048: How do we do the impossible? Choreographer ShaLeigh Comerford explores collaboration and sustainability

Creating a sustainable revenue stream for artists often seems impossible – how do we do the impossible? ShaLeigh Comerford, dancer, choreographer, and the Artistic  Director of ShaLeigh Dance Works based in Durham, NC discusses how she and her dancers create original work through collaborative questioning, her quest to attain financial sustainability, and arts activism. We also learn about two movement languages – Gaga, and ShaLeigh’s own Shaga.

AND, Tamara answers an ASK THE SOAPBOX question submitted by a listener.

ShaLeigh Comerford is an Irish & Native American dancer, choreographer and the artistic director of ShaLeigh Dance Works based in Durham, NC. She is a graduate of Hollins University with a Master’s degree in Visual and Performing Arts. Her choreography and commissions have been presented throughout the United States and abroad. The company’s success has taken them from performances and residencies in NYC to Germany, England, Israel and Japan. Since establishing Durham, NC as their home base in 2014, the company has celebrated touring with the North Carolina Dance Festival, performing at the prestigious American Dance Festival and presenting two evening length works as showcased artists of Durham Independent Dance Artists. Their recent premiere of I Promise was listed by Byron Woods as one of “Five exceptional dances from 2017.”

Upcoming events and performances by ShaLeigh Dance Works:

Friday, December 7, 2018

Annual Shaleigh Dance Works Fundraiser Reality Ministries Ballroom, Durham, NC.

January  17-20, 2019  

The  World  Premiere  of Bamboo  Wind at The  Fruit, Durham,  NC.

Check out shaleighdanceworks.com for more info on these and other events!

This episode is brought to you by the Soapboxers, the official patrons of the Artist Soapbox. If you like these episodes and want more, get on the Soapbox! This episode was recorded at the ASBX home studio. Artist Soapbox theme music by Bart Matthews.

Connect and Follow!

ASK THE SOAPBOX: Submit your question and get it answered on the Soapbox. Listeners are invited to submit anonymous questions to the podcast whether creative, personal, professional, or artistic. It’s like a quick version of Dear Abby, Dear Sugar, Ask Polly meets the Soapbox. Today’s featured question comes from Community Seeker.

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Time break-down:

[0:00] Episode Intro, Later in the Episode: Answering an anonymous question from “Community Seeker”, ShaLeigh’s bio

[2:45] ShaLeigh’s initial impulse and inspiration to form her own company, create her own work and a common language, and pursuing that “full time”.

[4:53] What does this process look like on a weekly basis? What does the season look like?

[6:31] What it means to be a leader: An investment in the dances, sharing a vision, and making sure we’re all a part of something bigger, a real sense of collaboration, and the desire to fund the company members.

[9:14] What is worthy about the work? Not becoming agreeable with the idea that artists are project based.

[10:04] Often artists are paid for performance, but not rehearsals. ShaLeigh and other choreographers and dancers are trying to figure out how to bridge the gap and create sustainability.

[13:54] Talk to the people with the money and create collaborations. In the spirit of collaboration, ShaLeigh talks about The Bamboo Wind Project- bringing in artists from different genres, cross pollinating different ideas and audiences in hopes of creating a new infrastructure. It takes a village.

[14:33] Find the uniqueness that generates revenue. The uniqueness of ShaLeigh Dance Works: The people, passion for humanity, and working with the movement language, Shaga.

[17:30] What is Shaga and Gaga? And no, its not Lady Gaga. What do these movement languages look like and what are their origins?

[20:55] How might Shaga be used to develop a piece?

[24:51] Shaga is a movement language and a philosophy. The more we can move the more we can say. ShaLeigh shares a story of working with an injured dancer using Shaga.

[28:08] How does this affect what the audience sees? The opportunity to share a sense of humanity, trust, and compassion with the dancers

[29:05] The activism and community work of ShaLeigh Dance Works

[33:28] Looking ahead for ShaLeigh Dance Works

[34:55] The annual ShaLeigh Dance Works Fundraiser and the Bamboo Wind Project which will bring artists of all kinds together to create a unique and visually stunning piece.

[39:38] ShaLeigh tells us about rehearsal and overcoming “the freak out moment” which allows the forms to reveal themselves.

[43:01] DEAR SOAPBOX: Tamara answers a question from “Community Seeker”, a listener looking to cultivate a community for street theatre performance project. How do you cultivate communities of interest, especially for artistic work that may be unfamiliar to people?

[50:00] Thanks and sign-off


  • Artists are not merely “performance-based”
  • Talk to the people with the money and create collaborations
  • It takes a village
  • Find the uniqueness that generates revenue
  • If you can say it, why is it a dance?
  • Building a community is about narrowing down, specificity, and persistence
  • Look outside the “established” community
  • Don’t take it personally

Artist Soapbox podcast is a listener supported podcast. If you listen, please support the podcast by sharing episodes with friends and contributing via our Patreon campaign.

If you have feedback, questions, suggestions, please email artistsoapbox@gmail.com. FEEDBACK IS EVERYTHING TO ASBX.

ShaLeigh quotes:

There’s a real sense of collaboration that’s central to the ethos of what we do and the way we think. We love bringing in questions, they love questioning me and the questions that they bring in usually changes the choreography, deepens the choreography.”

“If we can bring our creativity to the stage we can possibly bring more creativity to our finances.”

Artist Soapbox

Artist Soapbox is a platform for original scripted audio fiction and an opportunity for artists to discuss their creative work in their own voices. We do this through our interview podcast, our blog, live events, and original audio dramas.

Artist Soapbox is an anti-racist organization. We believe Black Lives Matter. In addition, as a podcast production company, ASBX has signed the Equality in Audio Pact on Broccoli Content.

Artist Soapbox is more than just a podcast.

We lead writers groups, accountability support, workshops, and events. We produce and create audio dramas too! Listen to the Master BuilderThe New Colossus Audio Drama, Jesus Pancake, Declaration of Love, Food for Thought, and ASBX Shorts. Stay tuned to hear about more projects written by the Soapbox Audio Collective Writers’ Group.

Audio Dramas

Jesus (1400 × 1400 px)-2

Jesus Pancake

Jesus Pancake is the newest scripted audio fiction series from Artist Soapbox. Nine episodes of zany dark comedy.


The New Colossus

The New Colossus Audio Drama is a totally unhinged dark comedy reboot of Anton Chekhov’s classic play, THE SEAGULL.


Master Builder

This audio drama was adapted from Tamara’s 2018 stage play produced by Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern and inspired by Henrick Ibsen’s classic, The Master Builder published in 1892.


Declaration of Love

Co-producers Aurelia Belfield and Tamara Kissane of Artist Soapbox commissioned eleven NC playwrights to craft short audio scenes based on the prompt “Declaration of Love.”


Food for Thought

Three pilot episodes of new scripted audio fiction series inspired by the prompt Food for Thought.


ASBX Shorts

ASBX Shorts are six short audio fiction pieces created and produced by North Carolina artists. Artist Soapbox Shorts were specifically contributed by the artists to aid in fundraising and to get everyone excited about Jesus Pancake, our new audio fiction series in development.

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