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A Tribute to Thea Nerissa Barnes & Launch of the Thea Barnes Legacy Fund.

I discussed the great loss of my "sister-cousin" Thea Nerissa Barnes, who passed in December 2018, in previous blog posts. For our new visitors, Thea was an incredible dancer, choreographer, researcher and teacher within the dance community. She trained with The Julian Swain Inner City Dance Theatre, Arthur Mitchell's Dance Theatre of Harlem, Igor Schwezoff, and DanceAfrica founder Chuck Davis. She danced with Alvin Ailey and Martha Graham. She taught dance all over the world and eventually became the Resident Dance Supervisor for Disney's West End production of The Lion King musical in 2001. She held this position until 2018.

In addition to her many career accomplishments, Thea was an amazing influence in my life. Truthfully, I would not have this business in the capacity that it exists today were it not for her. From her sense of style, travel adventures, dedication, humility and constant encouragement to embrace my cultural identity and inner fierceness, I evolved in many areas of my life. I am beyond grateful that I knew this beautiful woman and that we shared such a strong and intimate familial bond.

I knew Thea was special to me, but I recently found out just how special she was to the dance community when my "Ghanaian sister" Akosua Boakye BEM proposed the idea to hold a tribute event for Thea. Akosua, who was also Thea's friend and mentee, is also the founder of AkomAsa Performing Arts Academy ( and Children's Casting Coordinator for The Lion King, London. Thea believed in her abilities and so I jumped at the chance to collaborate with her. However, I had no clue that the event would quickly become what it did. I was deeply moved when I learned about all of the people who signed on to volunteer their time, expertise and/or resources to assist with the event. I was honored to not only design the booklet for the event, but to also travel to London with my sister Kamilah to attend and represent the family at the event.

We were given tickets to see The Lion King the day before the tribute concert. It was bittersweet as the last time I saw the show, it was with my mom and Thea during our visit to London in 2011. However, the show was excellent and it was a special gift to see the show that Thea had worked on for the past 18 years, again.

After seeing The Lion King, we were treated to a delicious tapas dinner with Darcel Osei, Francisco De Souza Lins, Celise Hicks, Michelle Allen, Diane McLean and Marey Griffith.

The tribute concert was held at the Lyceum Theatre, the theatrical home of The Lion King, London.

Countless performers and speakers took the stage or provided videos to pay tribute to Thea. Dancers performed choreography created especially for her, singers sang songs, excerpts were read from her published works, clips of her dancing were shown and more than 860 people filled the theatre's seats to witness it all. Everyone had undoubtedly been impacted by Thea over the course of her extensive career. I was deeply moved by the concert and those who had traveled from other countries, like my sister and me, to be in attendance. No one was paid for their attendance, yet they felt it was important for them to be there.

Urdang Academy, choreographed by Nathan "Neo" Gordon, kicked off the tribute with an explosive performance set to the music of Beyonce's "Freedom," featuring Kendrick Lamar. Photo by Christopher iCHA

Dr. H Patten, Artistic Director of Koromanti Arts and Yassmin V. Foster, Lecturer in Dance Practices at Middlesex University, read excerpts from Thea's research on Fanga. Photo by Christopher iCHA

Award-winning West End actor, Matt Henry MBE and West End performer Rachel John sang "Home" from the musical "The Wiz," which Thea performed in the film and Broadw