We Don’t Have to Dance the Same to Dance Together

Introducing Dance for Kids with IRIS

In this signature blog, Executive Producer Sho Shibata introduces Stopgap’s exciting new digital venture that will help us deepen our engagement with all types of children.

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

‘Dance for Kids with IRIS’ is a digital series of fun exercise classes created with disabled children in mind. The pandemic led to an explosion of follow-along digital activities for children but very little of these were particularly accessible. So, we decided to channel our 25 years of experience into an inclusive alternative, which will remain permanently on YouTube for children everywhere.

Dance For Kids With IRIS Logo

The Dance for Kids with IRIS logo - featuring the title in bright letters alongside colourful cartoon doors stacked on top of one another.

The series is presented by Stopgap’s renowned cast of disabled and non-disabled creatives and teachers. It was a huge team effort that saw our artistic and engagement teams collaborating over four months to develop content, characters, and inventive access for disabled children. Then the internationally acclaimed Animation and Digital Arts Departments at The University of the Creative Arts came on board to make ‘Dance for Kids with IRIS’ visually stunning. Utilising the University’s state of the art facilities run by a talented team of students, staff, and artists, the presenters’ live action demonstration became embedded into the background of exquisite stop-motion animation. All the action takes place in different parts of an inclusive, animated house, transporting the viewer into a fantastical world of fun and creativity.

For ‘Dance for Kids with IRIS’, we welcomed new artists into our company to make the series a more intersectional representation of disabled people and wider social diversity. The presenters use open language and examples of movement translation, and each class seamlessly integrates our diverse presenters with creative access like audio description, which is delivered by the puppet character IRIS – a radio shaped robot that dances on its hands (a tribute to the late Dave Toole OBE). The presenters use Makaton to aid with communication, and there are creative captions to support D/deaf children with access.

A group of five teachers dancing in the stop-motion IRIS sets.

Five teachers and dancers lined up and dancing in brightly coloured rooms of a house which are created from paper. There are two wheelchair dancers and three standing dancers. From left to right, Nadenh, Hannah, Cherie, Emily and Mo, each in colorful costumes.

‘Dance for Kids with IRIS’ will be relatable to all children. It will show that everyone and anyone can dance and that we can all do it together. We don’t need to dance the same or experience the world in the same way. Our aim was to get children to be physically active and creative, but also to teach them about diversity and inclusion by presenting these as the social norm in our digital world.

IRIS the robot in three different poses.

IRIS the robot, in three different poses on a pale blue background. IRIS is a small colourful robot that looks like a radio with two big yellow and black eyes made of speakers, they have two thin metal arms that they use to propel around, upwards, and dance.

Before we went into filming the live action, we piloted ‘Dance for Kids with IRIS’ by zooming into school classrooms and asking the children and their teachers for feedback. A teacher from Portfield Primary Academy in West Sussex said:

Our class loved ‘Dance for Kids with IRIS’ today. It was a great experience for them which led to discussions about people who look, move and speak differently to us. One child said, “just because someone can’t see, it doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be able to learn to dance!” I think that comment was worth all your hard work!” 

Our current plan is to release the first series in July on our YouTube Channel (just in time for the rainy British summer holidays). You can subscribe now to get notified when the videos go live. We were fortunate to receive funding from Peter Sowerby Foundation, Garfield Weston Foundation, and in-kind support from the University for this series, but our hope is to attract further funding to make this an ongoing commitment. We’d also like to create an in-person workshop series that features IRIS the robot as an interactive audio describing puppet, accompanied by a pop-up performance that can tour to community settings like libraries, community halls and small-scale theatres.

But all these ambitions rest on the success of the first series, and we welcome any feedback once it goes live in July. In the meanwhile, please sign up to our newsletter and subscribe to our YouTube channel. Links to these are below. And please help ‘Dance for Kids with IRIS’ reach all those young movers out there by sharing it far and wide.