Where to begin…

Written by Lucy Bennett, Artistic Director for Stopgap Dance Company

Image copyright Chris Parkes


The Telegraph’s recent article about ballet’s failure for disabled children has sparked an interesting debate at Stopgap.

The journey of becoming a professional dancer is a hard one, but the article has bleakly highlighted how much harder it is for disabled people. Ballet is and will be the most popular entry point to dance for most children, and if the disabled ones are being turned away for being ‘incapable of good technique’, what hope do they have for a career in dance?

Ballet is a classical artform, and it has an aesthetic ideal dictated by a rigid idea of a ‘perfect body’. The assessment is based on how close the students are getting to this ideal, and this is what makes it ultimately non-inclusive. It seems that ballet would have an existential dilemma if it were to become more inclusive, but as the most popular entry point to dance, the pressure is on to change their culture of condemnation to encouragement.

On the contrary, contemporary dance is not dictated by an old fashioned idea of beauty, and its emphasis on diversity, creativity and innovation makes it naturally inclusive. With the article exposing the failure of ballet educators to embrace diversity, this could be the moment for contemporary dance to stake its mark as an artform that celebrates and challenges all. However, the article has made us reflect on the current provision of contemporary dance education too.

Inclusive dance has been in existence for more than 20 years within contemporary dance, and it has become one of the strongest cultural exports of the UK. Yet we are still struggling to create a stable and rigorous pathway to profession for disabled dancers, and the number of professionals is not expanding fast enough. We could point the finger to ballet and say that they’re deterring disabled children from dance at the entry point, but have we done enough to give them an alternative?

Stopgap is trying to address this problem by creating an inclusive dance syllabus called IRIS. We have 20 years of experience in nurturing disabled dancers from the grassroots to the international stage, and we want to bring about positive change by consolidating our knowledge into the syllabus. We can then distribute it widely. Our ambition is for new and existing dance groups to use the syllabus, so that we can get more disabled people to take up dance. IRIS will hopefully build a good base for disabled people, so that they can eventually challenge for places at top conservatoires. The sector as a whole can then start to increase the number of well-trained disabled dancers and make sure that diversity and inclusion are embedded within the sector properly. Stopgap are already delivering the higher level training through our Sg2 and Associate programmes, and we have plenty of knowledge to share with the Higher Education Instiutions.

We are just at the start of a very long journey ahead. It may take us ten or twenty years to get there, but we believe in a little less conversation and a little more action!

For more information on our ambitions for IRIS, visit our website. And to read about the positive effects of dance for disabled people, written by Imogen Aujla PhD, Senior Lecturer in Dance and Course Coordinator MSc Dance Science at the University of Bedfordshire, see our blog.

Where to begin…