Mid-combination in Rhapsody James’ class at New York City’s Broadway Dance Center, Ksyn, a dancer with smooth but powerful moves, stands out from the throng of students. Her movie-star face expresses her undeniable enthusiasm as she masters each hard-hitting thwack and effortlessly executes the highly syncopated choreography. Performing onstage alongside Bad Boy recording artist Donnie Klang, her movement becomes sultry and playful as she interacts with the singer under flashing lights. But whether in class or on stage, one thing’s for sure: Ksyn’s confidence, or “swag,” as she calls it, keeps this rising diva one step ahead.
At just 25, Ksyn has stormed the hip-hop world: She’s already performed with Ashanti and Eve, and has danced in videos for 50 Cent and Kat DeLuna. Now, she’s dancing backup for Making the Band 4’s Klang, sharing the stage with only one other dancer, Alyssa Vacco, the show’s choreographer. (Ksyn’s favorite performance was opening for the Backstreet Boys with Klang in Las Vegas!) Plus, she has a college degree in arts management, so she can take on new dance ventures with both the dance and business skills needed for success.
At 5 years old, the Bronx, NY, native started ballet. It lost its appeal when Ksyn gravitated toward sports at age 9. “I was a tomboy and everything the boys did, I wanted to do,” she says. But along with game practice, she began taking an African dance class with her cousin and found she enjoyed learning the cultural background of the high-energy movements just as much as she liked her time on the court.
Though she continued with basketball and cheerleading in junior high, her true calling became apparent when she was 13 and began step-dancing for Teens in Motion [TIM], a non-profit organization aimed at bringing the arts to teens through youth performances. Involvement with the group presented exhilarating opportunities, like a competition at Roxy’s Nightclub in NYC, sponsored by Seventeen; the group nabbed first place! “We beat everyone, and there were famous people there, like Usher,” Ksyn recalls. “We even got to open up for Alicia Keys at numerous performances!”
Pleased with that first glimpse of a performer’s life, Ksyn continued with TIM., and hip hop took center stage in her world. “I gravitated toward hip hop because of the swagger,” she says. “It allows you to show your personality more.”
The stage would have to wait, though, because at 17, Ksyn packed up her ambitions and brought them to Franklin Pierce University in New Hampshire. While at school, Ksyn was exposed to a new genre of movement. “I had never taken a modern class, but the dance curriculum consisted of only modern and ballet!” Diving right in with the encouragement of her professors, she found a new outlet and respect for the unfamiliar form of dance.
While at school, for three years Ksyn was president of “SISTUHS,” an organization dedicated to educating the campus about women’s issues like breast cancer and rape. When she choreographed a hip-hop piece for her school’s Midnight Madness in conjunction with the group, she realized the impact her modern training was having on her personal style. “I was teaching hip hop to my club, but I was using the modern vocabulary from class,” she says.
In 2005, Ksyn graduated with a B.S. in Arts Management. “It incorporated all the elements I would need to know in the industry—law, business, marketing, how to write grants,” she says. “And I still got to dance.” Returning to NYC a more educated and versatile dancer, Ksyn decided to pursue what she loved most: hip hop. She signed with Bloc NYC, an agency for dance and choreography, and soon earned her first dance gig, backing Sean Kingston on BET Network’s show 106 & Park. From there, her continuous success with hip-hop stars has been nonstop.
Regardless of the singer at the mic, Ksyn, whose dream job is to perform with Janet Jackson, stresses the maintenance of a good working relationship with all performers. “When I work with artists, I put them above everything else.” This is partially why Klang, who now considers Ksyn one of his best friends, admires her. “She’s so talented and has a great work ethic—constantly practicing,” he says. “She’s so humble in rehearsal, but the animal comes out on stage.”
Now, Ksyn is taking classes in many styles to continue improving. “Having more styles under your belt makes grasping choreography easier,” she says. “Take class to learn, not to book a gig,” she adds, warning dancers against treating class as an audition.
In the future, Ksyn plans to put her performing experience [ital: and] college degree to use by starting her own youth arts nonprofit organization, similar to the one that nurtured her talent. “When you don’t have people pushing for you as a kid, you feel like you have no one in your corner,” she says. “Teens in Motion kept me busy. When everyone else was getting into trouble on the streets, I was in rehearsal. I want to start a program like that, teaching dance, acting and singing, so that teens have an inexpensive place to turn to.” In the meantime, catch her onstage with Klang, R & B singers Mario and Jeremiah or with Rhapsody’s Sirens Assassins, where her swag and sass mesmerize everyone in the crowd.
Birth date: December 29, 1983
Birth name: Tanesha Cason. She picked a stage name to sound like her last name so she could still respond to it!
Favorite Food: General Tso’s chicken
Favorite costume ever worn: “When I danced with Eve in Australia, we wore French maid outfits with platinum blond wigs, fishnets and gold sneakers.”
Monica Levy is a dancer and writer in NYC.
Photo by Jeremy Jennings