Did You Know? Bahiya Movement

By In Dance

September 1, 2019, PUBLISHED BY IN DANCE

Photo by Chani Bockwinkel

Highlighting the Activities of Artists/Organizations in Our Region

Bahiya Movement was founded in 2011 by mother/daughter team Afia and Nafi Thompson. Bahiya is a Swahili/Arabic word which means beautiful.

Bahiya Movement’s mission is to create a safe, welcoming and body positive environment where everyone of all shapes, sizes, and genders are transformed into performing artists. By offering dance etiquette paired with traditional dance technique, members learn to make beautiful movement all while having lots of fun. Bahiya Movement’s vision is to cross and break barriers regarding body image and self-esteem through the art of dance. They believe that body size, type, or gender does not define you as a dancer. Rather, skill, technical training, creativity and love for the art defines the artist.

Two people holding hands, smiling, and standing on train tracks
Photo by F. Asha Passalacqua

How did dance enter your lives?

Afia Thompson: Dance started and entered my life when I was in my mother’s womb. My mother Pam Thompson danced Traditional Haitian dance under the direction of Blanche Brown. My mother continued her studies of dance for several years with my father Ron Thompson (a percussionist that studied and performed locally in the Bay Area with such greats as Pete Escovedo). My mother then started my Traditional West African dance training with her very good friend Rehema Yenbere in the mid-1980s when I was 10 years old. I studied with Ms. Yenbere for a few more years, then auditioned for Diamano Coura Dance Company with my parents, and we started our journey towards perfecting our craft with Dr. Zakariya and Naomi Diouf. I continued dancing professionally with Diamona Coura and was offered the dance captain position when I was 16 years old. I held that position until I moved to Atlanta, GA with my one-year-old daughter Nafi to purse my BS in Business Administration. At the age of 18, I taught Traditional West African Dance in the Spelman College Dance Department and was offered to direct their off-campus Ethnic Dance Company from 1995-1998. In 1999, I returned to Oakland to pursue my master’s in Human Resources. I also returned to Diamano Coura and stayed until I branched out and founded Bahiya Movement with my daughter Nafi in 2011.

My love for dance became the perfect avenue to help deviate me from becoming a statistic of the Oakland streets. Therefore, dance truly saved my life. Growing up as an inquisitive teen, I experienced obstacles and challenges and without the outlet of dance my life story would have turned out extremely different. I am truly thankful for the way my life has manifested. I am thankful for all the great masters that played an influential part in molding me towards becoming the profound person I am now.

Nafi Thompson: Same as my mother, dance also entered my life when I was still in my mother’s womb. My mother Afia continued performing professionally until one month before my arrival. Therefore, the embodiment, love, and passion for dance was instilled in me before birth. My formal dance training started at the tender age of 3 years old in the youth dance program at Spelman College in Atlanta, GA. My mother enrolled me in their tiny tots’ ballet and African movement classes in 1996. My mother and I returned to Oakland in 1999, where she enrolled me in Dimension Dance Theatre’s Rites of Passage youth program under the direction of Tanya Tigner. I continued with the Rites of Passage program (perfecting my technique) until I was ready to audition for Dimension Extension Performance Ensemble (DEPE). I auditioned and was accepted into DEPE at the age of 12. Due to my advanced skill level, DEPE accepted me one year sooner than the actual age limit. From my mother’s womb until right now, my love for dance continued to affirm that dance will always be a part of my life. Not only did my mother dance, my grandmother and grandfather are artists and they too were an inspiration towards my destiny for dance to encompass all facets of my life.

Describe Bahiya Movement?

Nafi & Afia: Bahiya Movement creates and presents live performances throughout the San Francisco Bay Area, touching upon social issues such as body image, race, and sex trafficking, to name a few. Bahiya Movement has collaborated and produced work for youth companies such as Dance-A-Vision under Carla Service, Destiny Arts Center Youth Dance Company under Sarah Crowell, and Mini Mix’d Youth Dance Company under Jenay ShinobiJaxx Anolin. Bahiya Movement participated in Ms. Zakiya Harris’, a cultural architect, artist and educator, video abracadabrakaafrica in 2016. The company has also presented work at the Oakland Art and Soul Festival, Black Choreographers, Denmark Arts Center in Denmark, Maine, San Francisco Carnaval, and The Palace of Fine Arts, and RAW natural born artist showcase.

