March 22nd, 2013. East Flatbush, Brooklyn. The Flavor Essence dance team moves through its choreography in unison as smoke clouds the air in a nightclub around 3am on a Thursday night. Videographers often attend the parties to make video of the dancers, which will be published on the internet on various websites that cater to the subculture. Teams often compete fiercely for the videographer's spotlight. (Natalie Keyssar)
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March 22nd, 2013. East Flatbush, Brooklyn. The Flavor Essence dance team moves through its choreography in unison as smoke clouds the air in a nightclub around 3am on a Thursday night. Videographers often attend the parties to make video of the dancers, which will be published on the internet on various websites that cater to the subculture. Teams often compete fiercely for the videographer's spotlight.Natalie Keyssar
March 22nd, 2013. East Flatbush, Brooklyn. The Flavor Essence dance team moves through its choreography in unison as smoke clouds the air in a nightclub around 3am on a Thursday night. Videographers often attend the parties to make video of the dancers, which will be published on the internet on various websites that cater to the subculture. Teams often compete fiercely for the videographer's spotlight. (Natalie Keyssar)
February 22, 2013. Best friends Sarah and Chevelle, who go by Cookie and Velvet, perform a trick together during a party at a Dancehall Club in East Flatbush, Brooklyn. The two are both members of the same Dancehall Team- Zero Nation- and often dance together as a pair. The demonstrations of flexibility in dancehall dancing frequently raise eyebrows, but the girls view it as part of their Caribbean culture, and a source of empowerment. (Natalie Keyssar)
April 11, 2013. Flatbush, Brooklyn. Sarah's friend "Tiny" practices putting her leg behind her head as Chevelle tailors her shorts to be shorter before they head to the club for the evening. (Natalie Keyssar)
April 11, 2013. Flatbush, Brooklyn. Sarah cuts the bottom off of a childhood jazz dance costume to make it into a crop top for the club that evening. As she picks up the scissors she says "I can't believe I'm doing this."(Natalie Keyssar)
August 11, 2013. Sarah checks her reflection in a friend's mirror before heading out to a Dancehall Club for the evening.
August 8th, 2013. Brooklyn, NY. Velvet tries on a top in a store on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn.
April 11, 2013. East Flatbush, Brooklyn. At a nightclub in East Flatbush, Sarah and her three of her girlfriends, Velvet, Niasia, and Diamond all dancers affiliated with the Zero Nation dancehall crew, hit the floor when the faster songs preferred by the female dancers come on over the speakers. They balance on their hands, kicking their legs into splits over their heads, and perform moves which display extreme flexibility. (Natalie Keyssar)
April 11, 2013. East Flatbush, Brooklyn. At a nightclub in East Flatbush, Sarah's best friend and dance team mate Velvet dances as a videographer tapes the scene and her friends throw dollar bills. They make the sign of gun with their hands in a gesture of approval for her dancing. (Natalie Keyssar)
April 11, 2013. Sarah smokes in a friend's hallway before getting ready to attend a party that evening.
September 19, 2013. Velvet sits in Syrins room, where she and other dancers watch youtube videos of dancehall competitions and run through dance moves as the sun sets outside the window.
August 19, 2013. Velvet and friends smoke and watch the new Grand Theft Auto game being played in a  friend's bedroom.
August 19, 2013. Sarah sits on her friend Syrin's bedroom floor as Velvet runs through dance moves behind her. Syrin is the head of Zero Nation, a collective of Dancehall Dancers based in Flatbush and East New York. Dancehall is a style of Jamaican music and dance, known for its highly sexual lyrics and  acrobatic choreography. For Sarah, a teenage Dancehall Queen and ballerina from Flatbush, Brooklyn, dance is her identity and passion.
August 19, 2013. Sarah's ex boyfriend David shows up at the playground she's hanging out at after hearing that she's there. One point of contention in their relationship is Sarah's dancehall dancing, which David doesn't like.
August 8, 2013. East Flatbush, Brooklyn. Sarah braids her brother's hair in their mother's home as her niece looks on.
