BREAKING BARRIERS: MoveAbility

ShaLeigh has had a lifelong passion to dissolve barriers and connect people to opportunities to discover themselves on their own terms. For ShaLeigh, movement and performance can mean many things.

In 2003, she helped launch Roanoke’s first integrated dance program for children with mixed abilities at the Roanoke Ballet Theatre. Within the classroom and rehearsal setting, she created a structure that revolved around simple and obtainable tasks that were then layered upon over a period of time. She created consistent opportunities for making choices and decisions within movement. Her goals were for the dancers to discover self-expressive actions, strengthen self-knowledge, and increase self-awareness through movement like a progression of possibilities. Through using this method, she was able to witness the dancers do what doctors said was not physically possible due to their disabilities. She watched a dancer that was never supposed to be able to run, run; and a dancer that was never supposed to be able to jump, jump. The program not only provided dance classes, but for the first time in Roanoke, a professional performance opportunity. That experience changed her life and the lives of those that participated as well as their families. She still remembers the sounds of the audience gasping and mother’s crying in the wings as they entered the stage. It was powerful and everyone left that moment changed by what access to a stage can do.

The purpose of BREAKING BARRIERS: MoveAbility is to continue making dance classes and performances accessible to a broader spectrum of abilities. The need for inclusive practices remains considerable in our arts community. Many residents do not have access to dance classes and are instead steered towards group activities remaining deprived of truly engaging in art and the broader community. It is our hope that this work will lead to new initiatives and approaches that continue to evolve inclusive practices and opportunities that focus on ability, and what we can do as artists to create experiences of dance in a more meaningful way.

Each year, ShaLeigh Dance Works creates programs designed to empower and uplift individuals of all abilities and enrich our community. The 2018-2019 season offered multiple performances bringing mixed-ability movers to professional stages and panel discussions on making dance inclusive and welcoming to people of all abilities. Our 2019-2020 season forged a new partnership with The Reality Center to provide weekly movement classes for teens and adults with developmental disabilities as a part of their Day Program. Through our partnerships with The Reality Center and Arts Access, we have produced 5 professional performances at theaters in Cary and Durham. We aim to increase the number of our programs by building new relationships with people and organizations around the country that align with our goals and mission.