Tiny Pretty Things' Kylie Jefferson on Her Acting Debut, Diversity in Dance, and Self-Care

Plus, she shares the Fenty Beauty product that is her must-have.

Kylie Jefferson

Kylie Jefferson for Byrdie

The new Netflix drama Tiny Pretty Things, based on the novel of the same name, has been fittingly described as a mashup between Black Swan and Pretty Little Liars. It follows the young students of the elite Archer School of Dance and the racism, competition, and jealousy that exists within its confines. Just a few moments into the first episode of the new Netflix drama, we are introduced to Neveah Stroyer. Neveah, who is played by Kylie Jefferson, is offered admittance into the premier academy to draw attention away from the fact that the school’s star dancer Cassie Shore was mysteriously pushed off the roof of the school. Her entrance to the school thrusts her into a daily battle of trying to harness her raw talent in the polished world of ballet amidst a looming murder investigation.

The world that her character exists in is familiar territory for Jefferson. While Tiny Pretty Things marks her first foray into acting, Jefferson is far from a novice in dance. She got her start dancing under the tutelage of Debbie Allen at six years old, becoming the youngest person to be admitted to Allen’s renowned dance academy. Her dance career has since taken her many places, from training at The Boston Conservatory to dancing with Complexion Contemporary ballet in New York to choreographing videos for artists like Schoolboy Q in her hometown of Los Angeles. But prior to joining the cast of Tiny Pretty Things, Jefferson wasn’t spending much time dancing. Instead, she was recovering from a fractured rib (an injury she sustained while on a national tour with Complexion Contemporary) and working as an assistant to an executive at the Hollywood talent agency CAA. After settling into the role, Jefferson’s spirit was soon longing for more, and her boss nudged her to pursue her true passions.

Following her dreams led her to audition for Tiny Pretty Things, and she says things have just gotten better ever since. The release of the show has ushered in a newfound sense of confidence for Jefferson and opened her eyes to a horizon of possibilities. Ahead of the show’s launch, I had the chance to talk to Jefferson who spoke candidly about her breakout role, the self-care rituals that keep her grounded, diversity in dance, and her beauty must-haves (of course). Keep scrolling to get to know Jefferson. 

Kylie Jefferson

@kyliejefferson

I know that you got your start at the Debbie Allen Dance Academy, which is incredible. What sparked your initial interest in dance? And what was it like learning under such a legend?

What is so funny is what even made my mom put me in a dance class, to begin with. So, I've always been dancing. When I was three, I would always make sure that I would watch a Michael Jackson concert or the Spice Girls movie before bed. Every single night I was faithful to that. When I started walking and moving around a little bit, my mom told me that she would be cleaning up on Sundays and playing music videos on the TV and she said that I just always wanted to dance like the girls in the video. She was like, "I could only do so much because you were three years old. You didn't really know what you were doing. But you just would not stop." And she said one day I was dancing to Juvenile's "Back That Azz Up." And she said, "You know what, I got to put this girl in class because she just won't stop dancing." So, I started taking a few classes here and there. Then, I auditioned for the Debbie Allen Dance Academy in 2001. From that moment forward, I was on the journey with Ms. Allen. 

Tiny Pretty Things is another major moment for you in your career. What was the casting process like for you? Were you nervous transitioning from dancing to acting?

Yes. So interestingly enough, at the time, I was an assistant for an executive at CAA, so I wasn't really dancing. For any dance jobs that I was getting at the time, I would also work from the set. So I'd be connecting calls, replying back to emails, setting up, and then doing a 5-6-7-8 right after. But, of course, I got to a time where I just knew that my spirit needed something else. I could not keep fighting that. And my boss said, "I want you to follow your immediate dream." I received that wholeheartedly, but I had no idea how I could do that. Even now, like, I'm just now really realizing how Tiny Pretty Things was that. So, I got an email from a casting website and I thought it was interesting. The description just said that Neveah needed to know how to do ballet and that she would be on every episode. 

I've only done background on Grey's Anatomy and taken a few acting classes. But even those acting classes, I did them as a dancer who would just benefit from having some acting experience. So I was shying away from [the role] and it just kept coming back. My agent sent it to me and my friend, who's an actress, sent me a screenshot, and said, "Listen, girl, this is you." 

I was looking at the script and looking at the audition material. And I said, "All right, I can't even front on this girl. She is me. I am her." I was just so grateful and happy that this type of girl, specifically this type of Black girl was even being thought of. That was a really big deal to me. I remember saying in my audition, "Whether I get this part or not, I just want to thank you all for even considering this type of character." Once I found out that I got the part, it just kept getting better from there. I remember the first day of rehearsal, my name kept coming up. I thought I'd maybe have a scene or two to kind of like sit down and drink some water like everybody else. And then we were three scenes into the rehearsal sequence and I wasn't sitting down. So, I knew it was time to show up and not get tired.

Kylie Jefferson

Courtesy of Netflix

As you mentioned, Neveah is one of the central figures in the series. What was it like preparing to be Neveah?

So with dance training, I started doing two days in Pilates. I have locked in on a membership at Club Pilates. On a weekly basis, I met with a ballet trainer, who specializes in Gyrotonic as well. So those were things that I did during the eight-week period that I had before I had to leave for Toronto. And even when I got to Toronto and we were filming, I found myself a Gyrotonic instructor. And then acting-wise, I was really putting all my money towards the dance training because you cannot fake ballet. I told myself if there's one thing I really have to invest in right now, it is ballet. Acting-wise, I got lucky because Neveah is literally me in so many ways. 