We enjoy working with the youth, they are the next generation of dancers. The youth dancers take away great knowledge of the African culture and a better understanding of becoming a professional artist. Most of the work produced for the youth are around social issues such as homelessness, bullying, and self-confidence, and seeing the audience smile and cheering the youth on confirm that we are on the right track towards building a better community one youth at a time.

Bahiya Movement fuses traditional dance styles from across the African Diaspora from Mali, Guinea, Gambia, Senegal, DR Congo, and Liberia, with contemporary Basic Ballet and Modern Jazz, standard Hip-hop, House, Reggaeton from the Caribbean, and freestyle movement.

What are you currently working on? 

Nafi & Afia: Bahiya Movement is currently working on two events: GLO Artist Showcase supported by SAFEhouse Arts is where Bahiya Movement invites dance, spoken word and visual art artists to submit their work to be considered for Bahiya Movement GLO Artist Showcase on November 2, And the second is, Bahiya Movement’s 2020 Believe In Self emerging artists mentorship program. This is an intensive paid residency that cultivates the artistic growth of artists ages 18-22. Led by mentor artists from the dance community, mentees will work collectively to produce a solo and group performance that includes spoken word, paired with movement.

What’s it like to work as mother-daughter duo?

Afia: It’s been a delightful journey working, building, creating, and growing with my daughter. My artistic experience with her will be held close to my heart for eternity. We have both learned a lot about each other and continue to deepen our trust day by dancing day. I would not trade this experience for nothing in the world. I started my artist journey with my parents and now with my daughter. We have continued the family tradition of those who dance and build art together, stay together.

My daughter and my dance styles complement each other so well, creating a perfect fusion of Beautiful “Bahiya” Movement.

I enjoy choreographing with Nafi, it’s like magic. Over the years we have smoothed out the kinks of our creative process, and now it comes with creative ease, performing and teaching as a dynamic mother-daughter-duo (MDD).

Nafi: Working with my mother has its ups and downs, but I am beyond thankful to be able to share my art and creative styles with her. The best part of performing and/or choreographing is shocking people when they hear that we are a mother and daughter team.

What’s a future goal for the company?

Nafi & Afia: The future of Bahiya Movement is to build and sustain our three recently established programs, which are Believe In Self emerging artist mentorship program, GLO Artist Showcase, and our yearly GLO Movement dance workshops series. Bahiya Movement will continue building social justice work, building community, having fun, and enjoying the art of dance.

Who or what inspires you both?

Afia: My daughter is truly my inspiration. Nafi is amazing – her calmness, level headedness, and openness to be patient and approachable really is a guide for me and others to model after. My parents are also my inspiration.  They instilled in me that I have the power to become anything I set my mind towards, with meditation, a positive outlook on life, and the belief that without a doubt that all is always working out for me.

I am inspired by the great masters – Josephine Baker, Debbie Allen, Alvin Ailey, and Fatima Robinson, to name a few. I am inspired by great out-of-the-box art, art that takes risks, art that is thought-provoking, art that supports the youth, and art that moves you. Art that makes you happy and inspires you to do good in the world and lastly art that makes you simply say ‘HMMMM, interesting.’

Nafi: Honestly my mother is my inspiration.

Do you have a favorite song or type of music to dance to?

Afia: My favorite song is “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” by Bobby McFerrin. I enjoy dancing to all ethnic music, jazz, some country, some alternative, hip-hop, house, reggae, some reggaeton.

Nafi: I love alternative music and house music.

What’s a piece of advice that you still hold onto?

Nafi & Afia: Never compare yourself to the next person and always send positive energy and support. Be open to change, appreciate where you came from, where you are currently, and daydream all the time towards your future. Make lots of mistakes, you never get it wrong, and you always have the opportunity to improve.

What haven’t we asked that you want people to know?

Nafi: I have a very good impact on the youth. I can connect with them very well and I am able to be a positive role model for them.

Afia: This life is all we have, so make the best of it. Have fun, laugh often, share smiles, give hugs, and inspire each other to be the best we can be. Dance, sing, and love big!


This article appeared in the September 2019 issue of In Dance.

In Dance is a publication of Dancers' Group.