Shula Strassfeld (B.1947) and Liz Lerman’s Dance Exchange


Washington D.C, where Liz Lerman began recruiting older women to dance


Photo by John Borstel

Shula Strassfeld

Shula Strassfeld is a Jewish dance artist who joined Liz Lerman’s Dance Exchange at the age of 61 as resident artist and healthy living coordinator. Shula began intentionally utilizing dance as a tool for social change, challenging the notions of who gets to dance. Dance Exchange’s guiding questions, “Who gets to dance?” “Where is the dance happening?” And “why dance?” challenges stereotypes about ageing and invites conversations challenging preconceptions about age’s limitations on romance and sensuality. Through Dance Exchange, Shula has danced in numerous dance pieces about various social issues such as the environment, race and genetics. Selected pieces include: From the Desk of Rachel Carson, How to Lose a Mountain and The Matter of Origins.

Inspired by dancing with her father with dementia at the end of his life, she collaborated with neuroscientists to begin conversations about the dance and its ability to stimulate different functions of the brain. Scientists from George Mason University have begun to understand the significance of choreographed dance as a function that can improve cognitive skills that don’t normally show up in other forms of intervention. This research is said to have the capacity to impact primary prevention, chronic conditions and cognitive status of dementia patients.

After leaving Dance Exchange and Washington DC, Shula’s dance and movement work in geriatrics and intergenerational dance provided numerous communities such as Baycreast Health Centre in Toronto and the GeriActors and Friends in Edmonton a medium of expression and platform to share their experiences. In a storytelling, dance and Shakespeare residency in Edmonton, Shula collaborated in an interdisciplinary intergenerational performance piece based on Shakespeare’s King Lear. In addition, Shula brought together an adaptive dance company to create a collaborative participant-oriented piece about the need for friendship, support, humour and surprise, in disability communities.

In 2016, Shula moved to Toronto to advocate for the Cultural Pluralism in the Arts Movement and provide workshops in Dance Exchange’s Critical Response Process. Shula had an ability to bring together communities and empower them to move their bodies as they are and provide a platform to tell their stories. Her presence, wisdom and humility will live on in the artists that she has inspired.


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 Contributed by Bill Yong


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