The Body is my Mouth: In Conversation with Raina Mitchell

Photo Credit: Shannel Resto
Mitchell is seated on the ground in front of a background of lush, sunlit trees. Her left leg is bent in front of her, and her right leg is bent behind her. Her bent arms are lifted in the air, and Mitchell turns her uplifted face to look at her left hand.

March 6, 2024
Volume 5 Issue 2
By: Alex Robert Franco

For Raina Mitchell, her dance career began with jamming out to records with her dad. “The rhythms chose me!” she explained in an interview with DanceATL. This love of music awaked Mitchell to the world of art and all its possibilities. As she said, “My head filled with dreams of pop stardom, but sadly, I was no singer.” Instead, she turned to her best friend, a classically trained dancer, and begged her to teach her everything she knew. What Mitchell would discover, along with a lifelong passion for dance, would be a new way of conversing with the world.

“I struggle with my verbal communication skills; it can give me quite a bit of anxiety,” Mitchell explained, “which is probably why I’ve chosen a nonverbal way of communication.” For Mitchell, dance is a conversation, and the body is the mouth. Before she knew it, Mitchell’s adolescent living room had been transformed into an impromptu dance studio, and she was ready to start “speaking” her truth to the world.

 Mitchell did not take her first formal dance class until her freshman year of college at Valdosta State. From this class, she “traveled to places in my body you could never imagine.” Since Mitchell has started her professional dance career, she has had the opportunity to work with numerous arts organizations in Atlanta. Most recently, she started a residency at the Decatur School of Ballet through the Meli Kaye Artist Residency.

Mitchell is lying on a bed of grass. She is twisted so as to grab her right heel with her left hand. Her left leg is bent and her left foot is pointed. Her right arm is thrown out on the ground, and her head is thrown back.
Photo Courtesy of Raina Mitchell
Mitchell is lying on a bed of grass. She is twisted so as to grab her right heel with her left hand. Her left leg is bent and her left foot is pointed. Her right arm is thrown out on the ground, and her head is thrown back.

This follows on the heels of the success of her recent solo show, “The Aliens Will Pay Our Student Loans…and Other Things We Pray For” which premiered at Fall for Fall in October of 2023. This show represented a new milestone in Mitchell’s journey as a professional dancer: a foray into choreographing. When asked to explain the piece, she said, “The audience followed the journey of the Millennial as they searched for a future they could be proud of. It was bubbling over with 90s-00s nostalgia; the vhs tapes, butterfly hair clips, hip huggers. The nuances of unrealized despair, moving backwards to repeat the cycle to move backwards just to repeat the cycle.”

Atlanta has played a large hand in providing opportunities to Mitchell, as well as contributed to her success. “We have an extremely welcoming community here. It is so easy to get connected and to find your groove–pun intended.” Despite the city’s warm welcome, it is not without its flaws. One in particular, she says, can be difficulty in finding financially sustainable gigs. “I have to be sure I get paid to dance, and not pay to dance.” This is, unfortunately, a national trend, with a recent study showing that dancers are the lowest-paid artists, averaging only $36,000 per year. With the competing expenses of traveling to gigs versus loss of regular income, Mitchell says, “There are sadly many projects I had to turn down due to insufficient funds.”

When asked her take on why Atlanta faces this issue, she attributed it to a lack of public engagement. She said, “It seems like Atlanta is a bit timid when it comes to large outdoor arts events.” Mitchell likes to imagine an Atlanta brimming with art, where creation is valued over consumption: “I can’t tell you how many building lobbies, campuses, malls, wasted spaces are begging for activation. Let’s think outside the murals and transform our stairs, street lights, doors, sidewalks, ceilings, cars, houses. I think we have enough food halls to last us for the next 20 years or so, don’t you think?”

At the end of the day, though, Mitchell remains optimistic about art in Atlanta and her place in the city. “My motto is love living.” She is excited about her residency, and the work that will come out of it. In her words, “It’s like air released slowly from a screeching latex balloon in the hands of a child.”


Photo Credit:  Kent Johanson
A black-and-white close-up photo of Alex Franco, with his eyes closed behind his glasses. His chin rests on his left hand. In the background, shelves of liquor bottles can be seen.

Alex Robert Franco is a writer from Atlanta, GA. He studied literature at Bard College and the Sorbonne, and his work has appeared in over a dozen different publications. He believes art is life. More of his writing can be found at www.alexrobertfranco.com.

Read more by Alex:

From Poland to America: Mazury Folk Dance Ensemble creates connection through Polish dance

Erin Burch dances through recovery in Atlanta Arts Scene

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