August 21, 2013. Flatbush, Brooklyn. Sarah's niece and her friends strike poses on the stoop of Sarah's home on a summer afternoon. Dancehall dancers often site their dance abilities as part of their Caribbean heritage. Young girls start to learn some of the less suggestive dance moves in a dance hall queen's repertoire very young, but Sarah's niece giggle and exclaims "We're too young!" when asked if she can dance like her auntie. Two months later, Sarah will be shot in the foot just a few feet from this stoop.(Natalie Keyssar)
February 28, 2013. Canarsie, Brooklyn. Sarah rehearses at Bonnie's Dance Showcase, the dance school that she's attended since she was 5. Sarah often says dancing is what she was born to do. She loves her classes and has used them as an outlet during times of stress. "I can forget about everything when I'm dancing," she says. (Natalie Keyssar)
May 4, 2013. Long Island, New York. Sarah stretches out in the cafeteria of high school where her dance school's team is preparing to perform in a dance competition. (Natalie Keyssar)
May 4th, 2013. Long Island, New York. Backstage at a dance competition with her dance school's team, Sarah takes a moment to center herself before she performs.
August 21, 2013. Flatbush, Brooklyn. Sarah and her friends eat and chat on the stoop outside her house before going out for the evening.  They watch the block careful when cars round the corner, while gossiping and laughing and making plans for the evening.
December 31, 2013. Sarah's cell phone sits on her text-message themed bed spread. On the phone is a photo she took of her swollen foot immediately after the bullet was removed. The bullet entered through the back of her heel and had to be removed through an incision in the side of her foot.
October 2, 2013. Sarah, medicated on high doses of pain killers, lies in a hospital bed surrounded by friends and get well soon gifts, the day after she was shot in the foot outside her family's home in East Flatbush. She heard shots and started to run, but a bullet ricocheted off the sidewalk  and lodged in her heel. It had to be surgically removed.
October 2, 2013. Sarah, lies on a hospital bed, her manicured toes peeking out of her cast, medicated on high doses of pain killers, the day after she was shot in a drive by in the foot outside her family's home in East Flatbush. She heard shots and started to run, but a bullet ricocheted off the sidewalk  and lodged in her heel. It had to be surgically removed. Her friends and dance team members rallied to her side, and spent the time joking and running through dance routines in her hospital room. Unable to participate, Sarah  pointed out errors in choreography from her bed.
November 9th, 2013. Sarah's friend Blacca hugs her goodbye as she leaves his house for the evening on crutches.
November 9th, 2013. About 5 weeks after being shot in the heel, Sarah hangs out at a friend's house, her crutches leaned against the wall. Her best friend Velvet practices dance moves for an upcoming dancehall queen competition, which Sarah will have to sit out. Sarah is expected to be in a cast until January of 2014, and after that there will be a long road to recovery. She hopes to return to dancing, which she describes as the thing she was born to do.
October 10th, 2013. After getting home from the hospital, Sarah and her niece check their reflections in Sarah's room at home.
November 9th, 2013. East New York, Brooklyn. Chevelle and Sarah, her leg in a brace, kick their feet in the air as they tumble off the bed at their friend Blacca's house while rough housing despite Sarah's injury.
Feb 01, 2014. East New York, Brooklyn. Sarah attends a Zero Nation meeting in Syrin's bedroom, where each member takes notes on the proceedings. In the meeting, Syrin establishes new ground rules for the group in 2014, oriented around keeping the group organized, lucrative, positive and supportive. He also bans group members from gang activity or practicing while intoxicated.
February 1, 2014. Sarah walks out of a Zero Nation meeting at Syrin's house in East New York. She's still using her cane but improving quickly, and even starting to dance again.
March 22nd, 2013. East Flatbush, Brooklyn. The Flavor Essence dance team moves through its choreography in unison as smoke clouds the air in a nightclub around 3am on a Thursday n
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Natalie Keyssar
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Unstoppable: Meet the Dancehall Queens of Brooklyn

