Meet the DX: Shula

Shula Strassfeld packed up her life in Toronto in 2007 and moved to DC to join the Dance Exchange. In addition to performing with the company, Shula is very involved in our work combining dance and spiritual practice. I caught up with her this morning before rehearsal.

Talk a little bit about your dance background.
I didn’t start dancing until college–no one believes it. I had always wanted to dance. Then I was in Boston, taking the GREs, and we had a lunch break during the test. I walked past the Capezio store in Harvard Square and went in, bought a leotard and tights, and didn’t go back for the last half of the test. I just thought: I want to try dancing, and if I don’t do it now, I’ll never do it.

When did you first meet the Dance Exchange?
I took a workshop with the Dance Exchange when they came to Toronto in the mid 90’s. I’d known about the company for…forever, I think! My first real interaction with them was at their New York audition in 2005.

What do you remember about the audition?
It was great! I walked up and down the street in front of the Ailey Studios for about twenty minutes before I got up the courage to walk in the door. Matt, Martha, and Peter ran the audition and we had a really good time for a couple of hours. I was quite shocked when I got called back. It was the most enjoyable audition I’d ever done–everyone was so nice!

What was your first performance with the Dance Exchange?
I danced in the 30th Anniversary concert at the University of Maryland’s Clarice Smith Center in 2006.

Do you have a favorite moment from a performance or residency?
One of the first community residencies I did was in Japan. There was a man in the group who was in a wheelchair. His speech was very hard to understand. Very limited mobility. We got a sense that he was very smart, but he couldn’t hold on to the sequence [of movements]. I did a duet with him in the show, and I had to keep coaching him when the audience couldn’t see. Afterwards, he had someone write a letter for him about the experience. It was read at our closing circle and had everyone in tears. It was the first time in his life he was noticed. He was really recognized as a human being–so incredible.

What is your favorite place you’ve visited on tour?
All of them! Well, not all of them–most of them! I really loved both of the Japan trips. Ireland was gorgeous. Lawrence, Kansas, all of all places! There is so much wonderful community that happens among the company when we go places. Arriving in Indiana in that limo! And Arizona was wonderful, too. It’s a great life!

You do a lot of work combining dance and spiritual practice, like teaching a weekly Hebrew School class at Temple Mica using Dance Exchange methods. What does it mean to be able to do this kind of work?
Mostly it just means I feel whole. I don’t have to compartmentalize my life and keep dance in one place and spirituality in another.

You are known for your collection of sweaters. My personal favorite is the blue one with the different kinds of dogs on it. How many sweaters do you have?
You have to understand that I come from a place where for at least half the year, you wear three sweaters layered on top of each other! I have two drawers full and one shelf in my closet. If I see a really nice sweater, I have to have it. I’m not that way with any type of clothing except sweaters.

You can see Shula dance in New Works/New Voices at the Olney Theater on May 15th at 7pm.

Photos: Shula in Liz Lerman’s Darwin’s Wife at the Corcoran Gallery of Art
Shula enjoying a crepe on tour in Dublin, Ireland

About Sarah Levitt

Sarah Levitt (Resident Artist/Communications Coordinator) is a dancer, choreographer and teacher based in Maryland.