Don’t Just Stand There, Bust A Move: Famous Folks Who Started Off As Dancers

April 24, 2014  |  
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Dancing, dancing, dancing…these folks are dancing machiiiiiines.

Corny, I know, but it’s true. The 11 famous folks on this list might be known now for their acting, rapping or singing abilities, but they were once ballerinas, break dancers and just lovers of dance in general.


Michael K. Williams

Yes, the man who was once known for playing Omar on The Wire busted quite the move on more than one occasion. He used to dance background for George Michael and Madonna, and he even choreographed the music video for Crystal Water’s “100% Pure Love.”

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Penelope Cruz

Before finding an interest in acting, Penelope Cruz was a classically trained ballerina, having studied for many years in Spain and in New York. Cruz once told 60 Minutes that she was so dedicated to dance she would throw away her dead toenails like it was nothing:

“I used to take my toenails – they would die from dancing – so I would just take the whole toenail and throw it away, and not feel anything. But I loved it.”


Michael DeLorenzo

Before he was Eddie on New York Undercover, DeLorenzo was a dancing machine. He started doing ballet at the age of 7 and would later receive multiple scholarships from the School of Ballet and the Joffrey Ballet. He even danced alongside legend Mikhail Baryshnikov as well as Michael Jackson in the “Beat It” video. DeLorenzo would later slow down on dancing after tearing the cartilage in his knee.


You probably already know this, but before he was solidifying himself as one of the best rappers to ever pic up a mic, Tupac was breaking it down as a background dancer for Digital Underground. But even before then, ‘Pac studied ballet while at a performing arts school in Baltimore (where he met Jada Pinkett), at one time landing the role of the mouse king in The Nutcracker. 


Vin Diesel

Vin Diesel never did ballet or anything like that, but he was actually a so-so pop-locker. There’s even video of him trying to get his shine on with a partner. With all that said, I think it’s best that his career as an actor took off, because I might be a better pop-locker than the Fast and Furious star…


Rosie Perez

But of course! Perez received the break of a lifetime when she was doing her thing in a dance club in ’88, and was spotted by Spike Lee. He cast her in Do The Right Thing, and after that, there was nowhere to go but up. Perez ended up dancing front and center on Soul Train and would later choreograph everyone from Janet Jackson to Bobby Brown and Diana Ross, and would be the choreographer for the Fly Girls of In Living Color.


Columbus Short

Columbus Short might be known as Harrison on Scandal (and known for the scandals of his personal life), but he got his big start as a dancer and choreographer. He went to a performing arts high school and then dipped out to go join the cast of Stomp on Broadway. He would later be in You Got Served, choreograph for (and date) Britney Spears, and show off his perfect krump alongside Chris Brown in Stomp The Yard.


Jennifer Lopez

Jenny from the Block started taking dancing lessons at the age of five. Later in life she would do backup dancing for New Kids on the Block, and then would go on to be a Fly Girl on In Living Color. A few years later, while preparing to go on tour with Janet Jackson (she was in Jackson’s “That’s The Way Love Goes” video), Lopez backed out to focus on doing her own thing. Smart move!

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Heather Morris

Before Morris was Naya Rivera’s girlfriend on Glee, she was a serious dancer, starting at the age of 9. She tried out for So You Think You Can Dance, but when she didn’t make the top 20, with the help of a lot of talent, she found herself being a backup dancer for Beyoncé. She danced on The Beyoncé Experience world tour and with Bey (and Tina Turner) at the Grammys. She also did TV promo back when Bey was getting everyone hype with “Single Ladies.” Morris got her big break on Glee when she was brought in to teach the cast members of the new show the “Single Ladies” choreography. She would go on to play cheerleader Brittany, a role open when she came in to teach the “Single Ladies” dance.

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Wesley Snipes

When he was young, Wesley Snipes aspired to be a great dancer, and he trained to be one, enrolling at the High School of Performing Arts in New York. But when the acting but bit him, there was no looking back:

“It’s funny because all I wanted to do when I was young was to become a dancer and then I went to acting school, where they taught me great drama! And that was it, I became an actor and the rhythm went through the door. But I can still do some dancing, some choreography in my films and that’s cool.”

Chris Connor / WENN

Debbie Allen

Big ups to the legendary Debbie Allen. While she’s a damn good actress, we all know that Allen is an insanely good dancer. After blowing up big time on Broadway, she taught and choreographed dance to some of the best out there, including Paula Abdul, Janet and Michael Jackson, Lena Horne and Sammy Davis, Jr. She also starred as dance teacher Lydia in the Fame movie and TV show, and was lead choreographer for both. And of course, she has the Debbie Allen Dance Academy in Los Angeles and has been a judge and mentor on So You Think You Can Dance

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