Dancer and actress Vanessa Bell Calloway discussed with EBONY what her early life was like and what led to her career in the entertainment industry.

“I grew up in Cleveland’s inner city,” Calloway said. “I was just back there doing my play, and I went around my old neighborhood.  I tell you, that was quite an eye-opener; memories just started flooding back. It was incredible because we had a better neighborhood and more of a neighborhood than they do now.”

She went on to describe being “gutbucket poor” and playing barefoot back in the ’60s. “It’s just a different Cleveland than it is now, and it was a different kind of poor than it is now,” the 61-year-old said.

The eight-time NAACP Image Award nominee revealed how the dancers on The Jackie Gleason Show were her introduction to the art form before famed-choreographer Judith Jamison. Calloway progressed to become an Alvin Ailey dancer before making a move into stage shows and acting on-screen.