ShaLeigh Comerford (Founder) Before dance, yoga was my first education. In my early childhood I spent a lot of time at the Prema Dharmasala Monastic Ashram where my older sister was in school. The school was founded by Sri Vasudevadas, yogi, disciple of Paramahansa Yogananda, and teacher in the Naqshbandi line of sufis. My mother was also a student of Paramahansa Yogananda and studied the teachings of Kriya Yoga. From an early age I was also introduced to the teachings of The Bhagavad Gita, The Upanishads, The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Madame Blavatsky, Edgar Cayce, Eugene Ferson, the Vedas, and learning sacred mantras such as the Gayatri Mantra – which speaks to the life force that is latent in everyone and is a big part of our teaching philosophy today. These teachings embody the philosophies, foundations, and beginnings of my physical practice.
As a young adult, I was introduced to Peter Levine’s Somatic Experiencing, which launched the research and development of my first movement program for individuals with special needs. In 2003, I created an integrated dance program offering classes and performance opportunities for children with mixed abilities at the Roanoke Ballet Theatre. During my masters program at Hollins University, I began developing The Power of Identity through Movement, an embodied, somatic practice for individuals with physical disabilities. Over the course of 5 years, I continued creating movement programs for individuals with mental illness, hearing and vision impairments, at-risk youth, and survivors of trauma while serving as an In-Home Relief Counselor for Blue Ridge Community Services, Family Case Specialist for Total Action Against Poverty, and Therapeutic Recreation Technician for the Roanoke County Recreation Department.
In 2006, I was certified in Creative Arts Therapies and expanded my work with survivors of domestic violence while assisting the development of Gina Gibney’s Community Action Programs in New York City. The following year I began developing movement programs for at-risk female youth at Sadie Nash Leadership Project. In 2011, I was 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. After spending time in the program, I decided to return to America to continue developing my movement research within a larger field of somatic practices. In 2012, I began training professional dancers and actors in contemporary techniques, injury prevention, and recovery. The success rate of physical recovery, expanded range of motion, and technical agility expanded into offering donation-based classes at the growing request of the community. These donation classes were first available to the community in 2014 and took form as ShaGa: the first three letters of my name and Ga which pays tribute to my foundations in Yoga. In Sanskrit, anga means a part of the body and sarvanga means the whole body. ShaGa offers the many parts of our whole a personal gateway towards physical healing and transformation.
Since moving to NC, I have worked with trauma survivors, recovering drug & alcohol users, yogis, individuals with special needs, aging adults, actors, dancers, as well as in injury recovery and prevention. Today, my movement research continues to be augmented by philosophy, pathology, pain & trauma recovery, intrinsic movement, integral anatomy, experiential anatomy, proprioception, sensory awareness, vipassana, ideokinesis, body-mind centering, and neurophysiology. Since launching my company full-time in 2015, I continue to channel my lifelong research into an evolving movement practice that serves as the company’s weekly movement training.
Isabelle Frame (Teacher) I remember being introduced to ShaGa a little over seven years ago. During that time I was preparing a solo with ShaLeigh for a competition and I didn’t know too much about this movement language. I was curious, I thought maybe it was a way to find new choreographic material to use in creating the solo. From then I started dipping my feet into it more and more. I fell in love with the practice once finally joining the company in late summer of 2018, things began to click for me in the dance world. After an internal battle of wondering what I wanted to do in my life, I knew I wanted to move in this direction. It wasn’t just how this practice helped expand my body’s knowledge of its own movement capacity, but how it guided my body to heal its own injuries that I neglected. Now as a ShaGa Teacher, it’s my life goal to continue my research in this movement and offer it to everyone I meet! It has given me groundbreaking discoveries in my own body and mind, and I know it has more to show me.
Steven James Rodriguez Velez (Teacher) I’ve been in North Carolina for 5 years now, teaching and dancing all over the state. I met ShaLeigh 4 years ago and fell in love with this movement right away. I’ve been full time in the company for two years now but this last year has been the most important and amazing one because I’ve had the opportunity and the experience to go deeper in this practice by doing the teacher training 4 days a week. It has been rigorous but I have found pleasure and more passion for it. It has changed my way of seeing movement and teaching; it’s like adding a new language – Spanish, English, ShaGa. ShaGa has expanded my possibilities on research and has helped me to find a way of internal healing; mentally and physically. This practice has taught me how to use all the information that is outside like inside, that already exists to have access to things by allowing, having the willingness to go beyond and has taught me to listen more so we can go deeper and have a better experience. This practice is a never ending story that we can change the patterns anytime. It’s a practice for everyone; you just need to give yourself permission to… Come groove with us and share a smile, the experience and your knowledge and let’s share it with the world.
Bart Westdorp-Crawford (Teacher) entered into the ShaGa teacher training without a background in dance. He had been teaching yoga and mindfulness for many years, but felt that there were layers of understanding within himself that he was not yet able to connect to. He studied with Dharma Mittra in New York (eventually completing his 800hr yoga teacher training) and Thich Nhat Hanh in France, who both inspired him to teach from a place of humility and compassion. In 2014 he discovered ShaGa, and something was awoken in him. He was able to start feeling a liberation in his physical and emotional body that had eluded him before. He practiced ShaGa as often as he could, and in 2019 was invited to join ShaLeigh’s inaugural teacher training. This training took him into depths that he didn’t even realize were there. It started weaving together all of his previous insights and studies into a fully embodied somatic healing practice.
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