Lawrence Shapiro

Be Inspired – Lawrence Shapiro

Dancing Toward Ecstasy

Just like Terry Fox, I lost my leg to cancer as a young person. Things could have been worse, my parents were told. It was thought that since I was not “into sports” that the loss would be less severe for me because I would not miss playing outside and doing physical activity. And they were right, sort of. I never was into sports or hockey or football. My interests were almost entirely sedentary, i.e. reading, listening to music and yes, watching television.

Fast forward to roughly ten years ago when a friend insisted I get off what I sit on and do things. A move to Vancouver, B.C. was the first catalyst. The healthiest people in Canada impressed me on a daily basis with their outdoorsyness. The brilliant weather and healthy lifestyle made me realize that my home province of Ontario and much of Canada was so wrapped up in winter that there was a whole other world of activity on the west coast. The business card of every civil servant in the province informs me that British Columbia is “the best place on earth” and they would not be far from the truth.

So a membership to a gym plus a weekly fitness trainer in my new city started me on an unshakeable commitment to exercise and healthy living. Within two weeks I had a sense of form to my body and the spring-like weather all year round made getting outside easier all the time. Next up was my introduction to Vancouver Adapted Snow Sports and their commitment to getting people with disabilities to enjoy the outdoors. An historic moment: I began, for the first time since childhood, to ski downhill at Grouse Mountain (only twenty minutes from downtown Vancouver) and it was fabulous! Up next, heading on up to the Whistler Ski Resort and working with their adapted ski program. Phenomenal! I was skiing down mountains all over the resort for hours at a time. “How exactly do you ski?” a waitress at the restaurant on top of a mountain at Whistler asked me as I made my way to the table on crutches and one leg. “Very well!”, replied my ski instructor before I had time to respond.

But it wasn’t over yet. I auditioned to perform in an integrated dance piece with choreography by Helen Walkley. I got the job and then began the most physically exhausting experience of my life: preparing for a professional dance performance. “No Leg To Stand On” was a hit at the Dancing on the Edge Festival in Vancouver. We were a cohesive ensemble group and I really learned a lot about working with others, especially other disabled performers. Wait there’s more! Shortly thereafter, I applied for a career development travel grant through the dance section of the Canada Council for the Arts to attend an international conference on dance and disability in Scotland. . .and I got the grant! I had a phenomenal time in Glasgow and I was the only North American in attendance.

All of this culminated in 2016 when I led an integrated dance performance through a grant I received from the Ontario Arts Council's 'Deaf and Disability Arts Projects' program. "Discovering" was the fist dance performance in Canada to be led by an above-knee amputee. I am now verified as a 'Deaf and Disability Artist' through the Canada Council for the Arts and look forward to doing more work as a professional movement artist. Getting physically active has absolutely changed my life.

For me, active living has totally changed my life. It has given me a new freedom, new employment opportunities and a whole new identity as a disability performance artist recognized through leading arts agencies like the Canada Council and the B.C. Arts Council.

There’s an expression used in the dance world to describe moving on the floor and then going higher. It’s called “movement on different levels” and that’s what active living has done for me. It’s moved me to places I never thought I would ever get to. And I’ve just started the journey.