Cyd Charisse and Fred Astaire in Band Wagon, 1953

8 Movie Stars Who Were Dancers First

It seems like more Hollywood actresses are taking on the physical challenges of action movies. For both Zoe Saldana, starring in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, and Charlize Theron, the bombshell in The Fate of the Furious, previous dance training has been a plus.

Saldana has said that she felt her ballet background helped her get her breakout role in Avatar. "I thank god for something like ballet, which gave that space for me to be by myself and find peace," she said recently in an interview with The New York Times. "Ballet was my meditation, my therapy, my escape, my answer."

Zoe Saldana as Eva in Center Stage (2000)

For Theron, her high school years were spent training at the Joffrey School in New York until a knee injury made her rethink her career. In her more athletic movie roles, that training kicked in. "As a former ballerina, Charlize brings all that physicality, and a special awareness and discipline and sense of valuation of her character through gestures," said George Miller, director of Mad Max: Fury Road.

Charlize Theron

That got me to thinking of other movie stars who trained intensively, some of them hoping to dance professionally. They each have a special elegance, an aura that marks them as dancers first. Here's a partial list:

Neve Campbell

• Neve Campbell, who studied at the National Ballet School of Canada from age 9 to 15, starred in the fictional movie The Company (2004) about the Joffrey Ballet. About her training, she told SF Gate, "It was my life and my introduction to the arts." But with her, too, injury forced her to turn to acting.

• Claire Danes took lessons with master teacher Ellen Robbins in New York from the age of 6 to 14. Robbins' approach is to focus on creativity, which helped build a foundation for Danes' work in Hollywood. In Showtime's Homeland, she plays a bi-polar expert at solving intrigue.

• Sarah Jessica Parker, star of Sex and the City, studied at the School of American Ballet. She is the New York City Ballet board member who came up with the brilliant idea of making NYCB's annual fall gala a hub of collaborations between choreographers and fashion designers.

And of course, there are those stars of Hollywood's Golden Age that we can't get enough of: Audrey Hepburn, Cyd Charisse and Leslie Caron.

• Audrey Hepburn trained with Marie Rambert in London in the late 40s and performed the lead in Gigi on Broadway in 1951. In this 1952 film, Secret People, her youthful, unpolished talent is on full display. And then in 1953, she hit it big in Funny Face as Fred Astaire's gamin model and love interest—the same year she did Roman Holiday, a huge non-dancing hit. Her ballet ability ensured the effervescence of her dance numbers in Funny Face as well as her regal bearing in Roman Holiday.

• Cyd Charisse started lessons at the age of 6 and danced in the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. In one of her early films, The Harvey Girls (1946), she played a dreamy ingenue who breaks into a lyrical solo steeped in romantic feeling. Later she played a vixen whose allure for Gene Kelly in An American in Paris (1951) and Fred Astaire in Band Wagon (1953) is legend.

Leslie Caron, MGM

• Leslie Caron danced since childhood in France. Gene Kelly spotted her with Roland Petit's company, Ballet des Champs Elysées, cast her in An American in Paris (1951), and the rest is history.

Latest Posts

Friday Film Break: Kyle Abraham's "When We Fell" for New York City Ballet

For his third work on New York City Ballet, choreographer Kyle Abraham has created a quietly haunting new dance film called "When We Fell." Abraham told Roslyn Sulcas of The New York Times that a peaceful winter residency at Kaatsbaan Cultural Park deeply influenced the material, and it shows in the work's spare beauty and elegant sense of calm.

Available for free as part of NYCB's digital season until April 22, the film was co-directed by cinematographer Ryan Marie Helfant. The cast includes India Bradley, Jonathan Fahoury, Christopher Grant, Claire Kretzschmar, Lauren Lovette, Taylor Stanley, KJ Takahashi and Sebastian Villarini-Velez.

February 2021