40 Celebrities You Probably Didn’t Realize Started as Dancers

40 Celebrities You Probably Didn’t Realize Started as Dancers

Celebrities are just like us! They have tons of passions and hobbies. And sometimes they’re some of the most grueling activities—like dancing. Many stars have taken their talents from one stage to another, including the queens of going from dancer to celeb: Julianne Hough and Jenna Dewan. From Marvel stars like Zoe Saldana and Tom Holland to musicians like Jennifer Lopez and Madonna, all the celebrities you’re about to see started out twirling on their toes and doing the splits. Some even have the videos to prove it.

1

Jenna Dewan

You know Jenna Dewan starred in 2006’s Step Up alongside her ex-husband Channing Tatum. But before she showed off her moves on the big screen, the actress was a backup dancer for notable acts like Janet Jackson, *NSYNC, and Pink.

“Tour life is intense. I mean, there’s a lot of power struggles that go on,” Jenna told Harper’s Bazaar. “There’s a lot of drama. You become this family that at times feels dysfunctional, but then you’re a family. You’re stuck on a tour bus together. All kinds of life lessons happened for me from 19 to 21.”

After hosting two seasons of World of Dance, Jenna went back to the production lot to combine her loves of dancing and acting, which included a lead role in Netflix’s Soundtrack.

2

Julianne Hough

Julianne Hough burst onto the scene as a professional ballroom dancer at 19 on Dancing WIth the Stars. After appearing on five seasons as dancer, Julianne started her career as a country singer and actor with credits including Footloose and Safe Haven.

Now, Julianne brings her dance energy to her fitness regime KINRGY. “I believe we’re all dancers,” she told WH. “We were much more self-expressed when we were kids. I’m trying to help people reconnect back to that inner child.”

3

Zoe Saldana

Zoe Saldana’s first passion wasn’t acting—it was ballet. The Guardians of the Galaxy actress enrolled in the Santo Domingo-based ECOS Espacio de Danza Academy, but she told Vanity Fair she “didn’t have the feet.”

But her dance background landed her one of her biggest roles. “I think I would have never booked Avatar if it weren’t for my ballet background,” Zoe told The New York Times. “The actress James Cameron wanted was physically able. I thank god for something like ballet, which gave that space for me to be by myself and find peace. Ballet was my meditation, my therapy, my escape, my answer.”

4

Jennifer Lopez

Everyone knows JLo has moves. (I mean, have you seen her in Hustlers?) Before she added singing and acting to make her a triple threat, JLo was a backup dancer for one of the most popular boy bands: New Kids On The Block. In fact, she’s front and center in this performance from 1991. That same year, she booked herself as a fly girl on In Living Color.

In 1993, she launched her acting career, but we still see her dance moves and listen to her expertise on World of Dance. “I always consider myself as a dancer first,” JLo said. “I became a singer and actress after dancing. For me, it’s so part of who I am.”

5

Penélope Cruz

Before she was winning Oscars, Penélope Cruz trained to become a ballerina at Spain’s National Conservatory. At age 15, she signed onto a talent agency that led to her acting career and subsequently her three Oscar nominations and one win.

“If I hadn’t had the discipline of all those years in the dance world, it would have been much, much tougher (to get acting parts),” Cruz told 60 Minutes.

6

Channing Tatum

Yes, we all know Channing Tatum’s first major acting role was as a dancer in Step Up, but he had to get those moves from somewhere. A 2009 Us Weekly article revealed that Channing was an exotic dancer before making it big.

Channing told GQ he didn’t want to hide it: “I had wanted to tell people. I’m not ashamed of it. I don’t regret one thing. I’m not a person who hides shit.” And all of us got Magic Mike and its sequel because of it, so I’m happy he’s happy.

7

Mia Wasikowska

Before she played Alice in Tim Burton’s adaptation of Alice in Wonderland, Mia Wasikowska was well on her way to being a professional ballerina. She had been practicing since the age of 8, but an ankle injury at 14 caused her to hang up the ballet flats for a while.

“I tricked myself into leaving ballet,” she told The Independent. “I had a substantial enough injury to get some time off—I’d got used to practicing 35 hours a week, leaving school at 1 p.m. and dancing till nine every day—and I just never went back.”

In 2017, she starred alongside Lakeith Stanfield in a Spike Jonez dance narrative for the stage called Changers: A Dance Story.

8

Neve Campbell

Neve Campbell did her own dancing in the 2003 ballet film The Company. It was a point of pride for her since she spent most of her life training in the dance and was even a student at the National Ballet School in Canada.

“It was my life, my love, and my introduction to the arts,” she told SFGate. “(But) I had dealt with a lot of injuries, and I knew that if I continued to try to have a career in a company, I would always be struggling with that.” Maybe that also helped her evade killers in the Scream franchise.

9

Madonna

Madonna has definitely shown her moves on stage before, and her music pulsates through nightclubs everywhere. Before she hit superstardom, she was on a dance scholarship at the University of Michigan, which she dropped to pursue a career in the art in New York City.

“When I first moved to New York I wanted to be a dancer, I danced professionally for years, living a hand-to-mouth existence,” Madonna told The Guardian in 2005. “I never tapped into nightlife, all I knew was dancers, we went to bed early and got up early and went to free concerts at the Lincoln Center and Shakespeare in the Park.”

