Artistic Director Lucy Bennett tells us more about IRIS, Stopgap’s inclusive dance syllabus; how it started and what we hope it can achieve.
Stopgap are a UK based inclusive dance company. We work with dancers who have different backgrounds, ages and who are physically and or neuro diverse.
We create inventive dance theatre work that tours nationally and internationally. Alongside our touring we share our discoveries about inclusion, diversity and dance through our teacher training programmes, professional development workshops for artists and creative workshops for the community.
Currently we run several youth companies or IRIS dance companies as they are now known as well as a three year apprentice dancer programme Sg2.
IRIS is Stopgap’s inclusive dance syllabus that has been running for 5 years now. It is not a gradation system. Iris is made up of four layers that the dancer accumulates. This came from a conversation I had with some young dancers who were part of an inclusive performance project in 2014.
It was lunchtime and the young dancers were chatting about their future ambitions as dancers. There were 3 non disabled dancers who were what we call in the UK ‘gifted and talented’ and there was one dancer who was neuro diverse. I asked the young dancer who was neuro diverse how often she practiced her dancing.
“Once a week as part of a two hour session with lots of people making shows”
I asked the non disabled dancers the same question and with a heavy sigh they said:
“Every evening and rehearsals usually at the weekend”
Neither is great but the vast disparity between young disabled dancers access to training and their non disabled peers was clear and unfair. The seed for IRIS was planted.
How did we begin to devise IRIS?
We asked the question “what makes a great contemporary dancer?”, we asked teachers, audienecs, choreographers – maybe you can answer this for yourself?
What makes a great dancer?
The most common answers were:
knowing your own body – Skill/technique
Presence – musicality, openness, responsiveness, ability to communicate physically
An ability to work with others
These three skills became the drivers for our syllabus – IRIS
We then began to pin down all the methods, approaches and tools we had learnt from all the unique dancers that had connected with Stopgap over the last twenty years.
Next we set about organising these methods into our first layer Include which we then sliced into five segments each covering an area of contemporary dance – the first section is dance skills – an introduction to contemporary dance. The other sections can be completed in any order, they are: performance, exploration, textures and contact dance.
Each slice has been created to introduce specific elements of contemporary dance whilst still focussing on developing dance technique. In addition to having fun learning about dance; the aim of Include is to give dancers a more in-depth understanding of dance rather than just focussing on re-creating shapes. Therefore we have put an emphasis on the teachers supporting their dancers to discover key principles (such as awareness of breath or sense of control). They do this through games, improvisations and explorations which we feel are just as important as the exercises we have created.
We felt it was vital we didn’t simply push the committed and creative dancers into a separate ‘Gifted and Talented’ group and thus removing them from their weekly fun filled Include group. There are so few disabled role models in dance we need to keep the talent where it can support others to achieve. We also wanted to encourage disabled dancers and their parents and carers that more than one session a week would really support their pathway to the profession or simply an opportunity to become an expert through deep practice techniques which is what the next three layers – Respond, Integrate and Specialise entail.
We hope to support a diverse dancer’s pathway by giving them an opportunity to participate in four sessions or layers of IRIS per week.