inevitable pressure for equal opportunity to engage with the artform. This step-change could perhaps start with a cultural shift from that of condemnation to encouragement for learning. This shift does not necessarily mean a lowering of quality either. At Stopgap, we have created an inclusive framework that celebrates and challenges all, and we are in the process of consolidating this into an inclusive dance syllabus called IRIS.
Laura Jones, our dancer who uses a wheelchair, made a particularly good point in response to Andrew McBirnie’s remark about fairness. Laura is perplexed as to why there is a need to compare the assessments between disabled and non-disabled students. A concessional mark for disabled student has no baring on whether the non-disabled student gets a good mark or not. She also pointed out that students like Pollyanna must work twice as hard because they have to adapt the taught material to their unique physicality. Surely, there is merit in a disabled student’s ability to adapt and proving that he or she can thrive in a ballet class.
Laura’s question about “who the assessment is being unfair to” suggests how ballet could reframe their perspective. Being a ‘top-down’ judgement of a non-disabled person could exlude many, but we realise that a ‘bottom-up’ approach to dilute rigour doesn’t work either. However, Stopgap has found a different way that can serve a wider variety, and the door to our studio is always open to show dancers and teachers how to do this.”
Artistic Director Lucy Bennett also responded through South East Dance’s Newsletter in August 2015. Read her response below.