ShaLeigh Comerford is an Irish & Native American choreographer and the artistic director of ShaLeigh Dance Works, a dance-theatre company based in Durham, NC and founded in 2005. Her work is driven by a desire to uplift powerful stories and voices that address the human condition in relation to inequalities and forces of erasure. Her work stresses our instinctive human need to connect regardless of race, class, age, ability, or gender.
She is a graduate of Hollins University with a Master’s degree in Visual and Performing Arts. ShaLeigh began her formal dance training on scholarship with the Roanoke Ballet Theatre and the American Dance Festival and continued her training in NYC and at P.A.R.T.S in Brussels, Belgium. In 2011, she was personally invited to train in the Gaga movement language with Ohad Naharin and the Batsheva Dance Company in Tel Aviv, Israel for their inaugural teacher training program.
As a young performer, she made her professional stage debut in musical theatre at the age of ten as the lead in Mill Mountain Theatre’s musical production of Alice in Wonderland. She later starred as lead in Roanoke Children’s Theatre’s premiere production and touring version of Charlotte’s Web. She has choreographed over a dozen musical theatre productions for regional and community theatres, most notably Spring Awakening directed by Jenna Worsham at the Lime Kiln Theater and Teen Brain directed by Doug Zschiegner at The Dumas Center.
ShaLeigh was a principal dancer with the Roanoke Ballet Theatre where she performed and toured with the company from 2000-04. She performed leading roles with the Virginia Ballet Academy and guest roles with the Carolina Ballet and Cirque USA. She has also apprenticed with the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company and has performed with Keigwin & Company, Tina Croll & Company, the Dendy Dance Theater, Carolina Ballet, Martha Clarke, Rosie Herrera, as well as a restaging of Batsheva Dance Company’s Minus Sixteen and an Official Music Video for Blind by Christian Loffler.
ShaLeigh’s choreography and commissions have been presented throughout the United States and abroad. She has been commissioned by the American Dance Festival, Arts Access, Shannon Media Inc., Cambridge University, Keio University, Washington & Lee University, Elon University, Cirque USA, North Carolina Museum of Art, Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, Campaneria Ballet Company, Durham Ballet Theatre, Mill Mountain Theatre, Roanoke Ballet Theatre, Roanoke Children’s Theatre, Virginia Ballet Academy and City Modern Ensemble. She has been a showcased artist of Judson’s Church, Dixon Place, The Flea Theatre, American Dance Guild, Chen Dance Center’s NewSteps Series, Durham Independent Dance Artists, the North Carolina Presenters Consortium, North Carolina Dance Festival, and Booking Dance Festival at Jazz at Lincoln Center.
ShaLeigh is a recipient of the 2018 Ella Pratt Fountain Emerging Artist Award and an awarded winner in the 2013 Tokyo Experimental Festival of Sound, Art & Performance to design a performance installation at the Institute of Contemporary Art and International Cultural Exchange. The performance installation toured to the Noguchi Room at Keio University (MITA) and Comerford was invited to perform at The Week of Foreign Female Dancers in Tokyo at Roppongi Stripe’s Space. Her ADF commissioned work Meadow Dance was named Best of 2021 for Outstanding Choreography by Chatham Life and Style. Her contemporary choreography The Within was selected by the World Ballet Competition International to be featured alongside Momix and several other award-winning dancers and choreographers in the 2014 Gala. Her contemporary solo Chimera for Pennsylvania Ballet Soloist and 2018 Princess Grace Award winner Sydney Dolan placed in the top 12 and received special mention in the 2016 Youth American Grand Prix Semi Finals.
ShaLeigh currently serves as Adjunct Instructor of dance at Elon University and as Assistant Professor at Washington & Lee University. She is a member of the statewide North Carolina Arts Accessibility Learning Cohort as well as the UpROOTing Ableism workgroup for Alternate ROOTS. She is also Founder and practitioner of ShaGa Movement.
