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Former Lionette Najah Brown Brought The Heat To Netflix’s ‘Dance Monsters’

In November 2022, Netflix released the first season of its new dance competition, “Dance Monsters,” where “competitors transform into lovable and fantastical dance monsters in front of a panel of judges” to win the grand prize of $250,000, according to IMDb.

With CGI technology, Netflix managed to bring animated monsters with larger-than-life personalities onstage, while the performers were dancing and sporting motion capture suits backstage.

One of the stars of the dance competition show is Penn State alum Najah Brown, who performed as the ~fiery~ monster “Flame” and danced her way into the semifinals.

Brown grew up in a studio setting from the time she was 3 years old and trained in everything from ballet, tap, jazz, hip hop, and acrobatics to her favorite style, jazz funk.

Throughout her dancing career, Brown has earned huge opportunities, such as auditioning for Beyonce and meeting pop icons Meghan Trainor and Alicia Keys.

Courtesy of Najah Brown

Brown started her Penn State career in 2014 and auditioned for the Lionettes during her freshman year. She was actively involved with the beloved team throughout all four years of her college experience.

“I knew it was a great program, a great school, so it was the perfect fit,” Brown said. “I had a mutual friend on the team, Allison Chambers, who I grew up dancing with back home. She was a senior during my freshman year and helped lead me through my first year on the team… Throughout my four years, we had a lot of different opportunities to perform around campus, along with national competitions, creating such an amazing college experience. It was just a great experience dancing in front of everyone in Beaver Stadium, but also any opportunities we got, whether that meant THON or sporting events, anything that came from it was great.”

Courtesy of Najah Brown

Once Brown graduated in 2018, she set off across the country, where she traveled to dozens of cities to work competitions and teach college and high school dance teams with the Universal Dance Association (UDA).

“If you name any state, I have probably been there [with the exception of a few] and know at least one person who lives there,” Brown said.

While at an airport waiting for her luggage, Brown ran into another Penn State alum and friend, Alex Myers, who had just recently filmed a show with the same casting team that would later help cast Dance Monsters. A few weeks later, Myers sent her the information for the audition process for what was soon to be ‚ÄúDance Monsters.”

“I was like, ‘This is not real, it’s not happening,” Brown said. “For some reason, I went through with the audition process, even though I was very skeptical, and got the gig. I finally flew to London in September 2021, where we filmed for two months… It definitely came out of nowhere, for sure. I was very grateful. I think because it was the first season, I had no expectations of what I wanted; I just wanted to enjoy it.”

During the initial rehearsal process, Brown had no idea what kind of monster the producers had in store for her, nor did she know what songs and style of dance she would be performing. Her monster, Flame, was first introduced to her via Zoom, and she immediately fell in love with her and the concept.

Courtesy of Najah Brown

Not only was she able to express her fiery side as Flame, but she was also able to showcase her versatility in her dancing since she performed a different style every week.

“I did a jazz funk routine the first week of filming and contemporary with a slower kind of song the second week. In my third week, I did a full breakdancing number with Grummy, who was actually the winner of the show. Then in the last week, I went back to jazz funk… It was great to just showcase different styles, but it was also hard because I didn’t know what they were gonna throw at me.”

Brown’s time in London consisted of rehearsing every day on set, where she not only learned and practiced her routines but also learned how to operate the advanced technology used to create her monster.

Courtesy of Najah Brown

“So we had the gray suits with all the motion capture pods on our bodies, kind of like how they filmed the movie ‘Avatar,'” Brown said. “We never actually touched the stage until we were eliminated and were our actual human selves. There was a big black curtain and the judges and the hosts were on that side while I was on the other side. And throughout the process, we were getting interviewed on stage, but we were just looking at a TV screen – we weren’t actually looking at the judges. During post-production, they put our monster on the stage to look like we were actually there, but we weren’t.”

Brown made it to the semifinals and was the 10th person to be eliminated in the second to last episode of the season.

“I’m very competitive, so I wish I made it to the last round, but there was only one more episode so I can’t complain,” Brown said. “I’m very, very happy with my experience and would do it all again no matter what.”

After filming wrapped up, Brown had no idea what the final product was going to look like since there was a lot of editing implemented post-production. The editing process took around a year until she finally was able to tune in and watch for herself.

Courtesy of Najah Brown

“If you were in the live audience, it looked like you were watching a movie on a big screen. Some performers had background dancers who were actually on the stage dancing in front of you. But if there were no background dancers, there was nothing that you were looking at. They edited it very well, and it actually looks like we were on the stage. But again, you saw nothing if you were in the audience — only a big screen of us dancing.”

Brown hosted a reunion in Washington, D.C. with the top eight dancers, whom she bonded with throughout the filming process. The cast reunion happened to fall on the day the first three episodes dropped, so they were able to watch and enjoy the show together.

Courtesy of Najah Brown

“It was definitely weird to see,” Brown said. “It was easier because we all went through it together so we could talk about how they edited stuff out or made things seem different than what they actually were and the pros to it as well.”

Before premiering on “Dance Monsters,” Brown never fully wrapped her head around the greatness others saw in her. However, Flame helped her embrace confidence and taught her how to exhibit her strength and uniqueness.

“‘Dance Monsters’ was such a unique experience,” Brown said. “Not many people understand it because of how different it is… Flame taught me that you don’t have to walk around with armor. Relax, breathe, and be happy with the ordinary present. Those moments will be gone in a blink of an eye… It was a great experience, and I have no regrets about doing it at all.”

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About the Author

Evan Halfen

Evan Halfen is a junior broadcast journalism major from Newark, DE, and is one of Onward State's associate editors. Evan loves all things Penn State, tailgating, being loud, just about any beach, and his puppies, Butterscotch and Wentzy. You can direct all your tips, roasts, and jokes to his Instagram: @evan.halfen or email: [email protected]

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