Teen shows are notorious for never showing their characters spending time on the things that take up most of a typical teenager's days. How many times have we ever seen the stars of Gossip Girl, Riverdale, or Pretty Little Liars, all shows that ostensibly revolve around high school life, actually attending class? It would've been acceptable (if not a bit disappointing), then, if the young ballet dancers in Tiny Pretty Things, Netflix's newest entry in the campy YA canon, didn't ever dance.
For once, however, that's not the case. Not only does the series find plenty of time for intense dance breaks amid the equally intense drama surrounding the students of the prestigious Archer School of Ballet—what better way to blow off the steam caused by a grueling training schedule and a classmate's maybe-on-purpose fall off the roof of the school than by dancing your heart out in your underwear on that very roof?—but every pas de deux and plié you see onscreen was also performed by the stars of the show, rather than dance doubles. Here's what you need to know about the dancing on Tiny Pretty Things, and how the series' creators and stars worked to stay true to the story's ballet roots.
Are the stars of Tiny Pretty Things professional dancers?
Almost all of them, yes. None of the parents or school administrators are played by actual ballet dancers, but all of the students and anyone else you see dancing in the show have been classically trained. Kylie Jefferson, who plays Neveah, for one, was the youngest person ever accepted to L.A.'s Debbie Allen Dance Academy; Michael Hsu Rosen, a New Yorker who plays Frenchman Nabil, has been starring on Broadway since he was 17; and Daniela Norman, aka June in Tiny Pretty Things, trained with the English National Ballet, appeared in the West End production of An American in Paris, and played Demeter in the 2019 film adaptation of Cats. So, yes—all their dancing is very real.
How did the creators of Tiny Pretty Things cast the main dancers?
The masterminds behind the show were determined to create a series that balanced the twisty mystery of who pushed one of the Archer School's top dancers off the roof of the building with the incredible effort and ambition that goes into being a top dancer—and a series that showcased the give-and-take between the two. For that, they needed real ballerinas in the cast.
"We wanted the dancers to feel represented in their athleticism, and in the sometimes ugly business of making something beautiful," executive producer Jordanna Fraiberg told Dance Spirit. "The show encompasses the grit and sweat, before it's wrapped up in costumes and makeup."
As for the actual casting process, Brennan Clost, who plays Shane, recently explained that the producers were looking for a rare combination of high-level dancing and acting. "This [audition] tape that I sent in was close to 15 minutes; they had us prepare and learn an entire ballet class, plus improvising solos and a dance reel if you had one, and then 10 pages of sides," the Juilliard grad told Backstage. "They really were looking for—the producers called us 'unicorns.' The lead cast [members are] these people that had reached a height in their dance career, but then across the board, within the last five years, have really shifted from high-level professional dance into acting."
Did the cast have a say in the dance scenes?
Some of the professional dancers in the cast have dabbled in choreography, so it makes sense that they would jump at the opportunity to lead the dances on a major Netflix release. According to Jefferson, who choreographed the music video for ScHoolboy Q and Travis Scott's "CHopstix," the show's choreographers were indeed very receptive to the preferences and abilities of the dancers.
"I felt more comfortable with a certain part of the choreography, stamina-wise and things like that. We had such amazing choreographers come in that it was really just about getting to experience the differences between all the voices that were being brought with the work," Jefferson told Black Girl Nerds. "It was a collaborative effort, top to bottom, but, for me, being the dancer, or the vessel in this dynamic, I felt that I could just communicate where my body was."