These Celebrities Got Their Hollywood Breaks On The Dance Floor

Dancing With the Stars gets a lot of credit for kickstarting side careers in Hollywood. Julianne Hough is a perfect example. Without the show, she'd likely never have made her way to star in films like Footloose. However, some stars completely tossed their dance careers in favor of acting. Find out who below...

Jenna Dewan

Jenna Dewan's most popular dance role was in 2006's Step Up, in which she played the lead alongside her ex-husband, Channing Tatum. She was a backup dancer for Jenet Jackson, P!nk, and *NYSNC before she really broke into acting. Even though it's been over a decade since Step Up, she still continues to dance today.

World of Dance

Dewan was the host of the show World of Dance, a competition show, for two seasons. After that, she took the lead role in the Netflix film, Soundtrack. Looks like she's still combining her love of dance, film, and acting.

Julianne Hough

Julianne Hough joined the cast of Dancing With the Stars as a professional performer at just 19 years old. She and brother Derek Hough were a dynamic duo, and she appeared on the show for five seasons. Her next career choices branched completely out of the dance world...

Safe Haven

In 2013, Hough starred in the film version of the Nicholas Sparks novel, Safe Haven and also landed a leading role in Footloose. She for sure had the chops to pursue acting, but she also decided to branch into the realm of country music. She also dated television host Ryan Seacrest and married hockey player Brooks Laich.

Zoe Saldana

Zoe Saldana's first love wasn't film, it was ballet! She was a student at the Santo Domingo ECOS Espacio de Danza Academy, but claims she "didn't have the feet." However, dance led her to land one of her biggest film roles in Avatar, because James Cameron wanted an actress that would be able to keep up with the physically-intense script.

Bringing Neytiri to Life

On the role, Zaldana said, “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.” Her role as Neytiri has gone down as one of her most inspired performances, with two more sequels (finally) in the works. 

Jennifer Lopez

Of course, JLo was a performer before she was an actress. Her incredible music career is the whole reason why she broke into film. She got her start as a backup dancer for New Kids on the Block, and then went on to land incredible film roles...


One of Lopez's earlier roles was in the biopic, Selena, about the late singer Selena Quintanilla. She perfected this role and earned the respect of both the film and the music industry with her acting skills and her ability to replicate Selena's infamous sound. That movie has been regarded as some of her best work. 

Penélope Cruz

Penélope Cruz was on track to become a professionally trained ballerina with Spain's National Conservatory. She signed to an agency at age 15. Dance is a huge reason why she's been nominated for three Oscar awards and won one of them.

A Disciplined Performer 

Thanks to all of her dedicated dance training, Cruz understood how to stay relevant in Hollywood. “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 said. She earned roles in films like Vanilla Sky and Volver because of her intense work ethic.

Channing Tatum

Channing Tatum met his ex-wife Jenna Dewan on the set of Step Up, the dance romance that kicked off his career. However, Tatum didn't learn those moves on set, he showed up with them. He revealed that he was an exotic dancer before he was an actor.

Hollywood's Everyman

Despite being ashamed of his dance past, it's gone on to earn Tatum some pretty incredible roles. He's done everything from romance with Dear John to comedy with She's the Man and 21 Jump Street to action with White House Down. If he's not a Hollywood everyman, who is?

Mia Wasikowska

Her breakout role was in Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland, but Mia Wasikowska wasn't new to performing before she landed that part. She was a trained professional ballerina. She'd been dancing since age 8, but she took a long break at age 14 after injuring her ankle.

Movies for Stage

Aside from Alice in Wonderland, Wasikowska has also been featured in some other pretty intense films. One role, in particular, struck critics' attention. She starred alongside Lakeith Stanfield in Spike Jonez's dance narrative called Changers: A Dance Story, and was meant to be filmed while performed on stage.

Neve Campbell

Did you know all of the dancing Neve Campbell did in the 2003 film The Company was her own? She was exceptionally proud of that role because she was training at the National Ballet School in Canada. “It was my life, my love, and my introduction to the arts," she said.

Scream Queen

Scream to this day is one of Campbell's most successful roles. The legacy of those Halloween films is still unmatched, and she can thank Ghostface for launching her into Hollywood. Her character is one of the most celebrated Final Girls in scary movie history.


Of course, Madonna got her start on stage. Who else invented the concept of vogueing? Her longstanding music career has made her one of the most impactful artists in history, and her reach spans rock, lounge, pop, and dance music. That meant her break into Hollywood was pretty easy.

A League of Her Own

Madonna carved out quite the space for herself in Hollywood, nailing roles in every corner of the industry. From A League of Their Own to Evita to Swept Away, she's done it all. She's proved she can play an action lead, a romantic heroine, and a lounge performer. 

Heather Morris

Heather Morris got her start in Hollywood as a backup dancer for Beyoncé before she was ever a cheerleader on Glee. She has been featured on Dancing With the Stars and still dances today. She recently posted a dance tribute to her late friend and Glee co-star, Naya Rivera.

