Raianna en pointe

Photo by Tyler Meuter

“Never stand still,” is the motto third-year Raianna Brown lives by. She interprets this as “never settling or being complacent, especially when it comes to following [her] passions.”

It is a good thing too, because on top of being a full-time Industrial Engineering major at Tech, Brown is enrolled at Emory for Dance, each week dancing 17 or more hours.

At age five, Brown saw the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater perform in Atlanta along with the Lion King musical, and she became hooked. She started with a summer camp and moved on to teachers that pushed her to take classes with students five to ten years older than her. By age 13, she was training in Ballet, Tap, Jazz and Modern Dance at Price Performing Arts Center in College Park. Of the four members in Brown’s immediate family, all of them had matriculated
through Tech.

“When I initially began my college search, Georgia Tech was pretty high on the list,” Brown said. “However, I still maintained apprehensions about attending Tech because I knew that I wanted to continue to study dance in college.”

Brown applied and was accepted to Tech and knew she wanted to follow in the footsteps of her parents and two sisters. She insisted that she be able to continue dancing in college, so during her first year, she trained at the local dance studio Gotta Dance Atlanta. In the meantime, she was setting up meetings with the Vice Provost, advisors and anyone she could get in touch with who might be able to help bring her dream to fruition.

She was pointed towards the Atlanta Regional Council for Higher Education (ARCHE) program. This program brings together twenty public and private colleges in the Atlanta area to have cooperative programs like library sharing and cross-registration.

The latter is what interested Brown. By cross-registering, she would be able to pay for classes through Tech and take classes at Emory that would be transferred back and apply as resident credit.

However, there was one problem: Brown was a sophomore, and the program required at least junior-level standing. Brown was determined, and her advisor and the Registrar’s office were willing to work with her to make it happen. However, Brown admits there is still a struggle between having two majors.

“The hardest part of doing both dance and engineering is managing my time,” Brown said.

Brown has to travel between campuses for classes, rehearsals, meetings and tutoring while still trying to manage homework, friends and sleep. Brown maintains that in the end, none of this really hinders her.

“If this is what it takes for me to achieve my goals in both fields,” Brown said, “I am willing to put in the work for my passions.”

Brown had choreographed a piece entitled “I Can’t Breathe” in reference to recent police brutality and racial injustice in Ferguson and the rest of the U.S. A video of the performance with more than 1,000 views caught the attention of one of her teachers who then invited her to take it to Italy and study with his dance company there, Stalib Dance. Even with the linguistic and social barriers, Brown received ample praise.

“It was amazing to have my own choreography featured alongside the company’s work,” Brown said. “But what was even more amazing was to have members of the audience — Americans AND Italians — come up to me after the show and say how much the piece moved them or spoke
to them.”

As far as after graduation, Brown wants to apply her Industrial Engineering degree to work with Humanitarian Logistics and organizations like FEMA and the Red Cross to help optimize the processes used in these organizations and avoid logistic failures like during Hurricane Katrina.

Brown also strongly states, “I will have my own dance company by the time I am 25.”

When asked about combining her two passions versus leaving them separate, Brown said, “When I first began my journey as a dancing engineer, I was very adamant about not marrying the two or somehow employing my left brain and right brain together to create something new.”

However, as her time at Tech has marched on, Brown has realized that she is in an uncommon and special position because of her unique perspective.

“Recently, I was highly inspired by Huang Yi and KUKA, his dancing robot,” Brown said. “I am really interested in working with interactive lighting and playing with that and how that may look for a dance performance where the lighting not only accentuates the dancing but creates a whole new landscape for the dancers to explore.”

Brown has recently danced on campus at the What’s Going On: Social Justice Concert and will be performing on Nov. 21 as part of the Miss Black & Gold District Pageant in Atlanta. Brown is also currently preparing for a performance on Dec. 3–5 that she choreographed and will be performing at Emory in the Ahana Dance Show.