enVISION: Commissioned by Arts Access

SDW was honored to join Arts Access at The Cary Theatre for an inspired afternoon of accessible theater, music and dance featuring performers with mixed-abilities.

We were very proud to present our newest collaboration entitled enVISION, the finale of a three section work commissioned by Arts Access. The work intertwined the dance experiences of two individuals with mixed-abilities and the future of adaptive dance. The piece opened with a duet entitled people like that, choreographed and performed by Lillian Willis in collaboration with Davian Robinson. Willis is Robinson’s movement mentor at UNC where he is currently enrolled as a dance major. Robinson lost his sight as a child and is breaking ground in innovative dance practices for people with low vision.

The second section entitled J’aime ma soeur, is a duet between ShaLeigh Comerford and her long time student Janie Desmond. Comerford and Desmond first began working together in 2005 researching non-ambulatory movement practices and have created an innovative movement relationship and bond that has spanned more than ten years. Their duet first premiered last year at DPAC for Reality Ministries’ annual talent show.

The grand finale enVISION brought together Comerford, Desmond, Robinson, Willis and the dancers of ShaLeigh Dance Works, in a performance that revealed that through collaboration and imagination, anything is possible. The group plans to continue their work together and look forward to many more collaborations to come.
“We feel there is greater potential yet to come with this work and the endless possibilities that are just beginning to be tapped for new movement mentor relationships. As most individuals with mixed abilities are paired with similar abilities, this collaboration really tapped into something new when we paired Janie and Davian to create an improvised duet. They discovered such a special way of relating and listening to each other’s bodies. It was truly remarkable to witness!” says Comerford.

The showcase was hosted by Master of Ceremonies, NC native, and NC Theater’s Artistic Director Eric Woodall. Other Performances included Diantha Lopez (Musician), Doug Kapp (Comedian), Eddie Cisneros and Noah (Musicians).

ABOUT: Arts Access is North Carolina’s only non-profit organization dedicated solely to making the arts accessible to people with disabilities. Founded in 1984 by a group of dedicated volunteers, Arts Access has grown to serve over 2500 North Carolinians annually and to be nationally recognized for its work at the intersection of arts and disability. The mission of Arts Access is to make the arts accessible to both children and adults with disabilities. For more information, visit their website here.

4 Sold Out Shows & 4 Standing Ovations for Bamboo Wind

Triangle Arts Review described it as “sensual, engaging and breathtakingly beautiful.”  Susan Broili Arts called it “Compelling” and “Powerful.”  All 4 performances were sold out and received standing ovations.

Culminating from over a year-long development phase that began in June of 2017, Coke Ariail and ShaLeigh Dance Works unveiled the world premiere of Bamboo Wind this past January 2019. The ambitious collaborative effort commissioned 20 local artists in the fields of music, lighting design, poetry, photography, sculpture, theatre, costume design, and dance for a multi-media performance installation. Each artist worked collaboratively to develop a series of mixed-media room-size environments that took over an entire wing of the Fruit’s warehouse complex for a three thousand square foot hanging bamboo forest. The environment included a stage floor where the installation concluded with an evening length dance-theatre work. “We saw an opportunity to foster collaborations across varied artistic fields and cultural divides through this project,” Comerford said. “We hope to create expanded future opportunities for the general public to participate in experiencing original works of art while also strengthening the creative capacity of artists and honoring the diversity of our community.”

The title is based on a seven-canto poem written by Coke Ariail which served as the thematic impetus for the major multi-art installation and performance. Arial also created fourteen original bamboo sculptures that were integrated into the installation and set design. Three photographic essays inspired by the poem were projected on screens within the labyrinth. The phenomenal team of local photographers commissioned included Catharine Carter, Lynne Feiss Necrason and Wojtek Wojdynski.

Multi-instrument performer, teacher and composer Robbie Link was commissioned to develop an original score performed live for the work. The evening was presented in seven sections comprised of text, solos, duets and ensemble work. The dancers were joined by two talented and accomplished actors: Dorothy Brown and Michael Foley. SDW Company member Emilie Raleigh was commissioned to design and create original costumes that interacted with the movement of the dancers. Nationally recognized lighting designer Jeremy Kumin shared his remarkable theatrical designs throughout the installation as well as on stage.

