From Jennifer Lopez to Tupac: 5 backing dancers who became stars

The dancing world has been responsible for launching many generations of stars

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 21:  Madonna performs onstage during the Women's March on Washington on January 21, 2017 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Paul Morigi/WireImage)
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It’s not that hard to see why backing dancers successfully transition into solo music and Hollywood stardom. The job is one of the most demanding in showbiz. As well as the mental and physical grind behind bringing it each and every night, dancers also have to channel the emotion of a track and embody its spirit physically. With that kind of experience, they make well-rounded performers, who intrinsically know the kind of intensity their respective work requires.

Here are five former backing dancers who went on to shine in their own light.

Jennifer Lopez

Her "Jenny from the Block" nickname may be attributed to the fact that she came from the streets of Brooklyn, but also relates to her first major gig in the music business. A seasoned performer in regional musicals at the time, Lopez was chosen in 1991 to be one of the dancers for boy band New Kids on the Block. Those moves eventually led to more gigs, such as dancing on sketch comedy show, In Living Color, and eventually Janet Jackson's Janet World Tour in 1993, and her music video, That's the Way Love Goes. That was her last major dancing job. JLo began focusing on launching her solo career, and the rest is history.


Her love for slick choreography comes from her training at New York's renowned Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre. This led to Madonna landing a gig as backing dancer and singer for Patrick Hernandez, the Frenchman behind the disco staple Born to be Alive. She joined him on his 1979 world tour. Uninspired by the grind, Madonna stopped dancing for others and began focusing on kick-starting her solo career. She signed her first major record deal three years later.

Heather Morris

You know your dance moves are on point when Beyonce is interested. Such was the case for former Glee star Heather Morris, who entered the entertainment industry after being hired as one of Bey's backing dancers for her 2007 The Beyonce Experience world tour. She appeared in high-profile performances, including the American Music Awards, Saturday Night Live and The Ellen DeGeneres Show. This led to Morris landing jobs in dramas such as Eli Stone and Swingtown, always in scenes that featured a dance sequence. That experience, coupled with Morris taking up acting classes, resulted in her winning the role of the cheerleader Brittany in the hit musical drama series Glee.

Tupac Shakur

For the legendary late rapper and poet, dancing was purely a way to get a foot in the door in the hip-hop game. Ambitious and hungry for success, a 19-year-old Shakur joined the hip-hop group Digital Underground as a dancer, singer and roadie for their world tour. The relationship between him and the crew resulted in Tupac featuring in some of their songs, which eventually led to him embarking on a celebrated solo career that was tragically cut short when he was killed in 1996.

Michael K. Williams

If it wasn't for the seminal album Janet Jackson's Rhythm Nation 1814, Williams would have continued his career in the pharmaceuticals industry. Instead, he quit his temporary job and focused on his love for dancing. After many years of struggling, he managed to land a gig as a backing dancer for Kym Sims (Too Blind to See It), which led to high-profile gigs of dancing in videos for George Michael and Madonna. His transition to acting was less gruelling. After a small series of roles in films, including the 1999 Nicholas Cage drama Bringing Out the Dead, Williams landed his star-making role in 2001 as hard-man Omar Little in the television crime drama The Wire after a single audition.


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