Brittany Newton-Miller’s sudden death at the age of 31 cut short her dual careers as a Bollywood dancer and as an advocate for LGBTQ communities in Multnomah and Clackamas counties, less than three months after she had gotten married in Oregon City on Oct. 30.
Newton-Miller and her groom then went on a honeymoon to Europe, and upon her return to Oregon, she continued dancing and working for a nonprofit organization that focuses on HIV testing. Exactly a week before she was hospitalized, she threw a 60th birthday party for her father, when no one could have guessed that she would soon succumb to a rare, rapidly advancing form of cancer.
On Jan. 14, she was checked into a hospital with elevated white-blood-cell counts, and doctors induced a coma and placed an endotracheal tube into her windpipe. A series of intercranial hemorrhages ceased her brain activity, doctors told her bereaved family members, and on Jan. 18, she died of suspected acute myeloid leukemia.
Prashant Kakad officiated his first wedding with the Newton-Millers, but he was soon rushing to organize to organize the bride’s celebration of life. Kakad, better known in the Portland area as DJ Prashant, had already scheduled the Jan. 21 anniversary party for Portland’s Bollywood Dreams, but he pivoted to make it instead a dance party in honor of Newton-Miller’s life.
“She was just a bright, joyful person who made a difference across the community,” Kakad said. “She would emanate love and support, and she was truly a force to be reckoned with. In a short lifespan she has made a mark that will stick with people forever.”
Newton-Miller, who lived in Northeast Portland, had not missed any of Bollywood Dreams’ previous 12 anniversary parties, having snuck into the parties prior to her 21st birthday while she was earning her 2014 bachelor’s degree from Portland State University. Newton-Miller hoped her work as a professional dancer would demonstrate to students what’s possible.
“You can do whatever you want, you can follow your dreams, and you can give back,” she told her hometown newspaper, The Seaside Signal, in 2019.
Kakad said that Newton-Miller quickly embraced Portland’s close-knit Bollywood dance scene and eventually ended up working directly for him as lead dancer and events coordinator.
“She would be the person who would make sure that the whole troupe could learn the dance routine, and my impression was that she could do everything,” Kakad said.
Newton-Miller had traveled to India to attend Kakad’s wedding, so he felt it was the least he could do to figure out for her the legal responsibilities of a wedding officiant under Oregon law. Kakad had DJed many previous weddings, but he was impressed by the “phenomenal” party that Newton-Miller organized for his first time officiating a wedding.
“If someone knew that they had six months to live, what she did in the last months of her life was what anyone would choose to do,” he said.
Newton-Miller’s future husband, Elliott, started working for Kakad as a music producer in February of 2017. Although they met at this time, the Newton-Millers would not become a couple until the 2019 Oregon Country Fair and a trip to Montana that fall when they had originally booked separate hotel rooms in Montana for fundraiser that Kakad organized for children in Tibet.
The Newton-Millers picked their wedding date because it was the third anniversary after they had officially become boyfriend and girlfriend. The couple once took a month together to watch the entire filmography of the A24 production company to “satisfy an artsy streak.”
“She had an authenticity and a warmness that helped me let down my barriers, and I was a very awkward guy, especially at that time,” Newton-Miller’s husband told Pamplin Media Group.
Kelsey Darling, Newton-Miller’s best friend through college, said that Newton-Miller considered herself a member and impassioned advocate of the LGBTQIA+ community. As a committee co-chair for Pride Northwest, she helped organize the Portland Waterfront Pride Festival from 2015-18. Most recently, she worked for nonprofit Prism Health working to provide compassionate care through the Cascade AIDS Project.
“Her support for equality, rights and respect for queer communities was intersectional, loud and proud,” Darling wrote.
Darling said that Newton-Miller added immeasurable spirit, camaraderie and joy to every community she joined, including the Wish Heart dance troupe based at the Chapel Theatre in Milwaukie. Newton-Miller’s creative genius made its mark on shows, but she was quick to praise her fellow dancers.
“All of our performers and crew behind the scenes are complete magic. I’m over the moon thinking of what we all created together,” Newton-Miller wrote at the time of the Wish Heart production in October.
Newton-Miller was also known for performing a Bollywood version of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” dance at the Davis Graveyard in Milwaukie.
“While so many words come to mind when thinking of her — vivacious, bubbly, performer, loving, compassionate, genuine — none of them feel like enough. Brittany was a young, passionate, and vibrant person; she had a beautiful light that drew people to her and spread so much happiness through her love of dance,” Darling wrote.
Wish Heart dance troupe founder Geoff Wishart first met Newton-Miller when he was asked to choreograph the Miss Oregon pageant, where she had performed as a dancer. Newton-Miller ended up winning the 2006 Outstanding Teen award for Clatsop County, earning a scholarship through the Miss Oregon pageant.
Born April 8, 1991, Newton-Miller was the only child of Debbie and Toney Newton, who still live in Gearhart where she grew up. She attended schools in Seaside, graduating from Seaside High School in 2009.
Newton-Miller’s family enrolled her in Denele Sweet’s Warrenton-based Encore Dance Studio, but her father said it was clear that she was soon headed to bigger roles.
“There was a shining-star ability about her, and she did stand out here,” Toney Newton said.
DJ Prashant and Newton-Miller conspired to prank her father during her wedding’s father-daughter dance, when Kakad initially played a few bars of a sappy ballad. Just as they were starting the traditional dance, DJ Prashant started up the real father-daughter song, “Stuck in the Middle with You,” the 1972 rock classic by Stealers Wheel.
Toney Newton said he was touched by the gesture at the time, but the song’s lyrics have taken on new significance since his daughter’s untimely death.
“There’s a line in there about it making no sense at all, and that’s exactly how I feel about this,” he said.
Newton-Miller’s GoFundMe page is currently raising money for her funeral/medical expenses, extra family travel and living expenses from her death, and for one of her favorite charities, the Trevor Project, which provides 24/7 crisis support services to LGBTQ young people.