When thinking of those who dance the ballet we could easily conjure up images of magical worlds consisting of swans and nutcrackers. These performers are held with such high esteem in the art world some may even believe they are ethereal or too graceful to be part of this Earth.
The truth is dancers are people just like the rest of us and sometimes it can be surprising who is actually dancing ballet. This fact inspired our next list of famous ballet dancers, although this group is famous for other accomplishments, like acting, rapping, and politics more so than for their ballet dancing.
1. Laura Prepon
Earning her first taste of fame as Donna Peziotti, the love interest and girlfriend of Eric on the television hit That 70’s Show, Prepon has found current accolades for her role as Alex, the drug smuggling lesbian lover of Piper Chapman in Netflix’s smash series Orange is the New Black.
Who knew that this beauty with abilities to wear many shades of hair color started out dancing. She began her dance studies at the age of fifteen at the Total Theater Lab in New York City and appeared in several productions while there. Her ballet career may never have taken off but her acting career is soaring.
2. Neve Campbell
This star of the Scream franchise began her dance studies at the National Ballet School of Canada. She was mildly successful but continual injuries and joint problems forced her to hang up her pointes. Campbell has come out to say that her time as a ballerina caused her more injuries than were imaginable.
3. Penelope Cruz
This famous actress is the best friend of Salma Hayek and has starred in such films as Vanilla Sky, Volver and To Rome with Love. Even though she was destined to be one of the most recognizable faces on the planet, Penelope Cruz was first interested in the ballet. She trained classically at Spain’s National Conservatory for nine years. Immediately following she moved to New York to attend Cristina Rota’s School to study Spanish ballet and theater. Cruz has been known to comment that the discipline she learned in ballet would help her when she decided to pursue acting.
4. Cyd Charisse
Unlike the other ballet dancers on this list so far, Cyd Charisse never abandoned the ballet and was able to blend it with her acting in film. Of course, at the time she made movies, musicals and films with dancing were more the norm than the eras of our previous performers we’ve listed so far. Born in Amarillo, Texas Cyd Charisse took up ballet to build up her strength after contracting polio. She studied the dance as a child and, in the 1940’s decided to be an actress. After being discovered by Robert Alton Charisse soon became the go to ballet dancer at MGM studios. Her talent would enable her to dance opposite men like Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire.
5. Pat Corely
Do you remember Phil, the bar owner on CBS’s Murphy Brown? That would be Pat Corely who, you guessed it, started out as a ballet dancer. Dancing would begin in his teens dancing for the Stockton Ballet where he danced in performances for three seasons. He served in the Korean War shortly after and returned to Stockton to finish his education. He gave up ballet and pursued a career in acting. He passed away from congestive heart failure in 2006 in Los Angeles.
6. Amanda Schull
Known for her work on One Tree Hill and Pretty Little Liars Amanda Schull is a celebrated ballerina as well. Born in Honolulu in 1978 Schull’s mother is the president of Ballet Hawaii, so it’s no wonder she would get her start there. She was offered a full scholarship to study ballet in Indian University and she gladly accepted. From there Schull would train at the San Francisco Ballet School Summer Intensive when she was young. Her dance journey would lead her to become a full time member of the corps de ballet of the San Francisco Ballet. Schull starred in the teen ballet move Center Stage in 2000.
7. Lea Thompson
Thompson is famous for her portrayal of Marty McFly’s mom in Back to the Future but little did we know that before any of that she was very successful as a ballerina. Thompson was awarded several scholarships to study ballet and graduated to dance with The American Ballet Theater. While with that company she danced in forty-five ballets. Her dream was to dance with Baryshnikov. Instead, he gave her some hurtful criticism and this drove her to try acting. The rest is time travel history.
8. Ann Reinking
This actress is just as famous for her theatrical endeavors as she is for her film roles, maybe even more so. Reinking has starred in a movie adaptation of Annie (1982), comedy Micki & Maude (1984), and alongside Jessica Lange in All That Jazz (1979). Reinking first debuted as a ballet dancer at the age of twelve in Giselle with the English Royal Ballet. Reinking also spent summers dancing with the San Francisco Ballet until she became a resident of New York City at the age of seventeen. While there she became a member of the corps de ballet at Radio City Music Hall and performed in a tour of Fiddler on the Roof. Her accomplishment as a dancer and theater performer in musicals continues to grow with her illustrious career.
9. Ron Reagan
Son to one of our most famous presidents Ronald Reagan, Ron Reagan is an atheist, outspoken liberal, and a radio commentator. Before all that though, Ron Reagan found success dancing the ballet. Much to his parent’s dismay, Ron Reagan left Yale after only attending the prestigious institution for less than a year. He wanted to become a professional ballet dancer. Reagan found success with the Joffrey II company in New York and was a talented ballet dancer. It is said that President Reagan himself wrote in his journals that his son danced like Fred Astaire.
10. Jeff Fahey
That’s right, Captain Frank Lapidus from Lost started out dancing in the ballet. Born in Olean, New York he was number six of thirteen children in his family, which hailed from Irish-American decent. At twenty-five was awarded a full scholarship to Joffrey Ballet School. Fahey’s talents have graced the theatrical stages of Broadway and have taken him all across the country. Soon he began to act and the results aren’t lost on us.
11. Natalie Portman
It’s no surprise that this actress from the famed ballet move Black Swan got her start in ballet. Portman trained in modern dance and ballet while attending the American Theater Dance Workshop following her high school graduation. Once given the role in Black Swan Portman is said to have studied ballet for six months, eight hours per day.
12. Christian Bale
Batman learned ballet. As Christian Bale that is. He started to study the dance as a small child and was offered an opening at Royal Ballet School.
13. Charlize Theron
This tall South African beauty trained in the art of ballet at the Joffrey Ballet School in New York as well. Unfortunately, she blew out her knee and was forced to give it up. After struggling for some time Theron bounced back in acting and she is world famous today. She also has a Ballet-Based Total-Body Workout you can check out online.
14. Jennifer Garner
Soon to be ex-wife of Ben Affleck is also a trained ballerina. She was born in Houston and her father was a chemical engineer. This prompted their many moves about the continent for work. Garner began dancing at the age of three and continued her training throughout her youth. Still, she never desired to become a professional ballerina and sought out an acting career instead.
15. Tupac Shakur
It might be hard to believe but one of the most notorious faces and names to ever hit hip-hop society studied ballet for a short time. His mother was a Black Panther and instilled her radical ideologies into her son. While attending the Baltimore School for the Arts as a teen, Shakur took some dance classes including ballet.
16. Audrey Hepburn
After moving to Amsterdam with her family Audrey Hepburn started her training in ballet in 1945. She studied under Sonia Gaskell who was a leader in the Dutch influence ballet. Her family was stricken financially and Audrey gave it up to work and support her family. From there she turned to acting and is one of the most iconic figures in Hollywood today.
17. Naomi Campbell
Supermodel Campbell was studying dance long before she was burning up the runways. She trained at the Italia Conti Academy of Theater Arts. She has even gone on to say that her failed career as a dancer is what caused her to have a horrid childhood and that’s why she hits her assistants in the head with cell phones. Fortunately, Oprah was there to make Naomi’s dreams of being a ballerina come true by enabling Campbell to dance at Russia’s historic Bolshoi Ballet. Because that’s what Oprah does, she helps the needy. Check out how well Naomi did by watching the video on Oprah’s website!