What’s your story? How were you introduced to dance?
I’m originally from Montreal. When I was younger my mom found out she had a brain tumor and suddenly wound up in the hospital. My family had no idea what was going on. When my mom returned home she was not the same; she became perpetually tired, and for the rest of her life she fought tumors with anti-seizure medicine.
My mom was a vital force in my life. But life at home was tough, and that may have played a part in my wanting to get away. I studied psychology at Carleton University in Canada; it was the only school that would accept me. And it was there that I met (and became great friends with) a man named Neil Finestone. Neil got me hooked on dance. Because of him, I fell in love with dancing. I didn’t know what direction to go after school, so I decided to take a gap year. During that time I took jazz classes, I taught disco, and just got addicted to all things dance. I was “too old” to train as a dancer, so I applied to York University in Toronto and told them I was 16 years old… and I got accepted! That’s where I got real training.
You’ve got a recurring physical issue that arises when you dance. What is it and how do you deal with it when you’re dancing?
When I moved to York I started getting injured when I would dance. I could never figure out why. It just kept happening. Later, I discovered that I had ligament laxity, where every ligament in my body was naturally loose, so I would get injured when I tried exercises that stretched my ligaments even more. I was also born with scoliosis, and one of my legs is shorter than the other. But the injuries came by surprise. I didn’t really think about it in my day-to-day. It only affected me when I started dancing.
What is it about dance that you were drawn to early on? How has dance evolved over time for you?
When I was little I took creative dance classes, but I was very shy. I remember one year the teacher wanted me to be the star of a performance and I suddenly got “sick.” I would just get nervous. But I always loved dancing with a partner because I could look at the partner and instead of looking at everyone else.
Disco was really the catalyst to my dancing career. It really brought me into my body. I was very cerebral and ambitious. I wanted to dance to experience the joy that dancing brought. That’s what I was drawn to. But I moved to New York because it had more options for me. You could do everything… New York let me experiment.
Eventually I was accepted into the famous Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company. It was there I began to see just how much more dance could offer the world. Jones and Zane were very political. All of a sudden, dance could be socio-political, it could be humanitarian.
I was with Jones/Zane for seven years.
Over the last few years, though, I have danced less. I feel very satisfied being the choreographer and having my dancers do the work. I have really learned that dance has the capacity to do so much more than meets the eye. It has taught me about resilience, how to bounce back, and how to re-direct your path.
What’s the story behind how Heidi Latsky Dance Company was started?
I started Heidi Latsky in 2001. I also had a child that year. I got a company of people together and began working on company work that was physical. The themes were abstract, and I initially had no interest in or connection to disability. I was teaching movement. In 2006, I met met a woman named Lisa Bufano who was a bi-lateral amputee. She had openness, vulnerability, and fierceness. It was palpable. I saw what she had, not what she didn’t have. We started working together and began meeting all kinds of people in the disability community. I started bringing people into this process.
That led to us creating and debuting a dance series called GIMP. It’s a preemptive strike. It’s about owning the term. We started researching what it meant. I told my team: “I can’t call it GIMP unless the dancing gets edgier.” So we started getting edgier.
GIMP was a breakthrough for everyone involved in this piece. Everyone was committed. I had people working full-time jobs and making time to dance. This became my season to learn the disability community better. I gave up everything to make this GIMP piece happen.
How do we raise up and guide the next generation of dancers–with or without disabilities? What about those who have unrealized potential? Are you interested in any of that?
Yes! At HLD We have On Display: Youth. What I learned with our GIMP performance is that we became role models. We showed everyone that people with disabilities can dance, we showed that atypical bodies can be incorporated into this field. And that opens up the frame of reference for everyone. I know people who say: “I’ve been told I’m too big, short, fat, etc.” So it’s been great for us to encourage dancers who don’t fit into a particular mold.
I’m also a realist. So when I talk to anyone who wants to become a dancer, I say, “Here are the warnings.” Dance is unforgiving. It’s not a money-maker. It’s very difficult. “That’s what I was told, too. In the 1980s it was unheard of to dance and be successful. People told me not to do it, but I still danced anyway. So, if you want to do it, that’s not good enough. If you have to do it, then go for it!
– Heidi Latsky, Springible Contributor