Off-Screen Friends For Life

Morris and Rivera's onscreen romance on Glee translated to an off-screen best friend for years. The entire cast remained close following the show's end, but these two especially had an unbreakable bond. The news of Rivera's death in 2020 shook Morris and fans. 

Natalie Portman

The ballet in Black Swan was all thanks to Natalie Portman's real-life skills. Portman studied ballet until she was 13 years old, but she was still unprepared for the rigor that Black Swan would put her 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,” she said. “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.”

An Impressive Backlog of Roles

One of Portman's earlier breakout roles was in the Star Wars franchise as Padme Amidala, Luke and Leia's mother. The role showcased her depth as an action star and a dramatic character. Her on-screen romance with Anakin actor Hayden Christensen majorly enhanced her portfolio. 

Charlize Theron

Remember when Charlize Theron and Channing Tatum showcased their dance moves at the 2013 Academy Awards? Many viewers had no idea Theron had a dance background. Dance was one of the pivotal parts of her early modeling career. 

A Joffrey Ballet Student

Charlize Theron moved from South Africa to New York to study ballet while she was pursuing modeling. However, that's not the direction her career would take. "I was broke, I was taking class at the Joffrey Ballet, and my knees gave out,” she said. “I realized I couldn’t dance anymore, and I went into a major depression.”

Kevin Federline

Kevin Federline can thank his ex-wife Britney Spears for his sudden fame. He was a lowkey rapper until the two met. He spent his time backup dancing for Pink, Destiny's Child, and Michael Jackson before he launched his own career.

A Tumultuous Relationship

It's no secret that KFed and Britney had their ups and downs. The couple had two sons together before they divorced, and both have since remarried. However, Britney's career has taken off again, while KFed's definitely has not.

Columbus Short

Before he was on Scandal alongside Kerry Washington, Columbus Short was dancing backup for Britney Spears. He's been a part of her camp since as early as 2003! He had some killer moves back in the day.

Scandalous Star

Short plays the right-hand man to Kerry Washington's character Olivia Pope on Scandal. It follows her affair with the President of the United States, which would obviously be the scandal in question. Of course, Short's character has a hand in his own drama, too.

Jennifer Garner

This iconic scene from 13 Going on 30 has gone down in history as one of Jennifer Garner's best moments. Before she hit Hollywood, she studied ballet in West Virginia while she was growing up. She even started a recent Instagram series based on dance...

Tutu Tuesdays

Jennifer Garner's latest social media craze is featuring real-life ballerinas on her account on Tuesdays. She's calling it "Tutu Tuesdays," and it's just a fun way to showcase some talented performers. Looks like Garner never really gave up her love for the art.

Audrey Hepburn

There's a reason the Breakfast at Tiffany's actress always carried herself with such grace. she was a ballerina during WWII while living in the Netherlands. She was the Arnhem Conservatory's star pupil and later went on to study ballet with Dutch ballerina Sonia Gaskell.

Shot Down By the Industry

Despite her perfected skills, Ballet Rambert in London refused to offer Hepburn a slot. They said her height and physique weren't suitable for a professional dancer, which is absurd considering she was petite. However, she did go on to become one of Hollywood's most treasured actresses.

Sam Rockwell

Even though Sam Rockwell isn't professionally trained, the Oscar winner has picked up some sick moves over the years. He grew up in San Francisco, which is where he learned how to breakdance. “I used to do really bad break dancing, when ‘Thriller’ and ‘Purple Rain’ came out," he said.

The Green Mile

The Green Mile is a groundbreaking film that stars Tom Hanks as an officer on death row at the Cold Mountain Penitentiary, which was nicknamed "The Green Mile." Sam Rockwell plays a deranged inmate, and the scene where he spits blood through the bars of his cell was one of his most chilling performances. It's based on the Stephen King novel by the same name.

Elisabeth Moss

Elisabeth Moss was a ballet dancer as a child. She studied at the School of American Ballet in New York and then at The Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. “Being a ballet dancer, you take things really seriously at a young age,” Moss said. “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.”

The Handmaid's Tale

Moss's latest career move has been a starring role in the Margaret Atwood adaptation, The Handmaid's Tale. It follows a dystopian society in which select groups of women work as maids and surrogates for privileged families. It's an all-too topical depiction of race, class, and gender roles in society.

Amy Adams

Amy Adams revealed in her Vogue "73 Questions" interview that she always wanted to be a ballerina." She said, "I want to be a dance mom so bad. I would love it.”

An Enchanted Role

Adams has taken on more theatric roles that incorporate her dance past. Enchanted was a successful "break the third wall" sort of princess movie, and Adams was able to showcase her singing and dancing skills. The film is set to have a sequel, Disenchanted, in the next year.

Diane Kruger

Diane Kruger was a dancer until she was thirteen years old. Unfortunately, she suffered a serious knee injury that ended her career. However, someone spotted her at a recital and told her that she should consider modeling...

Helen of Troy

So she took up modeling and acting and often landed roles as the seductive leading lady. She played Helen in Troy, the character whose infidelity prompts an entire war. She also plays a part in Inglorious Bastards as Bridget von Hammersmark.

