Ballet Castaways

Dancing Before They Were Stars!

Blown knees, burnout, or simply a better offer: all have turned budding ballerinas away from the barre and onto something else. Here are some famous people whose successes were a second resort to a ballet career gone bad.

Neve Campbell

NEVE CAMPBELL joined the National Ballet School of Canada at just nine years old. At 15, suffering from injuries, stress and ballet burnout, she ended her dance career and turned to acting. Six short years later she was the star of the TV series Party of Five. She tipped her cap to her first love by producing the 2004 dance film The Company, in which she starred as a member of the Joffrey corps de ballet.

Rahm Emanuel

Congressman RAHM EMANUEL was this close to dancing with the Joffrey Ballet before veering into a career in politics. According to a 2005 piece in Rolling Stone magazine, “When Rahm was a boy, his mother forced him to take ballet lessons, and he threw himself into it with the same intensity he would later bring to politics, winning a scholarship to the Joffrey Ballet… As part of a ‘negotiation’ with his mother, he turned down the ballet scholarship but agreed to attend Sarah Lawrence College, which has a strong dance program.” He continued dancing in college but also worked on the congressional campaign of David Robertson. Politics won. In the 1990s Emanuel was an advisor to President Bill Clinton, and in 2008 president-elect Barack Obama tapped him to be his chief of staff.

Michelle Yeoh

Future tough girl MICHELLE YEOH also got the ballet bug as a youngster. According to the press kit for her 2000 filmCrouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, “Yeoh enrolled in the Royal Academy of Dance in London, where she attained the Advanced Level degree. However, her ballet career was cut short by an injury.” She returned to her native Malaysia, won the 1983 Miss Malaysia contest, and improbably parlayed her beauty queen status into a career as an action star.

Nancy Kwan

NANCY KWAN also studied at the Royal Academy and danced with the Royal Ballet. Her career there ended when she was discovered by Hollywood producer Ray Stark, who cast Kwan as the lead in The World of Suzie Wong. She was a sensation, in part because of the film’s daring (for the time) interracial romance between Kwan and William Holden. Kwan never went back to ballet, instead starring in The Flower Drum Song (1961) and later making guest appearances on TV shows ranging from The A-Team to ER.

Jane Seymour

The official site of JANE SEYMOUR says that “After attending a prestigious ballet school, she was lucky enough to dance with Russia’s renowned Kirov Ballet at just 17 years old. Unfortunately, an injury sustained during her first performance with the Kirov put an end to Seymour’s dancing career.” In 2000 Seymour told Hello magazine, “Looking back, injuring my [knee] cartilage did me a big favour. It was probably the best thing that ever happened to me because it led to becoming an actress and everything that has come with it.” Seymour’s “everything” included a starring run in the TV hit Doctor Quinn, Medicine Woman from 1994-98.

Charlize Theron

A bum knee also ended the dance career of CHARLIZE THERON. According to a January 1999 profile in Vanity Fair, “At 18, having spent 12 years of her life studying dance, she was in New York training at the Joffrey Ballet School when her knee ‘blew out’ during a class.” Theron fell back on modelling and then got a toehold in Hollywood, becoming a full-on star with the 1999 movies The Astronaut’s Wife (withJohnny Depp) and The Cider House Rules (with Michael Caine).

Yvonne Craig

YVONNE CRAIG was a dancer with the famed Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo before splitting the troupe in 1957. (Craig reportedly stormed out after a dispute with the ballet’s maximum leader, the legendary Alexandra Danilova.) Craig put her legs to good use on 1960’s TV, kicking around bad guys as Batgirl on TV’s Batman and playing a hot-to-trot alien temptress on Star Trek. Craig’s 2000 autobiography was titledFrom Ballet to the Batcave and Beyond.

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