ShaLeigh Comerford (Founder) ShaLeigh Comerford has researched healing movement modalities for more than 15 years. Her work resulted in the development of ShaGa, a living movement practice based on the unity of energy-consciousness and its relationship to health and disease. It is a comprehensive approach to personal transformation and healing grounded in her lifelong journey and direct experiences with others.
ShaLeigh is an Irish & Native American choreographer, performer, educator, advocate, and the artistic director of ShaLeigh Dance Works based in Durham, NC. ShaLeigh Dance Works was founded in 2005 and is a nonprofit, dance-theatre company dedicated to creating work for social change. As an intuitive, survivor and former social worker, she has dedicated her life to assisting individuals in their personal process of healing and transformation. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Painting and Poetry and a Masters degree in Visual and Performing Arts. In addition to an international career devoted to dance, her research has been augmented by studying the Human Energy Field, Chi Gong, Experiential Anatomy, Continuum Movement, Voice & Gesture, Franklin Method, Viewpoints & Improvisation, CranioSacral Therapy, Feldenkrais, Alexander Technique, and The Pathwork.
Yoga was ShaLeigh’s first introduction to the synthesis of philosophy and movement. Her older sister attended the Prema Dharmasala Monastic Ashram where ShaLeigh spent time in her early childhood. The school was founded by Sri Vasudevadas, yogi, disciple of Paramahansa Yogananda and teacher in the Naqshbandi line of sufis. Her mother was also a student of Paramahansa Yogananda and studied the universal teachings of Kriya Yoga. From an early age she was introduced to the spiritual teachings of The Bhagavad Gita, The Upanishads, The Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, the work of Madame Blavatsky, the Vedas, and learning sacred mantras such as the Gayatri – which speaks to the life force that is latent in everyone and is a big part of ShaGa’s teaching philosophy today.
As a young adult, ShaLeigh was introduced to Peter Levine’s Somatic Experiencing while launching her first healing movement program for special populations. In 2003, she started the first integrated dance program for children with mixed abilities at the Roanoke Ballet Theatre. During her masters program at Hollins University, she began developing The Power of Identity through Movement, an embodied, somatic practice for individuals with physical disabilities. Over the course of 5 years, she expanded her movement programs to 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, she was certified in Creative Arts therapies and expanded her work with survivors of domestic violence while assisting the development of Gina Gibney’s Community Action Programs in New York City. The following year she began developing empowerment programs through movement for at-risk female youth at Sadie Nash Leadership Project. 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. Today, her research is augmented by philosophy, pathology, pain & trauma recovery, intrinsic movement, integral anatomy, experiential anatomy, authentic movement, proprioception, sensory awareness, vipassana, pranayama, ideokinesis, mind-body centering, neuroplasticity, and neurophysiology.
Since moving to NC, she has worked with trauma survivors, recovering drug & alcohol users, yogis, individuals with special needs, aging adults, as well as professional actors and dancers. She has taught throughout the United States and Europe as well as Israel and Japan.
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.