THEA NERISSA BARNES
“Something has to drive you, and it has to be desire.” – Thea Nerissa Barnes
This year didn’t start off well for me. Instead of engaging in the usual excitement surrounding the beginning of a new year, I spent this time mourning the loss of my cousin, Thea Nerissa Barnes, who passed away on December 28, 2018. Although Thea was my first cousin (my father’s niece), she was more like a big sister to me. She was an amazing dancer, choreographer, teacher, mentor, and researcher who was well-respected in the international dance community. She was also one of the greatest influences in my life. Along with my parents, Thea helped shape me into the woman I am today. She selflessly taught me so much and stood as a living and breathing example of what could be achieved if you dared to believe in yourself and worked hard to achieve your goals.
In her remarkable career, Thea danced with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and she was a principal dancer with Martha Graham Dance Company. She toured the world performing in places such as Italy, Spain, Israel, Egypt, Yugoslavia, Japan and Denmark. She performed on Broadway in Scott Joplin’s Treemonisha and The Wiz. She also starred in the film version of The Wiz alongside Michael Jackson and Diana Ross. Thea danced with Mikhail Baryshnikov, Rudolph Nureyev, and on the stages of historic venues including New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Palais Garnier Opera House in Paris, France.
I was impressed with how voraciously Thea pursued her dreams - wherever they took her. She lived and worked in Chicago, New York, Paris, and London at different stages of her career. She was always growing and evolving. At one time, she founded her own dance company. She earned a BFA from Juilliard as well as master's degrees from Columbia University and City University, London. She received yoga certification in India and taught master dance classes in Chicago, New York, Jamaica, Alaska, Amsterdam and London. She researched and wrote published works on dance. She was recruited by Disney's The Lion King to serve in the role of Resident Dance Supervisor for London's West End production of the musical. She retired from this position after 18 exceptional years in that role. While in London, Thea even obtained dual citizenship.
Focused and determined...
Demonstrating technique. *Photo courtesy of The Lion King.
Helping a Lion King dancer execute the choreography. *Photo courtesy of The Lion King.
London in 2011 with Thea and my mom after seeing The Lion King. My sister Kamilah took the photo.
Thea also excelled in other areas of her life. She had impeccable fashion and interior decorating style. She made hand-sewn, professional-quality performance costumes for dancers, unique beaded bracelets for herself and family and custom accents for her home that included decorative pillows, window treatments, throw blankets and light pull chain cords that rivaled anything you would find in retail stores. Speaking of retail, Thea was the first person to introduce me to Pier 1 Imports when I was a child. I remember immediately falling in love with their collection of high-low merchandise sourced from around the globe. Like Pier 1 Imports, she also collected items from her own travels that she used to decorate.
Always stylish! Thea's scarf game was tight! LOL She is the reason that I love wearing long and funky scarves with my coats or jackets.
Thea would return home to Chicago a couple of times a year to visit the family when she wasn’t touring or busy with work. Early on, she would stay in the attic of my grandparents’ home and I remember being super excited to see how she would use her global gems to transform the space. Instead of looking like a cluttered place to tuck things away and forget about them, Thea created an environment where you actually wanted to spend hours. Thanks to her décor wizardry, the attic always smelled great and was wonderfully decorated with an eclectic assortment of rugs, candles, soft fabrics and scarves draped over furniture as well as other carefully-selected travel treasures. Subconsciously, I believe her stunning attic remodel inspired the name “Global Attic.” In fact, I’m almost certain that’s where the name came from! LOL! Like Thea, my aim is to collect items that, when combined, create a global aesthetic that not only transforms bland living spaces, but also transports a person to another, more exotic place in time, mentally.
Regarding Global Attic, Thea consistently showed her support for my vision. She gifted me several items from her personal collection including rugs, blankets and custom artwork from her dance performances to sell through the business and placed me in contact with people who could help me source items directly from Ghana. Some of the items that she gifted me will be made available in the upcoming months. In August, I will also be visiting Ghana with Thea's close friend to source merchandise.
Thea striking a pose in Turks and Caicos in 2014
With Thea in Turks and Caicos in 2014 headed for a scuba-diving adventure.
"We are family!" With my "sister-cousins" Kalisha (right of me), Thea's sister Cheryl (on my left), my sister Kamilah and Thea in Turks and Caicos in 2014.
Chicago in 2016 at Devon Seafood Grill again with with my "sister-cousins!"
Trying to take a selfie in London with Thea at her beautiful flat in 2017.
In London with Thea and my twin sister Kamilah in 2011 after a spa day. Thea recommended an amazing place. She couldn't join us because she had to work, but met us afterward.
In France with Thea and my mom before climbing the 300 steps of Sacré-Cœur Basilica
On the streets of London in 2015 with Thea trying to decide where to go for clotted cream & scones. Kamilah and I stopped in London for a quick visit with Thea on our way back from Kenya.
I am proud, grateful and blessed to have known Thea Nerissa Barnes intimately. I loved her deeply as she was my beautifully talented, successful, creative, generous, kind, modest, intelligent, and supportive “sister-cousin.” She was a fearless leader who always strived to be better and encouraged those around her to do the same. Although Thea was a black female raised on the Southside of Chicago, she refused to be bound by imposed constraints of gender, race, socioeconomics or geography. She defied stereotypes and pursued her dreams. I always believed that I could be and do whatever I wanted as long as I worked hard because Thea had shown me it was possible. She taught me about discipline, work ethic, pride and humility. She taught me about yoga, Himalayan sea salts, vegetarian cooking, Ayurveda, spirituality, wanderlust, style and home decor. Above everything else, Thea taught me to dream big.
I will never forget the impact she has had on my life. Therefore, I am dedicating 2019 to Thea. In addition to fearlessly pursuing my own personal and professional goals, Global Attic will be producing the Nerissa collection this spring to honor her. The collection will be focused on global items that convey sound and motion the way Thea had done as a dancer. I’m excited to see how this year unfolds, and I invite you all to share the experience with us. Please join our email list to learn more about the items I am curating for the Nerissa collection as well as to learn when the items that Thea gifted to the company will be available for purchase.
Global Attic LLC, Exotic Home Decor