Bamboo Wind was made possible by the generous support of the Mary Duke Biddle Foundation and an Ella Fountain Pratt Emerging Artist Grant from the Durham Arts Council with support from the North Carolina Arts Council, a division of the Department of Natural & Cultural Resources.

On the making of Bamboo Wind

This, by far, has been our most ambitious project to date: 20 collaborators, 10 different mediums, an outside stimulus and bumping up against different aesthetic approaches, expectations and interpretations.  As challenging as the journey has been, the rewards have been deep and remarkably abundant.

I was approached by Coke Ariail in June of 2017 with the proposition of creating an evening-length, dance-theatre work revolving around a seven canto poem he had written entitled Bamboo Wind. Immediately I heard the voice of my mentor Tere O’Conner, “If you can say it, why is it a dance?” Thus began the struggle of how to interface with the poem rather than take a narrative approach. How to be in dialogue with the spoken words through our movement. Throughout the piece, there are moments where our movement is actually at battle with the words. And in other moments, you will see the dancer’s tap into a personal memory of the sensations described by the canto. In other words, we allowed our relationship to the various cantos to become another presence or being in the dance. That was the moment the dance began to land.

This journey has led to many rehearsals where instead of moving, we talked. We questioned. And we rioted until we found a solution. It has created such a deep closeness amongst the dancers and has pulled a clarity about our focus as a company: What we believe in. What we don’t. Who we are inside this container of “us.”  What we choose to do about it and how we choose to collectively tackle challenges together ensuring that all voices are heard.

Collaboration itself is significant for the divides of style, art form, culture, backgrounds and ethnicity. This project pushed us against our boundaries until we found a new path through it. As an Artistic Director (a.k.a. mama bear) not having control of all of the elements while working with a brand new group of collaborators was enormously daunting. But the challenge has ultimately transformed our approach into greater depths. I am certain that the work the audience is about to see would never have come into being if it were not for these obstacles summoning something new and deeply authentic from us. And the work itself which involves much more than dance, will not simply represent SDW but the collective of artists that collided together to create it.

We are humbled and honored by what we have learned from our remarkable collaborators. Throughout our creative process, we have learned that the rabbit hole of communication that once began with a poem and its narrative, had to deepen into interpretation and then several steps further into a personal response – an interface. From there, we began to truly communicate and create. We found new words to articulate our relationship to the music with our beloved composer Robbie Link. In fact, we may have created a new language that would likely be gibberish to the world outside but grounded us to each other. We found new directives to share the journey with our incredible actors Dorothy Brown and Michael Foley while they found their way through turning a monologue into a dialogue and a fantasy of lust into a personal story of longing and desire.

In the end, we have all learned a great deal from each other. There are many more stories to share and many more collaborators to celebrate. But for now, we are grateful to Coke for creating an opportunity to come together with artists we would have never known, to create a work that would never have been, and to be so challenged that it strengthened our bond, our commitment and our work.

19 days till opening.

Sold Out Gala!

Video by Ernesto Javier Photography

Revolutionaries in the Dark

On December 7th, we gathered at Reality Ballroom for our 2nd annual Revolutionaries in the Dark Gala. We were honored by the number of supporters that joined us and are excited to share that our event sold out! The gala has grown by leaps and bounds this year. We can only imagine how much stronger the next will be! And we already have an incredible start with our amazing Project Manager, Kayla Oelhafen and an incredible team of volunteers! I could not have done this without them and we certainly could not have done it without you! Thank you to all who attended, donated, cheered, reminded me to breath, spread the word and showed up! We have big plans in store for next year, so stay tuned!

Packed Gala


WHAT: ShaLeigh Dance Works’ 2nd Annual “Revolutionaries in the Dark” Gala.

WHEN: 7 p.m. Friday (Dec. 7).

WHERE: Reality Ballroom, 916 Lamond Ave., Durham, NC.

FEATURES: Guest speakers, performers, raffle, wine tastings, hors d’oeuvres and artist after-party.

TICKETS: Visit https://shaleighdanceworks.com/revolutionaries



ShaLeigh Dance Works’ artistic director ShaLeigh Comerford recently offered a glimpse of what’s in store for Gala-goers.

“Internationally acclaimed pianist Alejandro Santoyo is one of the performers,” Comerford said in an email interview.

“His unique approach to music is intended to bring serenity and harmony to his listeners …and [he] rather intentionally designs experiences to soothe souls,” the artistic director added.

