Interview – Resources provided by Lawrence Shapiro

As part of the podcast series, “ArtsAbly in Conversation,” Diane Kolin interviewed Lawrence Shapiro, the first above-knee amputee dancer to lead dance performances in Canada.

A white man with red hair and beard wearing a black t-shirt.

This post presents the resources that he mentioned during the conversation.

Lawrence Shapiro interviewed by Lee Miller

After this list of resources, you can read the interview of Lawrence Shapiro published in the British Dance Journal ‘Choreographic Practices’ In 2023. Reproduced with authorization.

Read Lawrence Shapiro’s interview

Discovering: A Series of Choreographic Sketches Aki Studio Theatre, Toronto, 2016

This clip shows Lawrence Shapiro dancing in a sketch called ‘Everything goes to hell’, from his show Discovering: A Series of Choreographic Sketches, recorded live at the Aki Studio Theatre, Toronto, Canada, June 27, 2016.

Read about and watch an excerpt of A Series of Choreographic Sketches

Neither Starved Nor Cold – December 2021

Choreographed by Heidi Latsky, Neither Starved Nor Cold was performed by Lawrence Shapiro in NYC in 2021.

Watch the recording of Neither Starved Nor Cold

Heidi Latsky Dance

Founded in 2001, Heidi Latsky Dance is a New York-based, female-run organization dedicated to the creation of relevant, immersive performance art that is accessible to all. Heidi Latsky Dance disrupts space, dismantles normal, and redefines beauty and virtuosity through innovative performance and discourse. Dedicated to reflecting the true diverse nature of the world we live in, HLD brings rigorous, passionate, and thought-provoking work to broad audiences. Heidi is the preeminent choreographer working with amputees today, an important connection between Lawrence Shapiro and her.

Visit Heidi Latsky Dance’s website

SHAMELESS: The ART of Disability

Art, activism and disability are the starting point for what unfolds as a funny and intimate portrait of five surprising individuals. Director Bonnie Sherr Klein (Not a Love Story, and Speaking Our Peace) has been a pioneer of women’s cinema and an inspiration to a generation of filmmakers around the world. Joining Klein are a group of artists with diverse (dis)abilities. Humourist David Roche is taking his one man show, The Church of 80% Sincerity, to New York’s off-Broadway. Poet and scholar Catherine Frazee is navigating a jam-packed schedule of teaching and speaking engagements. Dancer, choreographer and impresario Geoff McMurchy is organizing KickstART, an international festival of disability art. Sculptor and writer Persimmon Blackbridge is creating mixed media portraits from “meaningful junk”.

Watch SHAMELESS: The ART of Disability on NFB’s website

Note that the movie is also listed among ArtsAbly’s Resources, in the Movies section.

Geoff McMurchy

Geoff McMurchy was a choreographer, dancer and arts administrator, pursuing his creative endeavours with seriousness of purpose, while helping to create opportunities for other disabled artists to do the same. He fought against the perception that art made by disabled people is of lesser value, to be judged by lower standards.

Read about Geoff McMurchy’s life and career

Avalanche – Leonard Cohen

The lyrics of the song are at the origin of Lawrence Shapiro’s 2021 NYC show, Neither Starved Nor Cold.

If the video doesn’t play, click on this link to listen to it directly on YouTube: Leonard Cohen – Avalanche with lyrics


Lawrence Shapiro                                                                                                           spring, 2023 Email:

The Amputee Dancer: A conversation (and more) with Lawrence Shapiro

This piece of writing started life as reflection by Lawrence Shapiro on his Canada Council for the Arts sponsored trip to Berlin, Germany to work with “The Initiative for More Physical Diversity in Contemporary Dance” and their ensemble Tanzfaehig.

While the initial piece of writing that Lawrence offered to Choreographic Practices remains a central element of what is presented here, it is supplemented by the text of a conversation Lee Miller and Lawrence had on Friday 7th April, 2023. After a faltering start as transcription software was navigated, we began.

Lee Miller: Hello. Hi, Lawrence. Thank you so much for your patience. I know that we had a very brief conversation before I started to record, and I think it frames why we are talking today. If I may, could I ask you to say a little again about the your perspective on the differences between working across North American and European contexts as a disabled dancer.

