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Jenna Dewan on Dancing With Janet Jackson & Landing a Role in Fox's 'Mixtape'

By Laura Eckstein Jones | May 1, 2018 | People Feature

Following a major life change, Jenna Dewan is finding a rhythm all her own.


When life shifts, Jenna Dewan instinctively finds her balance. The multitalented dancer, actress and producer recently released a joint statement with Channing Tatum on their separation after nearly nine years of marriage. Throughout her life, the 37-year-old working mom has gracefully taken on transition to achieve incredible accomplishments: She toured as a backup dancer for Janet Jackson, just wrapped hosting season 2 of NBC’s World of Dance and recently landed a starring role in Mixtape, an in-the-works musical drama on Fox. So how does she do it?

Success for Dewan came with lots of hustle, something the Hartford, Conn.-born multihyphenate developed at a very young age. “My parents split up when I was a year old, and due to life circumstances, [my mother] had to pick herself up, get a job and become a single working mom,” she says. Her mother’s pharmaceutical sales career meant the duo moved every three years until Dewan hit high school, in Texas. While some kids would retreat and fold inward from the turbulence, Dewan blossomed. “[Moving so frequently] completely informed my life [and] personality in very positive ways,” she says. “I learned social skills I don’t think I would have [with] a different upbringing. In a lot of ways I am really grateful for it. I’m also very conscious and aware of it, so it’s something that [explains] how I am, who I am, and probably greatly prepared me for life in Hollywood.”

Throughout her eventful childhood, one thing became consistent in Dewan’s life. “During all of this change, around the age of 5 or 6, my mom put me in a community center for dance and I really liked it,” she says. “She would find a dance studio wherever we were because, funny enough, movement became my constant.” With each move, Dewan had to prove herself not only at school but at dance school as well, starting over in beginner classes and working her way up every three years. “It was very competitive and I really loved it,” she explains. “It was the one thing—no matter where I went, I knew I had to dance—so it became this foundation of support for me growing up.”

At 16, Dewan was spotted by at talent scout at a dance competition, who promised that if she moved to Los Angeles, he’d represent her and send her out on auditions. “I had two more years of high school and worked my tail off trying to get into college in Los Angeles.” After applying to “every single school in L.A.,” Dewan got into USC. “I spent two years there, auditioning and dancing, pursuing my dream, and at the end of my second year I ended up booking the job to dance with Janet Jackson on her All for You tour,” she says. “I hadn’t ever left the country and we ended up going all over the world, Japan, South America. Janet is wild. I was sneaking into clubs with her when I was 19. We would go into variety shows, strip clubs, and it was this weird education at a very young age, to seeing life.”

Dance is still very much a part of Dewan’s life: She recently wrapped season 2 of NBC’s World of Dance, where she served as a host and mentor. “It fulfills my soul on a level that most work and jobs do not because dance is my true passion,” she quips. “It’s always been something at the root of who I am; it’s in my blood. I did not see this job coming, and I didn’t know what to expect because I never really had the intention of hosting, ever. [But] I’m in a place in my life where I’m ready to say yes.”


Speaking of saying yes, Dewan recently landed a lead role on Mixtape, an upcoming musical-drama series on Fox from the former show runner of Smash, Josh Safran. “It’s a mixture between the drama of This Is Us and the musical, fantastical element of La La Land,” she explains. “Those are two of my favorite projects you could have ever thought to combine together. It’s emotional and deep, and also adds in this really fun element of music and lip-syncing.”

With so much to juggle, Dewan works hard to balance her life as working mom and friend. “Being a dancer, you’re ingrained with this mentality to make it work, and you can do it all, but as I matured... and had a child, I’ve realized that you do the things you’re meant to do,” she says. “You have to protect that and trust that even though you’re saying no to things, there are a ton of other, better yeses that will be coming.” Taking time for herself—hikes, meditation and even sea salt baths at 2pm—is imperative to her staying strong and true to her core.

Something else Dewan does to balance her busy life is visit Las Vegas, a city she’s been frequenting for years. “We’d fly in for The Cosmopolitan’s New Year’s Eve party or whatever it was, fly out—it would take two weeks to recover but it was always so worth it, the best weekend of your life.” Nowadays, the vegan, animal rights activist’s itinerary is slightly different, with more shows and less partying (favorite spots include Hard Rock Hotel, TAO and the spa at The Cosmopolitan). And when Tatum launched his live show Magic Mike Live, she was able to experience a different side of the city. “When [that was first] happening, we stayed out there for a month and a half while getting the show running, and I lived a bit outside the city, so I got to experience Vegas not on the Strip for a month. It’s wild, it’s crazy, but so unique. There’s really no other place in the world like it.”

Although Tatum and Dewan are separating, one thing will remain. “We started out as friends, and I would say it was an instant recognition,” Dewan explains. “When we met [on the set of Step Up in 2005] it felt like we had known each other for many years. Ultimately, no matter what Chan and I are doing, we’re really great friends. I think that will never change, no matter what.”