‘Tiny Pretty Things’ star Kylie Jefferson on playing her character: ‘She healed me’
The real-life dancer turned actress is a breakout star on the Netflix show adapted from the YA book
Tiny Pretty Things just premiered on Netflix and that means the world will finally get to see Kylie Jefferson doing her thing.
While the show may not be everyone’s cup of tea (it was adapted from a YA novel) one thing that’s undeniable is the fact that Jefferson is a star. Watching her take up the screen with exquisite dance moves and her vulnerability worn on her sleeve, she’s certainly someone to watch.
theGrio caught up with the real-life ballerina who shows off her dance skills and newfound acting chops as Neveah Stroyer in the series based on the book by Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton.
Here are five things to know about Kylie Jefferson:
She’s a real dancer. The 25-year-old from Los Angeles is classically trained in ballet, contemporary, jazz, hip-hop, tap, and African dance and was the youngest person to ever be accepted to the Debbie Allen Dance Academy. She also trained at the Kirov Academy of Ballet in Washington D.C. and joined NYC’s Complexions Contemporary. You can also see her in the new Netflix doc, Dance Dreams: Hot Chocolate Nutcracker shot at Allen’s academy.
“I was so excited to be able to put on for all of the real dancers out there, because so often we’re sitting at home watching all these great dance movies or TV shows that have come before Tiny Pretty Things and we’re like, ‘Oh, we wish this was a better representation of what’s actually going on,’” Jefferson says in our exclusive interview.
“I know myself and for the whole entire cast, that was probably one of our favorite parts about being a part of the series, just to be real dancers, and we could really have an input on the stories that are being told. And also because I danced like my whole life, you know, you approach each craft with a different sense of respect.”
She was born to play this role. Even though Jefferson wasn’t eyeing a career in Hollywood when this part came up, she had to try out for it when she read the description.
“I was a little intimidated by it because I never really saw myself as an actress. Any acting classes I had taken was really from the position of a dancer,” she explains. “I read the script and I was like, ‘Yeah, I can’t even do that. This is me. I’m Naveah. She is me. Whether or not I get this part or not, I just was grateful for the fact that this type of character, this type of girl and specifically this type of Black girl was even being thought of.”
Racism is real in the dance world. In Tiny Pretty Things, Naveah is treated as an outsider from the jump, and while some of that has to do with her training (or lack thereof), it also had a lot to do with race. Jefferson admits that she faced many of the same issues in real life, especially when she excelled.
“I get to the Boston Conservatory and I remember one of the first things that was said to me was, ‘You’re like the prettiest Black girl I’ve ever seen.’ I was like, ‘Man, honey, what? I can’t even take that as a compliment. It didn’t dawn on me what my presence in that school had meant, let alone when I actually started taking class there. They’re very interesting. I had to learn how to navigate personally for myself,” she explains.
“It really taught me to smile and be graceful, even when you might want to have a little attitude or let somebody know sometimes. But also, like I said, to smile through the things because those girls were complaining about the parts that I was getting, whether I was in class or not in class, it was a problem for them. Sometimes I don’t feel like being stared at from the sidelines with these jealous glares as I’m progressing through my own technique. It was isolating at times, but I also had to find a way to balance it out so, in my outside life, I definitely made sure that I wasn’t the only [Black] face in the crowd.”
She struggles like the rest of us. Oftentimes, ballerinas are viewed as the epitome of perfection. There are women who envy their long, lithe bodies and their beautiful movements are closely examined and critiqued. Some may assume that Jefferson doesn’t contend with insecurities but that couldn’t be further from the truth.
“It’s a journey. It’s a process. As a woman, our bodies fluctuate naturally depending on what time of the month it is and what time of the month it is not. We already have this [heightened] awareness of our bodies and I think women already struggle with that. When my body started to come in and fill out and all that good stuff, what I struggled with was that outside the dance studio, I knew my body was bangin.’ Let’s not front on that. I love the booty to death and there’s nobody on this planet that could make me want to change that, but sometimes ballet did,” she says through tears.
The series helped her heal. “Ultimately, I was the only person who really understood Nevaeh. Learning how to balance the acting parts with what I felt I as really connecting to with the character…I could easily understand exactly what she felt or where she was coming from,” she says. “I enjoyed getting a moment to tap into that for myself. I would tell our showrunner, ‘She healed me.’ I was at a point in my life where I was trying to fit myself into a box and Naveah came through and said ‘No honey, it’s not that for you. If you take one thing from me, it’s to be confidently yourself.’…I think the more that we learn how to take back our power and keep it, the less women will be struggling with jealousy or confidence. You gotta figure out what works for you.”
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