A QUEERspace For All

By Afia Thompson

October 9, 2023, PUBLISHED BY IN DANCE
Two African American women posing side by side
Photo by Chani Bockwinkel
[ID: Two African American women standing side by side. The woman on the right has a black hat with blue braids, and a black belt around her waist, wearing a white shirt with a bow tie, and her left leg is bent on top of her right knee which is slightly bent as well. The woman on the left side has African markings on her face with an African cowrie shell bra, as well as an African cowrie shell belt around her waist. She has her left arm on the other woman’s right shoulder and her right leg is bent with her right foot flexed. They have a serious facial expression.]

Bahiya means beautiful in Arabic. We founded Bahiya Movement in 2011 to build a safe haven for those who are typically “othered” by white-supremacist culture, which is very present in the performing arts community and beyond.  

With Bahiya Movement all are welcomed, encouraged and supported to be unapologetically themselves! That is why, in 2023, we decided to pivot our Believe In Self (BIS) program to BIS-QUEERspace. We wanted to give those in the queer community a platform to be free, stand up and have a voice against bullying on all levels.  

A dancer poses looking outward
[Photo by TeAndra Miles. ID: A young African American male in a multi-colored red, black, and green African dashiki top and the same color shoe to match. Black pants and white sunglasses. His right arm is extended in the air and his left arm is pointed downward to the earth.]

BIS-QUEERspace is a 2-month residency designed to provide young artists, ages 18-24, the skills they need to move forward with confidence and sustainability. Participants receive mentorship, rehearsal space and equipment (when available), support with work-in-progresses, professional coaching, photo sessions, a final performance produced in collaboration with the other BIS participants and a stipend upon completion of the program.  

We pride ourselves on offering a platform where All are Welcome, just be and do YOU, boo-boo!!  

We understand that people come in many shapes and sizes, not only body types, but personality types as well. Look at Nafi and myself. As mother and daughter we bump heads and don’t always see eye to eye. We communicate through our hiccups and differences. We have attracted cool folks that don’t have drama, and we also are cool drama-free individuals.  

I have felt out of sorts in groups that state they are focused on dismantling white supremacy and supporting Black people. I have been shushed, yelled at, bullied, and gas-lit by several white-led organizations in the Bay Area. I have been told by the Black-owned organizations that I will mess it up for them, so just calm down. I have been blacklisted. And this is not just for being queer but for being unapologetically myself. 

We understand that everyone is unique and will always support that uniqueness in YOU! In order to manage and encourage the many styles of bodies Bahiya works with, we are big on everyone signing code of conduct agreements: respect yourself and respect others’ opinions and viewpoints. Judgement free zone. We talk through our differences. The same practices that Nafi and I follow for ourselves.  

As a family owned and operated business there will be hiccups along the way. Nafi and I have found that communication is extremely important. Talking through how we are feeling about the programs, participants, choreography has kept us going strong for 12 years. Do we have disagreements? Sure, most def. Did some toes get stepped on? For sure, still do, just not as much. What is most important is keeping our focus on why do we do this. It’s because of the love we have for dance. And the remembrance of how it feels to be shamed.   

Nafi and I have always been told that You are a beautiful dancer, but you’re too big, you are too Black and outspoken, you are too opinionated. We were tired of being looked at as the angry Black women. We understood that if we are feeling this way, then others are too. So, let’s not fight in house, but turn our attention on around and direct it towards those that continue to shame “others” like ourselves. From there we attract those that need to be in our family of Bahiya safe haven. By showing the world that we may be bludgeoned, but our head is not bowed! 

This article appears in the Fall 2023 issue of In Dance.

Bahiya Movement was founded by Nafi and Afia Thompson, a mother-daughter dynamic duo. Bahiya has zero tolerance for shaming, bullying, silencing and ostracizing BIPOC and LGBTQ++ folks. Dancers are loved for their different expressions of body, gender, race and culture. Through accessible training, residencies and showcases Bahiya provides resources to grow art and its impact on the world. To learn more about BIS-QUEERSpace visit https://www.bahiyamovement.com/believeinself-queerspace