Neary was born in Miami, Florida and trained at The School of American Ballet and Harkness House, both in New York City. She danced as a soloist from 1969 to 1979 in the New York City Ballet under the direction of George Balanchine. She had numerous roles created for her by George Balanchine, Peter Martins, Jacques d'Amboise and others.
Her rich repertoire at New York City Ballet included Rubies, Brahms Schoenberg Quartet, The Four Temperaments, Serenade, Agon, Concerto Barocco, Firebird, The Concert, The Nutcracker, Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2, Symphony in C, Divertimento No. 15, and roles created by George Balanchine in Kammermusik No. 2, L'Enfant et le Sortilege and many others.
From 1975 to 1979 she was a faculty member at School of American Ballet and company teacher for New York City Ballet company. She was invited in 1979 to be Ballet Mistress and Choreographic Assistant for the Zurich Ballet. During this period she also staged Rudolf Nureyev's Don Quixote and Manfred for La Scala de Milan, Zurich Ballet and Vienna State Opera. She also performed as a guest artist in Hamburg, Munich, Berlin and Lisbon. In 1984 she was invited to be Principal Guest Artist and company teacher for Maurice Béjart's Ballet du XXième Siecle. In 1986 she was invited to join Pacific Northwest Ballet as Principal Dancer where her repertoire included Odile/Odette in Swan Lake, Titania in A Midsummer Night's Dream, Clara in The Nutcracker, Emilia in The Moors Pavane and ballets by George Balanchine, Kent Stowell, Anthony Tudor, Paul Taylor, and roles created by Glen Tetley among others. In 1992 she was invited to join The Royal Danish Ballet as Ballet Mistress and company teacher. In 1999 she became First Ballet Mistress in charge of productions, a position she held until 2002. In 1999 she staged Peter Martins' Swan Lake for the New York City Ballet.
Colleen Neary is a member of the George Balanchine Trust and has staged many of his ballets, including Agon, The Four Temperaments, Theme and Variations, Rubies, Serenade, Tarantella, Stravinsky Violin Concerto, Divertimento No.15, Piano Concerto No. 2, Concerto Barocco, Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux, and Symphony in C, for such companies as Stuttgart Ballet, Vienna State Opera, Staats Ballet Berlin, Boston Ballet, Oregon Ballet Theatre, The National Ballet of Korea, The Royal Danish Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet, Bolshoi Ballet, Maryinsky Ballet, The Finnish National Ballet, Norwegian National Ballet, and American Ballet Theatre among others.
Neary is the author of an essay on Balanchine's Brahms Schoenberg Quartet in the book Balanchine: Celebrating A Life In Dance. (Tide-mark Press, 2003.)
Colleen Neary and her husband, Thordal Christensen, are since more than ten years directors of the Los Angeles Ballet. The couple has two children, Erik Aage and Helena Patricia, both already busy as dancers, too.