Comerford also named Nina Be as the Gala’s honorary guest speaker.

“Nina has been teaching, choreographing and designing wellness programs internationally for over 40 years,” Comerford said. “She is the founder of Live Globally, a non-profit that focuses on education, sustainability and art.”

Working with other like-minded organizations, “Live Globally,” currently supports communities in Nairobi, Kenya and Costa Rica as well as in North Carolina. In Durham, they have developed a mindfulness yoga program to empower individuals and children through movement, fitness, self-expression and creative writing, Comerford added.

When asked about the title of this year’s gala fundraiser, Comerford replied: “We want to celebrate artists that are literally shining a light in dark places by challenging many of society’s deepest assumptions. We are deeply inspired by those providing a voice for others who may not have another way to be heard.”

Her company’s mission includes creating socially conscious work and Comerford employs a unique way to help performers do just that. “We do something called “Shaga,” which is a blend of [Israeli choreographer] Ohad Naharin’s movement language called Gaga and my Empowerment of Identity research,” she said. This training enables dancers to expand their movement potential in order to perform Comerford’s work that demands a versatile and open body and mind, she added.

This is the second year that Comerford’s company has featured consistent membership – as opposed to a pick-cup company in which performers are not always the same.

Company members do not currently receive a salary but are paid performance honorariums, Comerford said.

“They are also donating 11 hours a week to train and rehearse,” she added. “This is such an incredible testament to their commitment … but is not one bit a reflection of their value. This why our Gala and campaign efforts are so deeply important to me. Culturally, we have somehow settled on a gig-economy. This is such a sad social construction for undervaluing artists and just another reason why becoming a pick-up company would essentially give in to supporting this entertainment-only ideology. We do our deepest work off the stage and this is what I want to support.”

SDW Loves Proxemic Media

Proxemic Media 

Proxemic Media presented ShaLeigh Dance Works & Renay Aumiller on Friday, November 16th at Empower Dance Studio downtown for Third Friday. Proxemic’s Third Friday events offer the community an opportunity to experience some of the dance works being made here in the vibrant southeast.

Proxemic Media is a Durham, N.C.-based organization that provides affordable administrative services—securing venues, raising funds, marketing—so that artists can focus on developing their craft. Furthermore, it provides an opportunity for audiences to get closer to arts experiences by presenting performances beyond the theater setting.


Founder & Director Myra Weise has developed over ten years of arts administration experience working for renowned arts companies such as the American Dance Festival, Pilobolus, and within the proliferating arts community at Duke University in the Ticketing and Theater Operations department as well as the Nasher Museum of Art. From marketing and advertising to ticketing and venue management to audience services, the through-line of her career in the arts has been customer service. Whether the “customer” is a presenter, an artist or an audience member, Weise always works to anticipate their needs one step ahead thereby creating a pro-active, productive working environment. A professionally trained dancer, Weise has a unique understanding and perspective of choreographers needs as they seek to manifest their vision.

“November brought together two dance companies local to Durham for the past five years, Renay Aumiller Dances (RAD) and ShaLeigh Dance Works. And for about as equally as long, Proxemic Media founder Myra Weise has wanted to see their works alongside each other in the same program! Choreographers Renay Aumiller and ShaLeigh Comerford have consistently exuded technical virtuosity, compelling composition and a unique creative voice that gets only stronger with time.”

ShaLeigh Dance Works presented an excerpt of their upcoming evening length work Bamboo Wind set to premiere this January 17th through 20th at The Durham Fruit and Produce. Bamboo Wind commissions 20 artists in the fields of music, film, poetry, photography, sculpture, theatre, costume design, and dance for a major multi-art installation and performance.

Renay Aumiller and husband Dave Yarwood performed a process-exposed duet which means it was created in the moment by using a computer program designed by Dave. As the performances happened twice throughout the evening, the duet was entirely unique for each audience.

SDW performs at NCMA Gala

Larry Wheeler, who served as Director of the North Carolina Museum of Art for 24 years, led the museum during periods of historic growth, including the expansion of the park, amphitheater, and West Wing Building.  A former ‘Tar Heel of the Year’ winner, Wheeler’s friends and coworkers came together for a large gala celebrating his retirement.