Naomi Campbell

Naomi Campbell's mother was a dancer, so of course, she contemplated that career path as well. She attended the Barbara Speake Stage School and was later accepted into the Italia Conti Academy of the Theatre Arts for ballet. She has two early music video credits with Bob Marley and Culture Club.

A Runway Protegée

Her dance past helped her cultivate a successful runway career. She said her mother gave her lots of pointers on her walk. "(My mom) taught me how to walk. It wasn't that I didn't know how to walk,” she 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.”

Colin Farrell

High-profile actor Colin Farrell had a pretty surprising past. He used to be a professional line dancer before he was ever in any big movies. “I did get paid to do something that resembled some form of dance possibly for a while,” he said. Check out that form!

Method Acting

Farrell's no stranger to undergoing serious transformations for his roles. He totally changes up his look for the film, The Lobster. It's an indie flick that follows the story of several people with a 45-day deadline to find a perfect partner or else be turned into animals.

Christian Bale

Before he danced to Huey Lewis and the News in American Psycho, Christian Bale was cutting up the stage in Newsies. Bale was an excellent Broadway performer and studied at the Royal Ballet School in London. His versatility as an actor today is pretty unmatched given his eclectic collection of roles. 

Their Early Work Was a Little Too New Wave

This scene in American Psycho is so iconic. Patrick Bateman asking an inebriated Paul Allen if he likes Huey Lewis and the News seconds before he kills him to the soundtrack is so classic. This role is arguably one of Bale's most popular early works. 

Sarah Jessica Parker

Before she was Carrie, she was a ballerina. SJP attended the School of American Ballet in Manhattan as a teenager. Later on, she created the New York City Ballet Gala, which blended her love of fashion and dance.

Sex and the City

You'll never see a more fashionable character on screen than Carrie Bradshaw. SJP redefined the modern woman, and that show emphasized the importance of strong female friendships. To this day, the concept of being "a Carrie" or "a Charlotte," is still relevant. 

Kat Graham

Before you saw her on The Vampire Diaries, Kat Graham danced backup for Pharrell, Missy Elliot, and Usher. She started dancing at age 15 after Bow Wow caught her eye. She even worked under choreographer Fatima Robinson. 

A Serious Actress

Since appearing in The Vampire Diaries, a long-running paranormal romance series, Graham took on some film roles. She recently appeared in the Netflix movie Operation Christmas Drop with The Hunger Games star Alexander Ludwig.

Sean Combs

Before he was P. Diddy, he danced backup for Big Daddy Kane and Heavy D. He was also featured in In Living Color alongside The Boyz. He officially kicked off his own rap career in 1993. 

Puff Daddy

Sean Combs has changed his alias... so many times. From Diddy to P. Diddy to Puff Daddy, the list goes on. But, you can't discredit his standing as a rapper. He's worked with Notorious, JLo, and Jay Z, just to name a few stellar collaborations.

Jenna Elfman

Jenna Elfman started dancing ballet at the age of five. She made her debut in Depeche Mode's video for "Halow." She has made several other music video appearances, and even went on tour with ZZ Top as a "Legs Girl" in 1994. 

The Walking Dead

Elfman has been a long-standing castmember of the AMC show The Walking Dead since its start. It garnered an enormous fanbase and even kickstarted its own convention akin to Comic Con. TWD fans are diehards, and Elfman's character has quite the dramatic storyline.

Megan Mullally

The Will & Grace star attended the School of American Ballet for several summers when she was a child. That eventually led her to segway her career toward acting, because she typically was cast in dance roles that required a lot of character acting. Without her role as Karen on Will & Grace, that show definitely wouldn't have been the same.

Lin Manuel Miranda

Lin Manuel Miranda has to be trained for the stage if he's going to star in Hamilton. The Broadway writer and director has had credits on In the Heights and of course Hamilton, and luckily, his expert songwriting skills translate to his choreography. Hamilton is influenced by modern music like hip hop and rap, and the dancers that join Miranda onstage bring all these aspects together in one excellent Broadway showcase.

Kevin Bacon

The OG Footloose star made waves after the film about a town that outlawed dance came out. That scene where his character Ren McCormick is dancing alone in the barn and then gets caught by his future love interest is one of the movie's most famous moments. The song "Footloose" also has the film to thank for its success.

Tom Hiddleston

Did you know the Marvel star is actually a super talented dancer? He's had no formal training, but he just happens to have killer moves. He's busted them out during his tenor on The Avengers and The Night Manager. Surely dating pop star Taylor Swift for a moment in time helped him learn some steps. 

Matthew Morrison

The Glee stud knows how to work a dance floor. He has experience on stage thanks to his recent stint as The Grinch and even has released a few solo albums. He excels in the holiday category. However, his role as Will Schuester is (unfortunately or otherwise) his most prized role.

Victoria Justice

The Victorious star was a Nickelodeon asset thanks to her ability to sing and dance. She played the lead role in a series about a performing arts high school, so it's easy to assume that most of the moves her character Tori showed off were her own. The rest of the cast also had a lot of Broadway experience under their belts.

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