So, I just continued to work on being confidently myself. So that when I go in these rooms, I can continue to learn, but also so that I could show up for her however I needed to do so and still be confident enough to take the criticism. To me, it was the best idea to allow myself to get ready for what was coming because I knew I had no idea.

You spoke earlier about how important Neveah's character is in terms of representation. What do you hope the show does in terms of boosting conversations around representation and diversity in the dance industry?

I want it to not be such an eyebrow-raising thing for us to be in ballet class. We've been in ballet class. It's so interesting to me that the rest of the world keeps acting like y'all didn't know that we've always been dancing. Dance is a part of Black culture. So, you thought we weren't going to continue to expand our horizons? Everyone else gets to do that. Why wouldn't we? I think that's really the biggest thing for me. I want us to push past this conversation. I want to be able to walk in a room maybe five years from now to teach a master class for Harvard's Dance Department or even at The Boston Conservatory, and for there not to be only three Black girls in the room.

Dance is a part of Black culture. So, you thought we weren't going to continue to expand our horizons? Everyone else gets to do that. Why wouldn't we?

Kylie Jefferson

Kylie Jefferson for Byrdie

With the launch of the show approaching, this has been an incredibly busy time for you. What is a typical day like? 

Emails have tripled. They have tripled to the extent that I had to create another email account just so that I can make sure that I'm holding myself accountable and not letting things bypass me. On a typical day, I have to make sure that I wake up and play whatever music I want to play. Sometimes that's Lil Baby. Sometimes that's Mulatto. Sometimes it's Kirk Franklin and sometimes it's Ariana Grande. You know, it's a little bit of everything but I make sure that I get time for myself. Then, everything happens from there. I have phone conferences with the team and interviews. I have fittings now. Things are definitely exciting. 

You talked about how important it is for you to take moments for yourself in the morning and listen to your music. Are there any other self-care rituals that help you destress and stay calm?

Oh, meditating. But I'll be honest, I can't even do that every day. So if I can't meditate then I'm trying to do yoga. Jhene Aiko has this really great song called "Trigger Protection Mantra." Honestly, that's probably like the biggest secret that I've had for self-care and just keeping myself calm, cool, and collected, or even just acknowledging how I feel or where I'm at without letting that take over. And you know, a good twerk out here and there never does the soul wrong. Chocolate chip cookies are a part of my comfort in life. You just have to decompress every now and then and just give yourself some time.

You look gorgeous today. In terms of beauty, what are some makeup products you like to always use?

Makeup-wise, I'm definitely a big Fenty Beauty fan. I love Rihanna's Pro Filt'r Hydrating Longwear Foundation ($35). But today, we actually used a Dior Foundation, and I'm loving how it's sitting on my face, especially with this lighting. But I really keep it simple for the most part. I love Benefit Cosmetics' Boi-ing Cakeless Full Coverage Waterproof Liquid Concealer ($22).

What do you like to use on your edges? They're laid. And what are some of your other favorite hair products?

Honestly, I'm a beeswax girl. But I like to try out a lot of different types of edge controls because my hair just likes to give and take some time. Mixed Chicks is always a good conditioner for my hair or a conditioner from Pantene

Kylie Jefferson

Courtesy of Netflix

Outside of dance, do you have any interests or hobbies that fans would be surprised to learn about?

There are things I would love to get into more. But what's funny about me is that because I've danced my whole life, when it comes to any of my other interests, I always get to a point where I feel like I need to go to school for this. But I would love to DJ. In my mind, I am such a great DJ. The dancer in me is always ready to get the party started. So, that's something that I definitely would love to continue to tap into. 

I write a lot. Writing has always been a part of me. But I haven't really figured out if I want to write a book, or if I want to write a movie. I'm kind of in the process of doing a few of those things just for fun. I'm also just enjoying everything that's coming with this new world for me. It's a newfound sense of confidence that I have to make sure that I'm really working on for myself. Skincare stuff is something that I'm really starting to get more into. I also really want to get way better at voguing. I'm a dancer, but voguing has a certain vibe that I just want to take some time and dive into. 

If you could offer a few bits of advice to aspiring young dancers and the young Black girls who are going to see you at the forefront of a Netflix series, what advice would you offer to them?

Always hold your head up. No matter what's being said to you. Show up for your lessons. If you don't show up for your lessons, you cannot receive your blessings. Show up for yourself, or you are going to have nothing to show for it. Your light is your light. You need to focus on being confidently yourself in your light, not someone else's. I don't ever want to hear someone say I want to be the next Kylie Jefferson. I hope to never hear that. I hope to always hear little girls say that whatever I ignite for her is for herself.

I don't ever want to hear someone say I want to be the next Kylie Jefferson. I hope to never hear that. I hope to always hear little girls say that whatever I ignite for her is for herself.

What is next for you? Do you have your sights set on more acting roles or do you plan to pursue more dance opportunities?

Both. Everything that comes my way and everything that welcomes me, I want to show up for it. Something that I've learned while being a dancer who trains in all these different genres of dance is that I have to always stay ready. Basically, I just want to grow into my name.

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