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.
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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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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 Reporter. “I wondered if there was something fruitful to be born of these two disciplines, of [ballet and fashion] marrying.”
The Vampire Diaries actress Kat Graham was a backup dancer for some of the biggest in biz, including Pharrell, Missy Elliot, and Usher. Kat got her start at 15 as a backup dancer for Bow Wow after catching the eye of choreographer Fatima Robinson.
Sean “Diddy” Combs learned from the best as a backup dancer for people like Big Daddy Kane and Heavy D. He also appeared in music videos alongside Heavy D. and The Boyz’s when they performed on In Living Color. His career as a rapper and producer officially started in 1993.
Jessica Brown Findlay
Downton Abbey star Jessica Brown Findlay started taking ballet when she was just 2 years old. The actress continued in hopes of becoming a full-fledged ballerina.
But at 17, she experienced an ankle injury that forced her to get surgery and cast aside her dream. “I suppose I learned that putting all your eggs in one basket can be dangerous,” she told Marie Claire of the experience.
Bond girl Michelle Yeoh started her ballet training at age 4, and at 15, she studied at the UK’s prestigious Royal Academy of Dance. Unfortunately, her ballet career was cut short in college after she suffered a spinal injury.
After teaching the art, Yeoh found herself in Hong Kong action movies, in which her dance skills proved useful. “This is like choreography,” she told Vanity Fair. Her acting career landed her roles in Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Crazy Rich Asians.
It’s no surprise that the person who played Billy Elliot in the eponymous film can actually dance. But for actor Jamie Bell, playing Billy Elliot on screen mimicked his real life.
“It is very impactful, it means everything, and everything kind of comes back to that,” he told The Guardian. “That wasn’t really acting to me. That was my life. I’d put ballet shoes down my pants to hide them from my friends. I’d done all this before. So the Bafta doesn’t feel like an achievement. The achievement was getting the role. But I consider that to be extremely lucky.”
Having also starred in Bunheads, it might not surprise you to learn Gilmore Girls actress Kelly Bishop has a background in ballet. Throughout her childhood, she trained at the San Jose Ballet School. She made her debut at Radio City Music Hall in 1962 as part of the corps.
Patrick Swayze’s mother was a dance teacher, so it’s not so far-fetched that he practiced ballet.
After leaving Texas, Patrick went to New York City for more formal training. Right around that time, his acting career took off, but he was able to blend his talents in films like Dirty Dancing. Patrick even met his wife on the dance floor at his mother’s studio.
What a throwback! Webslinger Tom Holland was cast as Billy Elliot in the stage production at age 8. This article from the Richmond and Twickenham Times features and adorable photo of the actor, who at the time was taking hip hop classes on the weekend. “I was so excited to be cast as Billy,” he said at the time. “My mum and dad joke about who I take after. I’ve seen them both dance and I have to say, there must have been a mix up at the hospital!”
Back to the Future actress Lea Thompson had her love for dance reignited when she competed on season 19 of Dancing with the Stars. But it was ballet icon Mikhail Baryshnikov who said Lea was “too stocky” to be a ballerina. “He said, ‘I can’t take you because you’re too stocky and you’re not flexible enough,’ and he was right. It was the best thing that ever happened to me,” Lea said. “I walked out, I became an actress (and) I got seven movies in the next two years.”
The late rapper and actor Tupac Shakur got his start in the hip-hop group Digital Underground. Though he was primarily the group’s roadie and emcee, he did do some background dancing.
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