Today we’d like to introduce you to Renee Kester.
Renee, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I was born and raised in Long Beach, California, where I began in competitive gymnastics at age two. After a severe hip injury forced me to quit I decided at age 12 that I would become a professional dancer instead. I went to a local dance studio near my house in search of a hip hop class, but they said they only had a breakdancing class that day. This was when I met Quest crew. They trained me privately in breakdancing and took me to underground sessions and battles throughout all of my teenage years. I went to an arts high school where I trained in other styles and traveled to LA often to take extra classes. I began dancing professionally by age 15, doing tv. shows, live shows and assisting/dancing for choreographer Sonya Tayeh. I left my high school at this age to train at a ballet school during the days.
I started ballet much later than most but was scouted at a ballet competition at age 18 to be a trainee at Washington Ballet. I moved to Washington DC to be with this company and then got accepted into Houston Ballet soon after. At age 21, after dancing and touring with Houston Ballet, I decided to move back to LA to break away from the ballet world and explore my own style of movement. I reconnected with the Quest crew and an old friend of mine, Phillip Chbeeb. Phillip and I created a dance video together called “Slip,” which by surprise, went viral on the internet and won us several choreography awards. From this point on, I choreographed several music videos, web series, live shows, and commercials including Nair, Timberland, Prius, and Lenovo.
In my choreography, I try to combine all the different styles I have learned and am known for using my extreme flexibility. However, about a year ago, at age 24, I began to have a lot of hip pain, and it became difficult to stand, sit, and walk. I was diagnosed with hip dysplasia and told by five different doctors that I needed major hip surgery and would never be able to dance again. I had two hip surgeries to my right hip including a PAO (pelvis reconstruction). I decided to document my journey through these surgeries. I pushed the boundaries and was able to put my leg behind my head again after just two weeks. After three and a half weeks I re-learned how to walk on my own again, and after three months was teaching, choreographing and dancing again.
Today, one year later at age 26, I am completely back to dancing without having lost any flexibility. I am grateful to still be traveling the world performing, teaching, and choreographing doing what I love. Throughout this difficult journey and recovery, I also decided to pursue music, a passion I’ve had for the past five years, playing guitar, piano, singing, and songwriting. I created my artist name, Nayya and have released three singles so far which are now on all music platforms. Music and writing have kept me sane through it all, and I’m excited to continue to release more of my music and be able to create a dance to it as well.
Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
As an artist, I don’t think it’s ever a completely smooth road. Definitely, the biggest struggle was going through my hip surgeries, which I mentioned in my previous answer. It was not easy to be told I wouldn’t be able to ever do again what I spent my whole life pursuing.
It was hard not to get depressed and give up when I couldn’t even get up to go to the bathroom on my own, and I was missing out on job opportunities. But if you love something, you don’t give up. And it also pushed me to really pursue my music as well during that time.
Another struggle every artist has to face is rejection. In between all of the successes I had there was lots of rejection! It takes a lot of passion and determination to continue to bigger and bigger things! But these hard times of struggle are definitely when the most growth happens.
Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Nayya – what should we know?
I am a freelance contemporary dancer/choreographer and musician. As a dancer/choreographer I go by my real name, Renee Kester. I am known for making dance videos and using extreme athleticism and flexibility. Because of my background in both breakdancing and ballet, I believe I’ve found a more unique approach to contemporary and have also been able to collaborate with a lot of amazing street dancers such as Phillip Chbeeb, Rubberlegz, and ET (Matthew Gibbs). I love to choreograph on dancers who are fearless and trained in both street styles and ballet or contemporary.
I am happy I get to travel and teach, to share my knowledge, and that I’ve been able to reach people all around the world through my dance videos. I am also honored to be able to advise people who have been struggling with hip dysplasia and share my journey with them. As a musician, I go by Nayya. I create alternative pop music as well as acoustic. I have had the pleasure to create a dance to my own music and am excited to continue combining the two art forms! I believe that being a dancer has helped me with music and being a musician has helped me as a dancer.
Any shoutouts? Who else deserves credit in this story – who has played a meaningful role?
Ryan Conferido and Hokuto Konishi from Quest Crew have helped me in becoming my own artist. They used to give me private lessons and taught me at the age of 12 to create my own style of movement. All of the Quest crew was a huge influence on who I am as an artist actually. They taught me to use all of my ability in a way that is unique to me.
Sonya Tayeh gave me the opportunity to perform professionally with her company at the age of 16. I was the youngest member, surrounded by professionals who were amazing, and passionate about what they did. This taught me work ethic and that loving what I do comes first. Jessie Riley was definitely one of my biggest influences/mentors.
She would pick me up from my house far away and train me daily from age 14. She created Westside Dance Project, a training company for young dancers, which started with just me and Kevin Le (my childhood dance partner). Not only did she push us to learn technique and choreography, but she also taught us to freestyle, to be unique, and to always love and appreciate art.
Rubberlegz is a good friend/dance partner of mine. He constantly helps me to push boundaries and believes in myself. ET is also another good friend/dance partner of mine who inspires me daily, we’ve been working together a lot lately! There are several people who helped me get where I am today, and I couldn’t be more grateful for them.
- Private Lessons: $150/hr (Los Angeles)
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/reneekester11/
- Other: IG @reneekester11