Lawrence Shapiro: In my opinion, the only real focus in North America for disability dance is in California, in the San Francisco Bay area and of course, the the well known ensemble there is AXIS Dance. Actually, having said that, I will now completely contradict myself and say that the choreographer I worked with in New York probably has more experience of working with amputee dancers than any other choreographer in North America. But New York doesn’t come across to me in quite the same way that San Francisco does. When I think about disability arts, it feels to me as though it flourishes on the West Coast. But in the States, it’s still developing. When I first started doing this many years ago and there was really nothing like the UK, and sometimes it seems as though it remains a place of focus for integrated dancers Amici and Candoco have histories that stretch back over forty year. Then there’s also StopGap , Step Change Studios, the Cathy Waller Company, I’m probably missing some. But , the dynamic of disability arts, in my opinion, has its best resolution in the UK. I can’t speak about Europe beyond. In fact, when I met with my host in Germany, he said “We are not Candoco”, like he wanted to temper my expectations! So clearly Candoco and the other ensembles have spearheaded a disability arts momentum that, in my opinion, is not found elsewhere.

LM: Why do you think this might be?

LS: Well, I sometimes wonder if it’s because the British are coming from a very rich heritage of theatre and performance art. I think that perhaps this lends itself better to the idea of disability performance. That heritage of theatricality doesn’t exist in quite the same way in North America, and I wonder if it’s from that heritage of theatricality that a greater curiosity to represent characters and stories in different kinds of ways comes from. My experience has been that British narrative traditions seem to have a kind of a dynamic and curiosity about otherness.

LM: It’s interesting to hear you reference that notion of a very particular kind of British theatricality. And in many respects, what you start to surface here is something that emerges in the early 1950s, a kind of British social realism which which which informs not only a lot of theatrical contexts, but also the emergence of British televisual and filmic forms that, historically at least, leaned into representation rather than aspiration.

LS: I was thinking of Joe Orton and John Osborne dealing with class and class satire, and proposing a different way of looking. Maybe that was a reason why it feels as though the British were so far ahead in terms disability arts. You know, 20 years ago, everything was to me, everything was London, London, London, and and that’s why I just gravitated toward it as much as I could.

LM: For you, that sense of moving beyond a Canadian, a North American context is very clear in the way you speak, and I’m curious about your experience of moving beyond the UK, and into Europe.

At this point, it makes sends to slide out of the conversation and into Lawrence’s writing proper:

As a validated Deaf and Disability Artist with the Canada Council for the Arts and an amputee dancer, I have had the great pleasure of working with a variety of dance companies, choreographers and independent dance artists. Despite the significant shifts in visibility of disabled dancers, my experience is that amputee dancers are a rare and overlooked minority within this population. I am proud to be one of them, and what follows is offered as a reflection upon my lived experience as an amputee dancer, with a specific focus on my work with Berlin-based Tanzfaehig, the ensemble sponsored by the Initiative for More Physical Diversity in Contemporary Dance.

In 2020, as part of the Canada Council for the Arts outreach programme, I was offered the opportunity to be part of the ‘Canada In Germany’ initiative. As I had never worked in Germany, I was keen to learn more about disability arts in the German capital, and explore the possible dialogues that might open up through this trip. I was to work with Tanzfaehig in Berlin, which brings together both disabled and non-disabled performers to create one of Germany’s leading integrated dance ensembles. After initial correspondence, necessary letters of acceptance were shared, and I was then able to make a further bid to the Canada Council to join Tanzfaehig in Berlin. I was delighted to have my application supported, and I began preparing for my German debut. A debut that would see me becoming the first Canadian disability artist to perform in Berlin.

LS: I want to be really clear about this. I’m enormously grateful to have performed in Berlin, right. The thing is, that I would also like to say, is that I’m enormously frustrated that there were no physically disabled dancers there. That, that is my frustration. And really, I feel like this is something I encounter in the wider dance world. My perception is that there seems to be a focus on working with dancers with more invisible disabilities, neurodiverse performers and performers with learning disabilities. And to be clear, my frustration is not that these performers are being afforded opportunities to make work. Rather it’s that I rarely encounter dancers who look like me. As an amputee dancer I I find it frustrating that there’s not a whole lot of folks like me. I was having a conversation with a choreographer and I said what I really love about London is that, you know, there’s so much disability dance. And he said that, you know, there’s plenty of disability dance in Europe. In Italy, in Spain. And my first question was, but do those companies have dancers that look like me? And that was when he went quiet! This is a population that is underrepresented and that’s what motivated me to do start the research project on the physically disabled dancer. I’m so keen to focus on the relationship between the physical disability and choreography. Yeah.

LM: The experience, that sense of not seeing yourself reflected in other people’s work, what does that do to you as a dancer?

