At first thought, dance, engineering and activism may not seem to relate but to Raianna Brown they are three major components of her life. A professional dancer since the age of 4 and a recent graduate of the Georgia Institute of Technology, Raianna has been featured on countless platforms including Teen Vogue and Bustle for fearlessly taking a knee during a Ga Tech football game. The lone Georgia Tech Gold Rush Dancer boldly protested police brutality in 2016 but her move and dedication to fight for those who have been wrongfully silenced still echoes today in her medium of art – dance.
First introduced to dance during Spelman College’s former summer program, The Spelman Summer Drama and Dance Institute, Brown’s love for dance and performing was ignited. After the summer program was indefinitely ended, Brown begged her parents to allow her to dance not only during the summer but during the school year, as well. As she progressed, she began to co-choreograph for school musicals and eventually solo choreographed for a student production.
Though her process seemed to progress so effortlessly during her teen years, her true fight began as she approached college.
Born into a family of engineers and Georgia Tech graduates, including both of her parents and sisters, it was clear where her family wanted her to attend for college. Brown had other plans.
“I always said I wouldn’t go [to Tech],” said Brown. “I really wanted to go to Columbia [University], because they had a dance program as well as an engineering program. I knew I wanted to do both so I wanted to go to a school that could offer me the best of both worlds.”
After being hit with the harsh reality of Columbia’s expensive out- of -state tuition, and their non-existent merit-based financial aid, Brown relentlessly searched for ways for her to still bridge and study her two passions.
Brown thought that she had finally found her answer in Ga Tech’s X-degree program, which allowed students to essentially create their own program of study. However, that door was quickly shut when Brown discovered the program had been removed indefinitely from the school’s catalog.
That still didn’t deter her.
Through extensive research, Brown discovered the Arche Program. Participated by 22 schools in Georgia, the dual enrollment program allows students in their junior year to study a program at another school, not pay the additional school’s tuition and takes classes that either aren’t offered or aren’t offered at the desired level at the initial institute.
After much persistence, Brown was prematurely allowed to enroll in the program, despite her sophomore status, choosing Emory University’s dance program. However, with her great blessing, came great responsibility.
“I would take the Emory – Tech shuttle back and forth every day,” Brown recalls. “ I would go to my math class in the morning, then go to Emory for ballet, then head back to Tech for another class, and back to Emory again for Jazz and dance rehearsal. It was a lot.”
Shortly after enrolling into the dual enrollment program, tragedy struck the nation. Eric Garner had just been wrongfully killed by police.
Frustrated by Garner’s death and the current state of the nation, Brown took her hurt and put it in her dance. Brown choreographed her first activism piece “I Can’t Breath” and performed it at Emory’s Black History Program, which caught the eye of a notable dance professor at the institution.
Impressed by Brown’s fluid technique and expressionism, The teacher asked her to join him during his monthly summer program in Italy to perform her piece internationally. There, Brown realized the power of her gift.
“I performed ‘I Can’t Breathe’ in a small town in Italy,” said Brown. The people didn’t even know English, but a lot of them came up to me after the performance and told me that they don’t know what’s going on in the United States but they felt that piece and they asked if there was any way they could help. It was in that moment I realized dance could cross different barriers like language. It’s able to bypass your conscious and go to your subconscious. It makes you feel certain things. From there you can connect people about social justice.”
After returning from her trip, inspired and strongly influenced by Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly, Brown sought out Georgia Tech’s newly appointed Director of the Arts to produce a social activism dance show.
Surprisingly, after hearing Brown’s plan, the director approved the show, birthing Brown’s first dance company, Raiin, and its first show, In Human.
After an amazing community reception and a sold-out show, Brown quickly began to regroup and prepare for the next production.
Brown’s latest upcoming show, Skid, is set to premiere January 25 and 26 at Georgia Tech’s Ferst Center of the Arts, presented by KOMANSÉ Dance Theater and RCB Productions, Brown’s second iteration to her dance company.
“Skid is a celebration of the vulnerability and strength of humanity,” reads the company’s website. ” Komansé Dance Theater takes a provocative look at homelessness and gentrification in the metro Atlanta area and beyond.”
Despite already having a successful show under her belt, Brown admits leading a dance company at such a young age can be stressful and sometimes leads her to experience Imposter Syndrome.
“I’m 23,” Brown shared. “Some of my dancers are 28, some are younger. There are moments when I have no idea what I’m doing and I don’t understand why these people are following me.” She continued, “I am just really thankful for them and their trust in me. The process is not just me. It takes both of us to create the package of the show.”
Sure to have another sold-out show, Brown is already planning for the future. She hopes to take Skid nationally and already has a few smaller shows booked for the company, this year. Long term, she hopes to have Komansé recognized internationally, and provide salaries and healthcare for her dancers.
Personally, Brown is signed to Xcel Talent Agency and is currently performing on booked TV shows and films where she is doing set research for when she wants to transition from doing choreography on- stage to on-screen.
Through all of her success in dance, she is still working as an engineer with a consulting company. In the future, she plans to enter the humanitarian logistics and disaster relief industry, looking to focus on large logistical issues when distributing aid. Specifically, focusing on the distribution of aid to marginalized communities that are often overlooked.
Despite the trails she has faced to reach her goals, Brown is adamant that persistence, determination, utilizing your network, and trusting yourself is the ultimate formula of success.
“Trust yourself, trust your vision. It’s okay to cry but the next day, get over it and keep it moving.”