When Brianna Keingatti was 16, she danced in a solo performance called “Everything Must Change.”
Much like the title, that performance changed everything about her perspective on dance.
Brianna has been dancing since she was in kindergarten, and her passion for the artistry of dance has only deepened. She was recently named Senior Female Best Dancer at the Dance Awards in Las Vegas, one of the highest honors for a junior dancer.
A senior at Rock Bridge High School, Brianna is now applying to some of the top dance institutions in the country including The Juilliard School in New York City and the University of Southern California.
Brianna belongs to a family of dancers. Her brother, David, dances at SUNY in New York and her oldest brother, Jude, danced during high school.
One of her first memories was watching her Jude in a tap dance performance. She said it reminded her of the movie “Happy Feet,” and she immediately wanted to join her brothers in the dance studio.
“It was like a circus for me, looking at him perform,” Brianna said.
But Brianna said she didn't like dance after she enrolled in classes at the Columbia Performing Arts Centre. She especially despised ballet and asked to stop taking lessons.
In eighth grade, she finally discovered a love for dance once she found her own style of artistry within it. She specializes in contemporary dance and jazz, but she still has a special place in her heart for tap.
Brianna also realized that for her dance was less of a sport and more of a religion.
“It became more than just dance and more of an expression of myself,” she said.
As a Kenyan woman, Brianna is familiar with being part of the minority. She grew up in predominantly white schools and always felt a disconnect between herself and her culture.
“I felt like I was preaching my own truth, and that become so real and authentic,” Brianna said.
Her mother, Mary Keingatti, moved to America from Kenya more than 20 years ago for Brianna’s father’s work. Keingatti has only been able to take her children back to Kenya once after their father’s death.
Brianna said she feels a deep connection to her Kenyan roots. Although she wasn’t born in Kenya, she believes her fire and grit are a direct result of that heritage. Those African roots are evident in her more aggressive and powerful dance styles.
“It makes me feel beautiful, confident and unique because I know there’s nobody like me and there’s nobody who dances like me, with the power I possess,” she said.
While Brianna travels nearly every weekend for an audition or competition, she also balances her schoolwork, social life and dance practices throughout the week.
When she feels overwhelmed by all of her responsibilities, she said she often turns to prayer as a way to calm herself down.
“God first and then everything else is second,” Brianna said. “He’s my driving tool to dance and everything.”
Her faith also helps her connect with her identity as a Kenyan woman. Before each of her performances, she prays and meditates, imagining God and angels surrounding her on the stage.
Another way that Brianna deals with her stress is by consulting with her dance teacher and “second mom,” Jen Lee.
“I never questioned anything she said or anything she did,” said Mary Keingatti about Lee.
Brianna’s father died when she was just 3, leaving Keingatti to raise their children by herself, away from her home country and family.
As a single mom raising three children, Keingatti said she is extremely grateful for Lee’s support. The dance studio almost became a day care for her children. Lee would pick them up from school, feed them and take them home after dance practice every night.
Lee said that she tries to instill a family mindset in the studio because she believes her relationship with her students is about more than dance. She has been involved in all of the Keingatti family’s dance careers, from traveling with them to dance competitions to helping them apply to colleges.
“There’s something in her soul that is very pure, that is a very pure love of dance,” Lee said.
Despite the loss of her father, both Brianna and her mother describe his death as a blessing in disguise.
“I think my father’s absence has been the biggest blessing, but also the biggest curse,” Brianna said. “I’ve matured so much with him being gone, but all of those experiences have made me so strong and made me love him and know him so much more.”
She plans to pursue a career in dance with an interest in both commercial dance and concert dance, which includes background dancing for concerts and formal positions at a dance company.
Yet her dreams go beyond dance. She hopes to break into Broadway to try acting as well.
“I don’t want to limit myself to one category,” she said. “I literally want to do it all.”