Monday, April 23, 2012

Movies Where Ballet Dancers Kick Ass

“She does 95% of her [fighting] stunts herself, which was important to me because I could do long takes of her.  She’s a dancer and therefore we were able to train her in ways other action heroes simply cannot do, including this kick coming up.  The stunt coordinator came to me and said, ‘She can kick a guy in the head, behind her, around a pole.’” – Joss Whedon discussing actress and former ballerina Summer Glau in his commentary for his 2005 movie Serenity

I don’t know about you, but ballet dancers are not the first people I think of when the phrase “kicking ass” is mentioned.  (Just look at the street gangs in the opening of 1961’s West Side Story, for instance.)  However, a few of them have found a home in movies where they get to play action heroes or villains.  In these cases, their ability to learn complex series of fighting exchanges, and to move their bodies in ways most people cannot, serves them well.

One woman in particular has used her skills in several movies.  That actress is Zhang Ziyi.  She has appeared in three movies that I will be reviewing – Hero (2002), House of Flying Daggers, and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.  She also appeared in Rush Hour 2, but I won’t be reviewing that.

Another actress who I know started out as a ballerina is Summer Glau.  She is referenced in the quote at the top of this post.  I have a link to my Serenity review below.

As for the men, the two most famous that made the transition to acting are Mikhail Baryshnikov and Alexander Godunov.  I have not seen any movie of Baryshnikov’s where he really gets to do a big action scene.  Godunov does get to play a major villain in Die Hard.  He has a big fight with Bruce Willis (or at least Willis’ stunt double).  I have a link to my Die Hard review below.

As I post the new reviews, I will come back and post the links to them here:

Serenity (previously posted)

On to the reviews…


  1. I didn't even know these two were ballerinas! Summer does seem like one, though, so I'm not completely shocked. Looking forward to your new series!

  2. My daughter is a ballerina, and has been for most of her life. I see the kid work out, and I can tell you, she's all whipcord muscle and flexibility. If she had the stomach for it, she could kick some serious ass.

  3. Cheng Pei-pei (who was also in Crouching Tiger) from Come Drink with Me (1966) was also a ballerina. King Hu picked her primarily for this reason.

  4. @Sati. - I don't believe Zhang ever made a living as a dancer, but she entered the Beijing Dance Academy at age 11 and graduated at age 17. At 15 she won a national youth dance championship. After graduation she then switched to drama and in a couple years picked up her first major role in 1999's The Road Home (check it out if you can find it). Glau studied ballet most of her years growing up, to the point where she was home-schooled to accomodate her training. An injury ended that, but she switched to acting and her very first role was as a ballerina on an episode on Angel - a Joss Whedon show. This was how they first met. Amy Acker, who was a regular on Angel, also had studied ballet. She didn't do any fighting, though.

    @SJHoneywell - Sounds like you've got a future star on your hands!

    @KimWilson - Thanks. I knew she was one of the first women in major martial arts roles, but I was not aware of her background. I'll include that in my Crouching Tiger post.