Jun 10, 2014

At around 1 am on a late-winter night in East Flatbush, Brooklyn, a small line of young men and women forms outside Sugar Mills nightclub. Attendees are searched by a team of bouncers before entering. Inside, dancers watch each other from the edges of the floor. As girls run circles around each other, the quickening beat of the music creates the sensation of a gradually building fever. One dancer, Sarah, moves her head in a serpentine rhythm, a wig framing her striking features. As she dances, she spins and floats in a maelstrom of implausible flexibility. For Sarah, and the other members of a Brooklyn-based Dancehall team called Zero Nation, these weekly parties at Sugar Mills are a keystone of their community.

Dancehall is a style of music and dance born in Jamaica in the 1970s. It fuses reggae-style rhythms with electronic instrumentals and DJs who freestyle over the music -- in Dancehall, the term DJ is used instead of the more widely known MC, used in hip hop. While often criticized for its themes of violence, extreme sexuality and homophobia, for many fans the subculture is an expression of the realities of life in its birthplace of Kingston, Jamaica. Brooklyn, with its large Caribbean community, is home to a thriving Dancehall scene.

Sarah Crosse goes by the name “Cookie,” and like other Zero Nation members she often struggles to make ends meet. Many work at low-wage jobs while going to school and trying to build their futures. But while they are dancing, their troubles fade. Sarah has taken ballet, jazz, tap and hip-hop dance classes at a dance school in Canarsie, Brooklyn, since she was 5. Her formal dance background has built up her reputation in the Dancehall scene. She credits dance with helping her to cope with some of the most difficult moments in her life.

August 8, 2013. A photograph of Sarah in her ballet costume around age 5 is tucked into the mirror in her bedroom.

When one of her best friends was shot and killed in September 2010, Sarah fell into a depression and dropped out of school. But with the support of her family and dance teachers, she began to go to her dance classes again, and to use movement as an outlet as she processed the loss. She joined Zero Nation two years ago. The group became a family to her, and a social space that exists outside of the gang culture entrenched in her neighborhood. However, in Brooklyn’s 67th Precinct, where someone was murdered roughly once a month in 2013 and 10 out of 12 of these crimes remains unsolved, the street violence finally caught up with Sarah last fall.

On Oct. 30, 2013, Sarah and a friend, Zero Nation member Cheville -- who goes by the name "Velvet" -- descended the steps of Sarah’s family’s home in East Flatbush and set off down her block. Sarah only realized she’d been shot when she pulled off her hightop Nike Jordan and saw blood oozing through her sock. A bullet had ricocheted off the sidewalk, as the girls ran for cover from a drive-by, and lodged neatly in the center of the ballerina’s heel. It had to be surgically removed.

In February 2014, Zero Nation congregated in their leader's bedroom in Brownsville to lay out a new set of rules for the group. They discussed stylistic elements for the group’s choreography, and banned any intoxication during practices and "excessive" intoxication at parties. The group established ground rules for monetizing their dancing. Zero Nation’s name would no longer be used to promote parties unless they were paid.

As the meeting broke up, the dancers ran through their routines. Sarah leaned her walking cane against the wall and joined in. Though she stepped gingerly on her still-recovering foot, her movements were precise and confident. Since the shooting, she has refused to entertain the idea that she would not dance again -- although at first the doctors were unsure if she ever would.

“Don’t worry guys," Sarah posted on her Facebook page a few weeks ago. "I’ll soon pick you back up and start moving you around. I know you miss me and I miss you guys 10,000 percent more. The time will come when I will wear you out until your body starts falling apart. I love you and I promise I will never leave you again.”

Natalie Keyssar is a photographer and a member of Reportage by Getty Images Emerging Talent.

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