LS: It’s interesting, because it’s not just about not seeing myself, it’s also about the experience of encountering choreographers who are less confident about engaging with bodies that don’t conform to their their day-to-day expectation. And, I don’t know if this is a productive comparison or not, but I’ll make a comparison between the amputee dancer and the wheelchair dancer. OK, because the wheelchair dancer, (and I’m talking about them working in their chair here, not in those moments where they might leave it), but they are are in a kind of stationary motion. The choreographer can imagine how that might work, but it feels as though there is a different anxiety with the amputee dancer, and they represent each performer bringing with them a very different set of embodied practices depending upon the nature of their amputation. They can dance with or without the prosthesis, they can dance without the crutches or they can just hop around the stage. I don’t believe many choreographers have have had a lot of experience with amputees, and of course the great exception here is Heidi Latsky in New York, who is a preeminent choreographer of disability dance in the United States today, and I owe everything to Heidi. And she’s just a great, great lady. But. Yeah, I believe when I work with the choreographer, it’s quite possible I’m the first amputee dancer they’ve ever worked with and that certainly was my experience in Berlin. I was the first amputee dancer, the choreographer had ever designed for.

I could not have been more unaware upon my arrival in the German capital regarding Berlin’s sheer multiculturalism. Directly beside my flat was an Ethiopian restaurant beside a Vietnamese restaurant in a neighbourhood of Berlin that is predominantly Turkish. I soon learned Germany has the largest Turkish community in the world outside of Turkey. While the leadership of the dance ensemble I was to work with was German, the two choreographers directing the rehearsals and choreographing the piece we were to perform were Italian and no one I met during my stay had any hesitation in describing Berlin as a bilingual city where everyone spoke English and German to the point where menus in restaurants were both in English and German. I soon learned Berlin was not typical of Germany and then began to wonder if it also was not typical of Germany in terms of its approach to dance and disability dance.

We began a four week rehearsal process to perform a piece in a studio setting at the Bethanien Arts Centre in Berlin in the winter of 2022. Like all integrated ensembles, Tanzfaehig works with both disabled and non-disabled dancers, I found myself working half a dozen Berlin residents, a mixture of able-bodied performers, and performers with learning disabilities. As the  only performer who could identify as a performer with a physical disability, it reaffirmed my sense that amputee dancers are a rarity in the world of integrated dance. This sense of representing an under-represented group motivated me to give my German debut my very best as I wanted so much to convey the spirit, the achievement and the uniqueness of the performer with limb loss.

My experience of working in Berlin was one of discovery. The Italian directors running the rehearsals spoke fluent German and English, and the choreographic strategies they employed was to share with us a pre-designed choreography, into which the ensemble was invited to bring their input. During these exchanges, I was told that while one of the choreographers had worked with an amputee dancer in the past, this was in fact the first time she had designed movement specifically for an amputee dancer. As they were developing strategies to work with my body, I was learning more about this city, and the wider arts contexts it housed. The Italian choreographer’s approach to movement for the performer with limb loss centred initially around floor work in which she had me rotate circularly stomping my one foot in sync with the motion. The sequence was perhaps more deliberately representational than I had previously been used to. From the floor, other dancers were to assist me into a standing position, at which point I would pretend to fall, only to be caught and righted once again, as I then hopped out of the space supported through their physical leanings. It felt more as though I was being choreographed as metaphor than as body.

These reflections are not intended as critique; rather they speak to the sense of responsibility I carry. When you are the only representative of an already hugely under-represented group, it is hard not to think about how you will be read. I found myself wondering if my German audience had ever experienced an amputee dancer before. In terms of making the work, it felt as though my presence in the rehearsal room was a rarity, and I felt the weight of representing the Canadian disability arts community in Berlin at that moment. No one in the ensemble had experience of working with a performer with limb loss engage in a choreographic process before. It was thus vital to me that my presence and my practice was not positioned as a therapeutic exercise, but as a legitimate and artistic expression of movement with a human body of missing limbs. It was, it is important to me that the aesthetic and physical impact of my dance be striking.

LM: In your writing, there was a strong sense of the weight of perceiving yourself as the first encounter your colleagues were having working with a dancer with limb loss, that you have come from Canada….

LS: But it’s not because I’m a foreigner, that doesn’t make my body unique. It simply reflects the idea that very few people of my disability group have had the opportunity or the training to work and dance, right? But yes, I’m a pioneering disability dancer in that the Canada Council have supported me to go places and perform places. So, yes I get the opportunity and that’s why I’m able to do it. And of course the companies like Candoco come up over and over again, and for sure they have had amputee dancers, so I’m not positioning myself as unique, rather that even with these shifts in integrated practice, there are still so many companies who haven’t had the experience of working with an amputee dancer. Like, soon I’m on my way to New Zealand and I am the very first North American, no, the the first international disability artist this company have ever had work with them, and I’m doing a residency with them. They’ve never had that before. So I’ll b the first in New Zealand, I was the first those dancers in Germany had worked with. It’s why I feel it is so important that as a disabled dancer, I focus my research on physically disabled dancers.

