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“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.