11

Natalie Portman

Black Swan wasn’t the first time Natalie Portman did ballet, though the experience was unlike anything she had gone through. “I really thought I was better than I was. It was a rude awakening to get there, and to be, like, I don’t know what I’m doing,” Natalie told The New York Times. “If I had known how not close to ready I was, I never would have tried it. I’m glad I was a little ignorant slash arrogant.”

Natalie studied ballet from a young age through age 13.

12

Charlize Theron

Charlize Theron showed off her dance moves with Channing Tatum in 2013 at the Academy Awards. Her impressive dance moves and gracefulness was enough to shock some.

Early in her career as a model, Charlize still saw herself as a dancer. She even moved to New York to study ballet, but it didn’t work out. “I was broke, I was taking class at the Joffrey Ballet, and my knees gave out,” she told The New York Times. “I realized I couldn’t dance anymore, and I went into a major depression.” Now Charlize is an Oscar-winning actress, so it seems it all worked out.

13

Kevin Federline

Kevin Federline didn’t really come onto the scene until he married Britney Spears. Prior to that, he was a backup dancer to some of the biggest acts including Pink, Destiny’s Child, and Michael Jackson. He was even featured in Justin Timberlake’s video for “Like I Love You.”

14

Columbus Short

Scandal actor Columbus Short was a backup dancer for one of the biggest pop stars: Britney Spears. There are videos of him dancing next to the “Toxic” singer dating as early as 2003.

15

Jennifer Garner

Everyone knows Jennifer Garner can dance. (Have you seen her do “Thriller” in 13 Going on 30?!) But it turns out the actress studied ballet while growing up in West Virginia. Perhaps that’s why she does Tutu Tuesday on her IG and performs with real life ballerinas in her spare time.

16

Audrey Hepburn

Suddenly the gracefulness of Audrey Hepburn makes sense. The Breakfast at Tiffany’s actress took up ballet during World War II when her family fled to the Netherlands. Audrey trained at the Arnhem Conservatory and was the “star pupil.” After that, she became a student of Dutch ballerina Sonia Gaskell.

When her family moved to London in 1948, she was offered a spot at Ballet Rambert only to be told her height and physique was not suitable for a career as a professional ballerina.

17

Sam Rockwell

Sam Rockwell isn’t a professional dancer, but that doesn’t mean he can’t move. The Oscar-winning actor learned to breakdance growing up in San Francisco.

“I used to do really bad break dancing, when ‘Thriller’ and ‘Purple Rain’ came out,” Sam told The New York Times. “Probably my biggest inspiration was James Brown, and watching Tom Cruise in Risky Business. I remember practicing that, and watching James Brown do the splits.” It has definitely come in handy in some of his roles.

18

Elisabeth Moss

The Handmaid’s Tale lead Elisabeth Moss took ballet very seriously growing up. “Being a ballet dancer, you take things really seriously at a young age,” Elisabeth told Variety. “By 11 years old, you’re thinking about what company you want to get into and where you’re going to spend the rest of your life.”

She studied at the School of American Ballet in New York City and then went to Washington, D.C., to study with Suzanne Farrell at the Kennedy Center. Elisabeth even produced a ballet documentary called Ballet Now.

20

Diane Kruger

Actress Diane Kruger had dreams of becoming a ballerina, but a knee injury at 13 shattered that vision.“When that ended,” Diane told IndieWire. “I was really lost for a long time. Somebody saw me dancing and said, ‘You should be a model!’”

That modeling career ultimately led to her acting career in films like Troy, Inglourious Basterds and the upcoming action thriller The 355.

21

Naomi Campbell

With a dancer as a mom, it’s no surprise supermodel Naomi Campbell contemplated a career in dance. Naomi started attending the Barbara Speake Stage School at 3 and was accepted into the Italia Conti Academy of the Theatre Arts to study ballet. She even appeared in two music videos: Bob Marley’s “Is This Love” and Culture Club’s “I’ll Tumble 4 Ya.”

Her musical past and influence from her mother even helped on the runway. “(My mom) taught me how to walk. It wasn’t that I didn’t know how to walk,” Naomi said. “She just taught me how to have a bit more swag and how to listen to the rhythm of the music and how to walk when there wouldn’t be music at all, and also to remember the clothing that you’re wearing.”

22

Colin Farrell

Irishman Colin Farrell is know for his roles in movies like The Lobster and Fantatic Beasts and Where to Find Them. But before those roles, he had a job as a professional country line dancer. Yes, you read that right.

“I did get paid to do something that resembled some form of dance possibly for a while,” he told Conan O’Brien of his CMT country line dancing at age 19. Hey, he made a lot of money doing it.

23

Christian Bale

Christian Bale studied at the Royal Ballet School in London, and believe it or not, he was the only boy in the class. His fellow dancers, specifically Annette McLaughlin, told Wales Online that Christian was the stud of the group.

“Then one term he never came back as he had auditioned for Stephen Speilberg’s Empire of the Sun,” Annette said. “All the girls in the class were heartbroken, but he was on his way. I have loads of text books from primary school that say I ‘heart’ Christian Bale. It’s hilarious to look back now as he’s such a mega star.”

24

Sarah Jessica Parker

Sarah Jessica Parker grew up watching ballet in New York City and attended the School of American Ballet in Manhattan. SJP even blended two of her passions—fashion and ballet—to create the New York City Ballet Gala. “An idea was birthed eight years ago when the tents were located across this beautiful promenade,” she told The Hollywood Reporte

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