Stopgap Dance Company has launched Home Practice, a free-to-view online dance programme, to support an inclusive recovery process for all dance practitioners.
It has been widely reported that the Covid-19 pandemic has hit the economics of the performing arts sector particularly hard. Within this desperate picture, dance industry has been left in an especially difficult situation. The artform relies heavily on human contact to create, rehearse and perform, and being part of the early reopening phase is proving to be a personal dilemma for practitioners who have underlying health risks (or those who live with or care for such individuals). Engaging with projects in person are not realistic for some groups like disabled people until vaccinations are distributed or instantaneous testing programmes become widely available.
The pandemic has also caused significant personal financial fallouts. The industry slowdown has meant projects continue to be hard to come by for freelance practitioners, and given that 81% of dance practitioners hold freelance status (as according to One Dance UK), the financial impact for individuals are substantial. Many of these individuals keep up their practice during their off period by paying to attend classes, but the viability of doing so in this prolonged period of work shortages is increasingly precarious.
During the lockdown period, Stopgap spent time and care tuning into a wide variety of people’s needs, desires and concerns and researched into what kind of dance classes might practically be possible to do from home. The research began with their disabled stakeholders in mind and expanded out to explore how their inclusive approach could cater for a wider range of people in the dance industry. Through this research, the company came up with the free-to-use online dance programme Home Practice to bring nourishment to dance practitioners who have limited or no access to dance classes. The format is extremely simple. The company has committed to releasing one class video every Monday on their YouTube Channel, and users are able to view it at their own convenience from home. As a part of Home Practice, the company has created a series of videos that give insight into its inclusive methodologies too. These are intended to support the users to get the best out of the programme.
The company explains:
‘The style of our video is friendly, open and inclusive, modelled under the highly successful ‘Yoga with Adriene’ series. We worked with the filmmaker Floyd Konde to stylise ours so that it feels as if a Stopgap practitioner is leading a 1-2-1 dance session for you at home. The films are created in small rooms at our base in Farnham Maltings to recreate the confines of practicing at home. There will be no efforts made to mimic what would happen in a full dance class in a large studio.
‘As an inclusive dance company, Stopgap has stakeholders who intersect Covid related issues faced by disabled people, ethnic minorities and those from low socio-economic background. As a dance company, we also have a pool of our own freelance workers. Home Practice is inclusive in that it has been designed for practitioners who are still shielding, but the streamable digital nature of the programme means it can also cater for those who face other barriers. Perhaps, you live in a remote rural area where there are no suitable sessions nearby. It might be that the cost of attending classes regularly are becoming increasingly impractical in what is an extraordinarily difficult time for our artform. For those who do not have access to the internet, we are also exploring the practicality of collating the videos on a DVD and shipping them out with a player.
‘Our research showed us that Covid-19 is causing very different levels of disruptions to any given individual, and some have not been able to dance at all since March. Their reasons are often complex, involving varying combinations of health, disability, childcare or finance. As well as being inclusive and personal, Home Practice is designed so that it can be used at the convenience of each viewer in private. You can pause and watch again some parts of the same video several times or engage with several videos one after another. Each viewer can set their own pace for recovery until the time comes when they feel able to get back into the studio. Home Practice is intended to give something regular and staple for all dance practitioners to support the upkeep of their practice during this continuously difficult period. It will hopefully supplement any paid for classes and workshops by other practitioners as and when people can access them. Our hope is that Home Practice can help prevent a mass exodus of skilled practitioners from our sector as far as possible.
‘The hope is that we can continue to run Home Practice at least until the sector can fully reopen for everyone. If we can sustain it, we would like to carry it on indefinitely. We are keenly aware that there are many people who struggle to access dance classes even without a pandemic.’
The Covid-19 pandemic has starkly exposed social inequalities, and a utilitarian digital offer like this could give some degree of equality for dance practitioners. In addition to keeping up their practice, the viewers will also get a great insight into Stopgap’s inclusive methodologies, and this could become a useful resource for the post-pandemic industry.