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How Did Zendaya Get Her Start?

In 2015, 19-year-old Zendaya gave an interview to Complex magazine, smiling confidently to a reporter. “I’m a real model,” she says. “I’m not pretending to be something that I’m not. I just keep it real.”

It’s clear that Zendaya is on the rise to stardom. Singer, dancer, and actress Zendaya has starred in dozens of television and movie roles that have won her fame and international attention. But just how did this promising young actress get her start?

Growing Up on the Stage

Zendaya was born in Oakland, California in 1996. Growing up, she developed an interest for dancing and acting. Her mother worked as a House Manager at the California Shakespeare Theater, where Zendaya performed in local productions.

She began modeling as a young child for department stores like Macy’s, Mervyn, and Old Navy. When she was 8, Zendaya joined the dance group Future Shock Oakland and performed as a back up dancer for Kidz Bop music videos. These small roles propelled her towards bigger acting roles.

The Disney Days

In 2009, Zendaya auditioned for a minor role in a new Disney show, the sitcom Shake It Up. Much to her surprise, she was selected for one of the main roles, Rocky Blue. Her family moved from Oakland to LA to support Zendaya, marking a pivotal moment in the middle-schoolers life. As Zendaya told Glamour, “Luckily I had parents who were like, ‘You know what? We believe in you.’”

Zendaya faced challenges as a young star. She was away from her family and friends for extended periods of time as she acted.

As she quickly gained fame as a teen icon, Zendaya was asked to participate in the 2013 season of Dancing With the Stars. She was the youngest at the time to be a contestant on the show, and eventually became a runner-up thanks to her dance background.

Zendaya’s family put a lot on the line to start her acting career, but it ended up paying off. Her breakout Disney role in Shake It Up was how Zendaya got her start as a big-time actress.

Big-Screen Performances

Zendaya had an undeniable stage presence and a unique appearance that won the hearts of Hollywood directors. She possessed both acting talent and a quirky personality that was destined for the big screen.

Her feature film debut came in 2017 when she appeared as the headstrong and intelligent Michelle “MJ” in Spiderman: Homecoming alongside Tom Holland. In the same year, she co-stared in the musical film The Greatest Showman as a young trapeze artist that showcased her singing talent.

In 2019, Zendaya strayed from her previous acting roles to portray the edgy main character in Euphoria. Zendaya’s award winning performance in this dark teen drama series is a momentous shift from her previous roles. She plays teenage Rue Bennett, a recovering drug addict, in the controversial and popular HBO series.


Zendaya continues to act and is set to appear in a number of upcoming film and TV series. Her success can be traced back to her roots in drama and her days as a Disney star, but the actress herself accredits her rise to stardom as the result of support from her family. “I couldn’t have done it without them,” she admits.


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