Hubert Burda Media

Jenna Dewan Tatum Steps It Up

Dancer and actress Jenna Dewan Tatum has built a career tripping the light fantastic. She talks about her latest moves, her earlier steps and her at-home dance parties.

There was a fairly compelling reason for Jenna Dewan Tatum to sign up to be the host and mentor on World of Dance, the big, glitzy dance-competition TV show about to premiere globally. Her role, as she perceived it, would be alternately to cheer, cajole and comfort the legions of dancers who would journey from everywhere for a chance at the US$1 million prize. 

“I’ve been there,” Dewan Tatum says in a reflective tone. “I know what it’s like.”

The actress and dancer is one of a quartet of luminaries (Jennifer Lopez – also an executive producer – Ne-Yo and Derek Hough) tapped to front the weekly extravaganza from NBC that debuts on May 8. The ultimate winner (or winning troupe) goes home with a seven-figure payout, four times the $250,000 given to the champion of the Fox channel-aired series So You Think You Can Dance, which begins its 14th season next month.

“I wish shows like this had been around when I was starting out,” says Dewan Tatum. “It would have been my ultimate goal.”

Still, she’s fared pretty well despite the dearth of dance-competition shows during her ascent. She got her big break as a background dancer for Janet Jackson, and subsequently shared stage space with Pink and Missy Elliott. Her lead role on the 2006 movie Step Up connected her with a young actor named Channing Tatum, aka “Magic Mike”. The two have been married since 2009 and have a four-year-old daughter, Everly. Dewan Tatum has a recurring role in the hit TV series Supergirl, and is juggling numerous projects in development under the production company 33andOut, that she co-founded with her husband.

But while staying cosily indoors on a recent windswept day in Las Vegas, Dewan Tatum was happy to chat about family, veganism, and why dance matters.

How did you get involved in this new TV show?

I got a call from NBC about this opportunity and it turned out to be great timing. It was enough of a challenge, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I’d never done anything like this and it would force me to grow in ways I hadn’t before.

Is there a sense you’re coming full circle with it?

I love the idea of going back to my dancing roots, and encouraging and helping other dancers on this journey. It felt right. And I loved that [the network] was open to redefining the role of host a little bit.

So how do you intend to play the host/mentor role?

I had four days to prep before we started filming, and I went into this not knowing a lot about hosting, or about this type of show format. I’ve never done an unscripted show. And by the time we were filming the first episode I was mostly involved in connecting with the dancers, helping them grow and helping them try to win. I wanted to show them how to play to their strengths. I was the mom backstage, crying and laughing with them.

You’ve often talked about how dancers don’t get the same compensation or recognition as singers. How can that change?

I’ve seen a huge upswing in dance being accessible and relatable. It used to be that the dancer was behind the major artist. But now, the dancer can become the major artist. The business is starting to morph, and shows like ours are opening doors. Dancers are putting their choreography out on social media and getting millions of hits. That could never happen before.

Do you still dance recreationally?

Not like I used to. I used to dance hours and hours a day – for fun, for fitness, for performances that would come up out of the blue. And there are still random things that allow me to step back into the dancer’s shoes. It will always be my first true love.

How old were you when you started?

I took my first ballet lesson when I was five. I was your typical dance-studio kid – I did jazz, ballet and tap, the trifecta. We moved every couple of years when I was a kid, so I always had to start at the bottom in a new studio. But I felt like I had a natural talent with it. I trained really hard.

Did you have a plan B in case the dancing didn’t work out?

I really did not. But my dad was very serious about me having to go to college. He said to me, “You can’t make this a career.” My answer to that was to apply to every college in all of California. I was accepted into USC [University of Southern California] and went there for 18 months but kept skipping classes to go to dance auditions. I ended up going on tour, and it was too much so I dropped out of college. My father wasn’t thrilled. Of course, he’s happy now. 

Do you counsel young dancers to have a fallback plan?

I’m of the mind to say you just have to go for it. I believe that it’s good to be smart, but I really think you need to give something your all. If you have a plan B, you generally go to it. The entertainment business is not an easy business to be in or to get a break in. People need to be realistic, they have to pay the bills. Dance is not for everybody – and I think people find out quickly if it’s not for them.

You’re a very commited vegan. Do you like to advocate veganism among others?

A lot of vegans are extremely passionate about what they believe in. I am, as well. You can show people the facts but you can’t judge them for being them, and you can’t force them to think or feel the way you do. I feel good consciously and morally eating this way. It works for me. But I’ve seen people try it and it doesn’t work for them. I personally think that the food industry is so off-kilter – the way we treat animals and the way we use food is out of balance. It’s important for people to be conscious about what they’re eating and where it comes from. 

Does your daughter dance?

We put her in dance class but she wasn’t really taken with it. But we have a lot of spontaneous dance parties at home. She’s really coordinated and has a very athletic base. She does a lot of gymnastics.

As a family, how do you deal with being in the Hollywood limelight?

It’s never really normal, but it becomes your normal. People are respectful of us, and we have a rule that we don’t take photos with our daughter. We don’t live a Hollywood life. We love being at home. We keep things pretty normal and basic. This is our chosen field. Certain personalities can deal with the ever-changing nature of this business – and I love it.

Other than World of Dance, what else are you working on?

I’m doing a biopic, which is a dream job for me. There’s also a film at Warner Brothers we’ve set up. There are so many fun projects and lots of irons in the fire. I’m lit up at the moment – there are so many wonderful opportunities. In this day and age, and knowing the nature and climate of the entertainment business, I believe that if you want to do something, you’ve got to make it [happen] yourself.

-------------------------------------------------------------------

Photography Lionel Deluy at Love Artists Agency  

Styling MONICA ROSE at Raudeville   

Make-up Patrick Ta   

Hair Kristin Ess using Kristin Ess Haircare  

Manicure Christina Aviles at Opus Beauty using Dior Vernis