The road to stardom is not always a straight path. While numerous celebrities admit to toiling at odd jobs before they got their big acting break, some got their start in other areas of entertainment before transitioning into acting on television and in films. Many stars pursued dance careers before pursuing a career in acting. Film icon Bridgette Bardot trained in ballet before moving on to modeling and acting. Gene Kelly’s family owned a dance studio in Pittsburgh, where he was a dance instructor and choreographer before landing his first film role. The legendary actor utilized his dance training while performing in MGM films.
Patrick Swayze was the son of a choreographer. Before appearing on Broadway and making his film debut, Swayze received formal dance training at the Harkness Ballet and Joffrey Ballet schools. He would later display his dance skills in the Broadway production of ‘Grease’ and in the popular 1987 film ‘Dirty Dancing’. Actress Elizabeth Berkley started her dance training at the Detroit Dance Company at age 5. She performed in ballets and musicals before making her film debut in the 1987 TV movie ‘Frog’, and landing a role on the hit teen show ‘Saved By The Bell’. Actor Taylor Lautner performed with the hip-hop dance group ‘LA Hip Kids’ and the jazz dance group ‘Hot Shots’ before his breakout role in ‘The Twilight Saga’ film series.
Yet, this list is not limited to stars that received formal dance training. Celebrities like Brad Pitt, Mark Consuelos and Catherine Zeta-Jones took an unconventional route to stardom by beginning their careers as exotic dancers. Which other celebrities were dancers first?
10. Debi Mazar
Former “B-girl” and actress Debi Mazar began her career in NYC performing as a hip-hop dancer. She appeared in the 1984 hip-hop dancing show ‘Graffiti Rock’. Mazar is also known for her friendship with Madonna and has made multiple appearances in Madonna’s videos, from 1986 to 2000. She went on to star on television and in films, most recently in the television series ‘Entourage’. Mazar now hosts ‘Extra Virgin’, a cooking show on The Cooking Channel with her husband, Tuscan farmer Gabriele Corcos.
9. Penelope Cruz
Actress Penelope Cruz studied classical ballet for nine years at Spain’s National Conservatory. She trained in ballet and theater at the New York School. After developing the acting bug as a teen and acing a talent audition, Cruz landed an agent. In 1992, she booked her first film role in ‘Jamón, jamón’ and continued to study ballet into her early 20’s. That film helped her launch a successful American film career. Cruz will star in the upcoming film ‘Ma Ma,’ set for release in 2015. In 2013, she had her second child with her husband, actor Javier Bardem.
8. Channing Tatum
Actor Channing Tatum made his debut as a dancer in Ricky Martin’s ‘She Bangs’ video. Before that, he made a living as a male exotic dancer until he was discovered and signed by a modeling agent. The 2012 film ‘Magic Mike’, which also stars Matthew McConaughey, is loosely based on Tatum’s experiences in adult entertainment. After an appearance on CSI: Miami, he landed his first movie role in the 2005 film ‘Coach Carter’. Tatum went on to build a solid film career and is now on hiatus after having his first baby with wife Jenna Dewan-Tatum in 2013.
7. Zoe Saldana
Zoe Saldana’s dance training helped land her first film role, playing a ballet dancer in ‘Center Stage’. Saldana studied ballet, jazz and Latin dance at the ECOS Espacio de Danza Dance Academy in the Dominican Republic. She would eventually transition to theater and then films. Saldana will star in ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ in 2014 and reprise her role in ‘Avatar 2’ in 2015.
6. Neve Campbell
At age 6, actress Neve Campbell was enrolled at the Erinvale School of Dance. She became a dancer-in-residence at the National Ballet School of Canada and performed until she stopped to pursue acting at age 15. Best known for her television role in ‘Party of Five’, which lasted from 1994 to 2000, Campbell has also appeared in films. Her first starring role in a major film was ‘The Craft’ in 1996. Campbell recently starred in the lifetime original movie, ‘An Amish Murder,’ and will appear in the upcoming 2015 film ‘Walter’s’.
5. Flex Alexander
Former stand-up comedian Flex Alexander gained the nickname “Flex” from dancing in NYC clubs. A background dancer for Salt-n-Pepa for three years, Flex also choreographed for Queen Latifah and Mary J. Blige. Eventually, he turned to comedy and acting, making his film debut in the 1992 movie ‘Juice’ and appearing in ‘Uptown Comedy Club’ for two years. Flex starred in the popular television show he created, ‘One on One’, from 2001 to 2006. In 2013, Anderson guest starred on VH1’s ‘Single Ladies’ and he recently released the second episode of his digital comic book series, ‘The Joshua Run’. Anderson has two children with R&B singer, Shanice Wilson.
4. Christopher Walken
Before acting, Christopher Walken was a musical theater dancer. The academy award winner trained at the Washington Dance Studio. A former child actor, Walken guest-starred in Hawaii Five-O in 1969 and had his first feature film debut in the 1971 film ‘The Anderson Tapes’. He would go on to win the Academy Award for his role in the 1978 film ‘The Deer Hunter’. Walken surprised fans when he danced in the 2011 Fatboy Slim Video, ‘Weapon of Choice’, which he also choreographed. The video won six MTV music video awards. Walken stars in the 2014 BBC television film ‘Turks & Caicos’.
3. Mia Wasikowska
Australian born actress Mia Wasikowska began her ballet training at age 9. At age 13, she was training for 35 hours a week until reportedly suffering a dance-related injury. Though she has spoken about the unhealthy body perceptions ballet training can create, she credits her dance training with giving her the discipline to succeed in acting. Wasikowska landed her first U.S. acting role on the HBO television series ‘In Treatment’. She made her film debut in the 2008 film ‘Defiance’. Wasikowska is starring in two upcoming films, ‘Map to the Stars’ and ‘Madam Bovary,’ scheduled for release in 2014.
2. Amy Adams
Actress Amy Adams apprenticed at a local dance company, which she reportedly believed would earn her a college scholarship. After the physical demands of ballet proved to be too much, Adams focused her efforts on musical theater and acting. In 1999, she landed her first film role in ‘Drop Dead Gorgeous’ and has gone on to star in films and television series. Adams has earned several Academy Award nominations since her acting career began. She stars in two upcoming films in 2014, ‘Big Eyes’ and ‘Lullaby’.
1. Jennifer “J.Lo” Lopez
Actress Jennifer “J.Lo” Lopez is known for her early days as a backup dancer for ‘New Kids on the Block.’ She made her television debut dancing as a “Fly Girl” on ‘In Living Color’ in 1991, which she left to pursue acting. J.Lo briefly worked as a backup dancer for Janet Jackson, before transitioning to acting on television. In 1997, she landed her breakout film role in “Selena’ and has gone on to star in major motion films and release pop albums. J.Lo is currently co-hosting ‘American Idol’ and is scheduled to release her tenth album this summer.
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