I was once working in a company, working on a duet with female able-bodied dancer, and she said that she felt uncomfortable around my body. As we worked together on the show, that shifted and we had a great time. The very first time we ever gathered, I’m not wearing the leg and I’m sitting on the floor and my stump is very short. And I said when I lean over to the left side my I don’t know how to say this like my whole my pelvis my whole pelvis is rotating over to the left because there’s no musculature. And she said, I remember she said “I…I just, I cannot imagine that”. But her discomfort only shifted once she had encountered me in a body to body context.

LM: Like a radical empathy begins to occur in the studio space. You articulate that encounter with such deep care.

LS: Yeah. So I just. I just wanted it to be solved. In relationship to choreography and the amputee, there’s choreography with the prosthesis, there’s choreography without the prosthesis, there’s choreography with stationary movement, and there’s choreography with crutches. So there are these different choreographic devices that can be used for the performer with limb loss.

At this point in the conversation. Lawrence shares a link to his piece Neither Starved Nor Cold (recorded at the Gibney Dance Centre, New York, December 2021) his collaboration with Heidi Latsky.

LS: She’s such a great choreographer. She had me do a crutch dance at the end of it. She had me put my stump on one of the holdings. You know where you put your hand on? Stuff like that, ways to use these props to mobility as a system to devise with. It was such an interesting way to articulate and interrogate the bodily movements of the amputee.

In the studio in Berlin, it felt that from my perspective as a North American dance artist, I was experiencing a blending of the heritage of German expressionism and the heritage of Italian dance. From this, and the participants in the space, we began to create something unique to integrated practices. I would argue that choreographic practice in the context of disability arts and more specifically in the context of amputee dance, speaks to a sensibility of movement and dignity that is not found in more traditional modes of contemporary dance practice. Or at least that is my sense of it.

Although there were challenges in the creation of the work, there always is, the performances which took place in a studio setting at the Bethanien Arts Centre in Berlin offered me something I hadn’t experienced before. The piece and the process of developing it shifted my artistic sensibility and choreographic outlook. The choreographic practice of this experience was significant for me as a disabled dancer. I found the incentive, the aesthetic and the resolution of the choreography uniquely geared toward that of the disabled dancer despite the fact that I was the only physically disabled dancer in the ensemble. My Italian contemporaries imbued the process a dynamic that is unique to post-modern dance in their use of temporal space and how it plays to the realities of the performer with limited mobility. While my learning disabled partners did not struggle to overcome space, my struggle to do the same was recognised by my choreographers as a legitimate challenge which could be addressed through phrasing and stationary movement. What was challenging for me was to address my own individual needs of assistive devices of crutches with being bare on stage at a later period in the performance without the prosthesis. As an amputee dancer, I found the direction of my Italian friends to be formidable, meaningful and empowering. In my experience thus far, North American choreographers have not addressed the space in the same way. It seemed to me that at least for one of the Italian choreographers who had been working in Germany for thirty years and had in my opinion consolidated an almost pan-European approach toward dance, the artistic imperative of the piece represented a generous opportunity to the disabled dancer to ingratiate themselves into a performance dynamic that included the physically disabled dancer through stationary movement, use of assistive devices and an opportunity to physically engage with learning disabled performers who were essentially able-bodied.

LM: Lawrence, thanks so much for taking the time to talk through your experience and offering further context on the initial writing. It has been so valuable to have the wider context of your work to frame the experience you had of working in Berlin.

LS: Thanks for the opportunity to share my thoughts and my professional experience with readers of Choreographic Practices. I hope like you they will find it interesting. 


Lawrence Shapiro: Lawrence describes himself as a high level above knee amputee and life-long cancer survivor, and is a validated Deaf and Disability Artist with the Canada Council for the Arts. Lawrence’s training is rooted in London’s disability arts scene, and he is an enthusiastic proponent of integrated dance. In addition to his choreographic and dance practice (which has toured extensible across North America), he has published on a diverse range of topics including questions of accessibility in the Toronto Dance sector, the artistry of the amputee dancer, and Queer Disability and the reality of Homo-Ableism. As a performer and choreographer with extensive international experience, including performance work at the Hammersmith and Fulham Arts Festival in west London, International Vienna Dance Festival, (Vienna, Austria), Guelph Dance Festival, (Ontario, Canada, and Dancing On The Edge Festival, (Vancouver, Canada) and presentations on the role of the amputee in integrated dance at Centre for Dance Research at Coventry University, UK, and presentations on the role of the amputee in integrated dance at the Dance Studies Association  Conference at the New Brunswick Performing Arts Centre in the United States.

Lee Miller: Lee is is a UK-born practitioner-scholar interested in the space between bodies in performance, especially in the affective gap between audience and performer. He is one of the co-editors of Choreographic Practices, and works as Head of Postgraduate Research at Falmouth University, UK. @