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The history of inclusive dance company Stopgap

a dance performance by the cast at stopgap
a dance performance by the cast at stopgap Image credit: disabilityarts.online

A charity supported by BBC Children In Need is helping disabled youngsters to express their emotions build new friendships through the medium of dance.

Stopgap was launched in 1995 by Woking Dance Festival and Guilford Borough Council for disabled and non-disabled members to perform at the inaugural music event.

Building on the success at the dance festival the charity takes a step towards becoming an emerging company when Creeper is performed at The South Bank Centre in London in 1999.

A couple of years later in 2001 Stopgap is officially recognised as a professional ‘integrated’ dance company which is the only one of its kind in the UK to employ a dancer with learning disabilities, Chris Pavia and a wheelchair dancer Laura Jones alongside non-disabled dancers Lucy Bennett and Dan Watson under the direction of Vicki Balaam.

Between 2003 and 2009 Stopgap goes global touring the UK, Scandinavia, Europe and Japan with leading educational projects in Asia, Scotland, Ireland, Turkey and Eastern Europe.

During that period the charity achieves milestones over three consecutive years, in 2004 Stopgap’s first youth company, 2005 sees the charity set up residency at The Farnham Maltings and in 2006 it receives funding from The Arts Council.

In 2012 Stopgap becomes the first British company with disabled and non-disabled dancers who create their original dance shows which are performed on national and international tours under new Artistic Director Lucy Bennett.

The following year sees Stopgap establish its apprentice company Sg2 and Lucy devising Artificial Things.

But it was between 2014 and 2016 when the charity becomes properly established when their outdoor production of The Seafarers next to HMS Victory in Portsmouth receives critical acclaim.

A reviewer for The Guardian calls the show: ‘A performance that recalls the stylish partnership of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers and borrows from 1930s films with a magpie glee’

In 2016 Artificial Things becomes one of six productions studied as part of AQA’s GCSE Dance Anthology. The following year the production is turned into a film when Lucy collaborates with director Sophie Fiennes. The dance performance goes on to win ‘Best Screen Choreography’ for Dancescreen in 2019.

The charity launches an online inclusive dance programme, ‘Home Practice’ on YouTube in 2020 and commissioned create an Album of Audio Choreography ‘Dance Tapes’, with disabled dance artists from around the globe.

Stopgap has received a grant of £29,997.00 from BBC Children in Need so it can continue the amazing support it offers to disabled youngsters, pretty impressive for an organisation which initially set out just to perform at a local music festival 26 years ago.

BBC Children in Need is on BBC ONE, Friday November 19 at 7pm and available afterwards on BBC iPlayer.