Wheeler retired Nov. 1 after 24 years according to this article in the Washington Post by Geoff Edgers: “The North Carolina Museum of Art might as well be a solar system away from the international art fairs, auction halls and bicoastal behemoths that suck up so much of the art world’s oxygen. But during his tenure, Wheeler created a cultural hot spot in a state once known mainly for college basketball, Krispy Kreme and Andy Griffith. The North Carolina Museum of Art has a rich collection, a thriving exhibition program and an outdoor concert stage. A network of trails thread through its 164-acre campus. Over Wheeler’s tenure, he has added a glass-walled second building, doubled his staff and repeatedly broken attendance records. There are also things you can’t measure, the bold strokes and attitude that he brought to a once-sleepy institution.”

“For me, Larry’s just turned the lights on at the museum,” said Ann Goodnight, a onetime volunteer who, during Wheeler’s tenure, became a trustee and multimillion-dollar donor with her husband, Jim. “Before him, the museum was a hidden secret.”

SDW company members Anthony Nelson and Megan Rindoks joined the performing cast and donned the blue fabric pictured above to bring Ellsworth Kelly‘s Blue Panel to life. The nine-foot-tall, eight-foot-wide blue canvas according to Matthew Dunco in this article, aims to transform art into an almost spiritual experience. He states that the indifference we may feel while viewing it, neglects the experience of standing before it. That “indifference stems from simply accepting what is at face value, and art should never, ever be viewed as such.” I can’t think of a better painting for these two dancers to express, as they simply have a such a depth to bring to their movement that reveals the layers of possibility even the simplest of tasks.

This documentary follows Amanda Finch, Executive Creative Director of Down to Earth Aerials, who coordinated and managed all the performing artists across the campus and oversaw costume design. 

For more information: www.downtoearthaerials.com

SDW is a proud supporter of Live Globally!

ShaLeigh Dance Works is proud to be supporters of  Live Globally! We were honored to perform our movement installation entitled Invocations originally commissioned by North Carolina Museum of Art as well as our very first sneak peek of from our upcoming world premiere Bamboo Wind on behalf of their Winter Water Gala!


Live Globally works to improve the health and well-being of the children. The communities they engage are chosen with intentionality and care—ensuring they can successfully sustain the project’s effectiveness long after we are gone.

The Gala was held at The Durham Fruit and supported the children of Durham, the Ingrid School in Nairobi and Costa Rica with clean water projects!


Live Globally seeks out under resourced communities with minimal infrastructure for the health and well being of the children within the community. This happens, unfortunately, all over the world. When we choose communities to work with, we do so intentionally with the knowledge that the community will successfully sustain the project long after we are gone. By supporting liveglobally programs you are supporting unforgettable opportunities for meaningful sustainable impact!

To donate or learn more about this fabulous organization and how you can get involved, visit –> https://www.liveglobally.com/

NCDF Greensboro Tour

NCDF presents ShaLeigh Dance Works’ Dead Mans Walk, the company’s touring excerpt from I Promise at Greensboro Project Space Gallery.

Tonight we performed Dead Man’s Walk as a part of NCDF at Greensboro Project Space Gallery. The performance also featured The Bipeds and Megan Mazarick. In this intimate performance space, The Bipeds’ presented their duet for banjo and movement hybrid of dance and song. Megan Mazarick’s  solo dance story “monster,” unpacked female identity in new ways, remixing the metaphor of “hero vs. villain” to showcase the body in transformation. A short audience/artist conversation followed with an eager audience and great questions. We were excited to have such an engaged audience with so much curiosity and inquisitiveness about our work!

We left feeling so appreciative of our well received performance and I was elated to see my former mentor Christopher Morgan  in the audience! I was paired with Christopher as my mentor in 2009 as resident artist with Dance Theatre Workshop. Only while writing this am I learning that they closed their doors in 2011, one year after I left NYC. DTW was a prominent performance space and service organization for dance companies in NYC. It was founded in 1965 by Jeff Duncan, Art Bauman and Jack Moore as a choreographers’ collective. In 2002 DTW opened the Doris Duke Performance Center, which contained the 192-seat Bessie Schönberg Theatre.  It was incredible to chat about this work with Christopher after he witnessed my very beginnings in NYC in 2008. To sum up his words, he simply said, “It was beautiful. Keep going.” And like an early 20 something all over again, I was ecstatic. Leading a company is not an easy journey though I wouldn’t trade it for the world. But in that moment I was filled with utter hope and confidence. Keep going.