Awards & Support
▪ National Endowment for the Arts [Washington, DC] 2022-2023, 2023-2024
▪ Mary Duke Biddle Foundation [Durham, NC] 2018-19, 2020-21, 2022-2024
▪ Leadership Exchange in Arts and Disabilities Scholarship [Boston, MA] 2023
▪ New Music USA [New York, NY] 2022-2023
▪ Triangle Community Foundation [Durham, NC] 2022-2023
▪ North Carolina Arts Council Season Grant [Raleigh, NC] 2022-2023
▪ Durham Arts Council’s Season Grant [Durham, NC] 2022-2023
▪ North Carolina Arts Council Arts Equity [Raleigh, NC] 2021-2022
▪ MAP Fund Semi Finalist [New York, NY] 2020
▪ North Carolina Arts Council Artist Support Grant [Durham, NC] 2020
▪ Durham Arts Council’s Catalyst Grant [Durham, NC] 2020, 2021
▪ Ella Fountain Pratt Emerging Artist Award [Durham, NC] 2018-19
▪ Durham Arts Council’s Facility Grant [Durham, NC] 2018
▪ World Ballet Competition Gala for Choreography [Orlando, FL] 2014
▪ Tokyo Metropolitan Foundation for History and Culture Award [Tokyo, Japan] 2013
▪ Semi Finalist of the UCI Dance Film Festival [Irvine, CA] 2004
▪ Recipient of Mimi Babe Harris Arts Scholarship for The Crispolti Institute [Todi, Italy] 2003
▪ Recipient of Janet McDonald Travel and Research Grant for Translation of Social Issues through Visual Languages [Roanoke, VA] 2003
▪ Wildacres Residency Program [Little Switzerland, NC] 2021
▪ Creative Residency with Rosie Herrera Dance Theatre [Durham, NC] 2019
▪ Azule Resident Artist [Hot Springs, NC] 2019
▪ Living Arts Collective Artist In Residence [Durham, NC] 2018
▪ Duke University’s Power Plant Gallery artist residency with qUest wiRx [Durham, NC] 2016
▪ The Culture Mill Lab [Saxapahaw, NC] 2014
▪ Tokyo Wonder Site Shibuya [Tokyo, Japan] 2013
▪ Creator-in-Residence at Tokyo Experimental Festival [Tokyo, Japan] 2013
▪ Creator-in-Residence at Cambridge University [Cambridge, England] 2013
▪ Gloguair Residency and Performance [Berlin, Germany] 2012
▪ K77 Workshops [Berlin, Germany] 2012
▪ Even Yehuda Dance [Even Yehudah, Israel] 2011
▪ Bravo Concert Series [Asheville, NC] 2011
▪ Roanoke Children’s Theatre [Roanoke, VA] 2010, 2013, 2014, 2015
▪ Washington & Lee University [Lexington, VA] 2008, 2009, 2014
▪ Virginia Festival of Student Choreography [Lexington, VA] 2009
▪ Mill Mountain Theatre [Roanoke, VA] 2003, 2005, 2007, 2008
▪ Dance Theatre Workshop’s Creative Residency [New York, NY] 2007
▪ Virginia School of the Arts [Lynchburg, VA] 2004
Dancing is when I feel the most alive – and at times has been a means to survive. It’s an experience of becoming that is never quite accomplished and is always reaching while simultaneously waking me up from the dark maze of life. Making dance is when I feel the most connected. It is something else entirely to share experiences that make us feel human, seen, vital, honored, and moved. Making for me is a sacred, shared experience. I believe in an approach to art that democratizes process and performance through a practice of autonomy and agency. I make dance with and not for my company. I teach dance with and not for my students. Together we explore practice-based research and deep community engagement as collaborators, as humans.
For an artform whose tool is the body, my work and my movement language are constantly responding to cultural and political pressures that suppress and subjugate. Both teaching and making are deeply entwined with my engagement practices of working together as “othered” bodies with unique differences and shared humanity. I see otherness as a promise of richness for everyone else – proclaiming to the world that there will always only ever be one of us, and that we have something to say in a way that only we can say it. My work is driven by a desire to uplift stories and voices that address the human condition in relation to difference and oppression, silence and inequality.
My work constantly teaches me. Sharing our stories, our vulnerabilities, and our differences with audiences continuously feeds my belief in the transformative power of performance. It reminds me that though there are only a handful of emotions, the difference that lives in the telling opens up a whole new spectrum that cannot be named but can be felt and understood. The “unnamable” is something that keeps me grasping, yearning, reaching, and listening.