Kylie Jefferson was discovered by Debbie Allen when she was just 6 years old

By Breanne L. Heldman
December 14, 2020 08:39 PM

It's one thing to land the lead in a new Netflix series for your first acting role; it's another thing altogether when that role involves jaw-dropping dance performances in every episode. Thankfully, Kylie Jefferson has strong shoulders to handle such pressure.

Jefferson takes center stage in Tiny Pretty Things, a Pretty Little Liars-esque dance drama based on the popular YA novel by Dhonielle Clayton and Sona Charaipotra. She plays Neveah Stroyer, the new girl at the ballet academy invited to join after one of the school's best dancers mysteriously falls off the roof of the building.

What Jefferson may lack in acting experience, she certainly makes up for in ballet chops. At age 6, she showed up to audition for Debbie Allen Dance Academy but was technically too young to be eligible. But when Debbie Allen herself saw Jefferson, she decided that if she made the rules, she can also change them.

"The age requirement was supposed to be 8 years old," Jefferson tells PEOPLE. "It was just this whole thing, and someone said, 'Well, let me go ask Ms. Allen.' [Allen] comes back and she's like, 'Well, my name's on the building child, let the girl audition.' ... After my audition, Ms. Allen took my mom and I aside and she's like, 'This girl has to be in my dance academy.'"

Jefferson adds, "Ever since then I've never looked back. Even if I tried to, I couldn't really."

Kylie Jefferson in Dance Dreams: Hot Chocolate Nutcracker
| Credit: Courtesy of Netflix

Below, Jefferson — who is also featured in Netflix's Debbie Allen documentary Dance Dreams: Hot Chocolate Nutcracker — shares a bit more about her journey and what to expect from Tiny Pretty Things as well as some of the best advice she's received from Allen.

PEOPLE: How did you first discover dance?

KYLIE JEFFERSON: I've always been dancing. My mom tells this story that she used to clean up on Sundays at home and would play music videos on MTV and BET. And I would be there, like 3 years old, ever since I could walk really, with my hands on my knees trying to do whatever the girls in the music videos were doing. And she used to tell me, "Kylie, I couldn't stop you because you weren't in trouble. You weren't doing anything wrong." And she was like, "You just wouldn't stop, and I figured I had to put her in dance if she wouldn't stop doing it." So, I started taking ballet classes at 4, and then I auditioned for the Debbie Allen Dance Academy at 6.

Was there a moment in your training where you had kind of an "I am a dancer" moment and realized that this is part of who you are?

Yeah. It happened once when I was 14, and someone had shown me who Aesha Ash is. She's an African-American ballerina who danced for Alonzo King LINES Ballet. That was probably the first time I was like, "Okay, I see myself in this." And then when I was a senior in high school, Complexions Contemporary Ballet was rehearsing at DADA and I would lie to be able to come and watch them rehearse before we would start our academy hours. I remember thinking that watching Complexions dance teams is like watching the gods of dance. And I remember thinking, "Wow, if I'm going to do this, I want to look like that. I want to feel immortal when people watch me dance." It gave me a clear vision of where I wanted to go.

I know you went to Boston Conservatory after graduation and then you joined Complexions yourself. What did that mean to you?

It was a dream come true, honestly. ... It was such a tunnel vision experience. And when I got there, it was just like, "Wow, time to show up." I had never really spent much time in New York before, so it was really a whole new world for me straight out of the gate.

How did Tiny Pretty Things come about?

I wasn't even dancing at the time, and Tiny Pretty Things came up first in an email from a casting website. I was like, "Okay, that sounds cute," and I just kept going about my little life. I think I just was nervous because I didn't really see myself as an actress. But it just kept coming up, friends would send it to me, and I think my agent had sent it to me as well. I looked at myself in the mirror one day, and I said, "You know what girl, you might as well go audition." All the studios in L.A. were booked because everybody was auditioning for it. But I was able to get a studio I think the night before the deadline. I filmed it, went home, rushed to edit it, and got it in. And then callbacks started happening, and things just kind of moved forward from there.

You said that you'd never really seen yourself as an actress. What did you have to do to convince yourself?

When I was reading the script, I was like, "Oh, Neveah's me. I am her, she is me." There was no way around that. So, I was just like, "Let's just try to really embark on confidently being myself." Even after I was told that I got the part, that's how I prepared for the role.

Kylie Jefferson, center, in Tiny Pretty Things

Do you have a favorite dance movie?

Center Stage is my favorite. It is the most accurate. Zoë Saldana in that movie is so parallel to my experience growing up and being a dancer, and opening up, and learning how to have those layers to yourself. In the same sense of when I first discovered who Aesha Ash was.

What's the best piece of advice Debbie Allen's given you?

There are a few things: What you do in rehearsal is what you do in performance, and that dancers actually make the best actors. Those two things, especially within the last few years, have definitely always been replaying in the back of my mind.

What was her reaction when you told her that you got the lead in this show?

She said, "Well, I need video clips. I want to see." And she definitely said she was surprised and really impressed by my acting. Coming from Ms. Allen, that's a big deal.

Tiny Pretty Things is available to stream now on Netflix.