It’s no surprise that Cynthia Rhodes’s first love was dancing. But you’re more likely to remember her from her dancing-inspired roles in major films. She played the edgy Tina Tech in Flashdance, the forgiving Jackie in Staying Alive, and the svelte Penny in Dirty Dancing.
These days, however, Cynthia Rhodes has sashayed her way off the big screen and out of the headlines. Just whatever happened to the blonde bombshell pirouetting through our eighties dreams?
Rhodes was born in Nashville, Tennessee, on November 21st, 1956. She had a modest upbringing in a strong Baptist family. Interested in music and dancing from a young age, Rhodes honed her skills enough to work at Opryland USA as a singer and dancer while still attending Glencliff High School. Initially, she tried to keep her acting roles clean and modest as per the moral standards of her upbringing. She wouldn’t sign on to any script with nudity and even turned down Playboy Magazine when they asked her to pose for pictures.
Her first formal role was a small part in Xanadu, a 1980 fantasy musical. After that, she appeared in a long-form music video as a backup dancer for the rock band The Tubes. Rhodes’s first big break would come when she was cast as Tina Tech in Flashdance. Though it wasn’t a lead role, it did illustrate her skills, opening the door to future dance-inspired films.
Like her next appearance, for example, opposite John Travolta in the 1983 film Staying Alive, a sequel to Saturday Night Fever. Rhodes was cast as Jackie, Travolta’s girlfriend, who was a dancer and singer. The film wasn’t as huge as Saturday Night Fever, but it was a commercial success.
Rhodes continued to appear in music videos, such as Rosanna by Toto and The Woman In You by the Bee Gees, all while pursuing acting roles. Just four years after her first film part, Rhodes won her first non-dance role. She played Officer Karen Thompson alongside Kirstie Alley and Tom Selleck in the science fiction thriller Runaway.
However, her boogie-free acting career was short-lived. By 1987 she was back on the dancefloor when she was awarded the part of Penny in Dirty Dancing. Penny was the resort dance instructor and partner to Johnny, played by Patrick Swayze. She was svelte, sometimes cold, and unfortunately pregnant by womanizer Robbie. Her time off to have an abortion opens the door for the rest of the movie, Baby’s indoctrination into "dirty" dancing.
Shockingly, despite Dirty Dancing’s success, Rhodes’s final acting role would come in 1991 with Curse of the Crystal Eye.
What Happened to Cynthia Rhodes?
While pursuing acting, Rhodes hadn’t given up on her dream of being a singer. During the 1980s, she joined the pop group Animation. They released a single called Room to Move that made it into the Billboard Top Ten, hitting number nine on the charts. Unfortunately, the album peaked at one-hundred-ten, triggering the group’s breakup not long after.
In the end, though, everything worked out alright for Rhodes.
She married her longtime love, Richard Marx, on January 8th, 1989. They had met on the set of Staying Alive, but he was seven years her junior, and initially, it turned her off. But after they were reacquainted, their relationship accelerated. After their marriage, Rhodes and Marx desired to start a family. Three boys later, Rhodes quit the business to raise her children. The couple continued to parent their sons, Brandon, Lucas, and Jesse, in the Chicago area, where they resided until their divorce in 2014. Her divorce was the most prominent headline in the last thirty years since her disappearance, as the actress largely stays off social media and out of the spotlight.
Rhodes traded show business for motherhood, and she doesn’t regret it one bit. During a recent encounter with a fan, she was described as happy, confident, and leading a "highly principled and spiritually aligned life." She talked about her post-Hollywood decades as the opportunity to enjoy the "unparalleled experience of being a mother." While roles did come her way after her moving performance as Penny, it seems that Rhodes had already found her true calling – motherhood.