The movie ads showed her coyly perched with a ripped sweatshirt stretched over one lusciously bare shoulder, and that one image was enough to launch a fashion revolution that sent scissors slashing sweats all over the country. Out of the blue, everyone wanted to look like Yale sophomore Jennifer Beals.
And when they saw Flashdance, the snazzy, improbable film about a Pittsburgh welder who by night turns into a sexual tornado as a bar dancer, everyone wanted to dance like her too. While you have to give credit to some mean choreography and a catchy disco score, Beals, who just turned 20, made Flashdance one of 1983's top-grossing films. Paramount has also shipped out more than 200,000 home videotapes of the movie. Early on, Jennifer, with rare candor, announced that nearly all her fancy moves belonged to stand-in dancer Marine Jahan (page 98), but the news didn't weaken the effect. The wild, sensuous contortions of Jahan/Beals added the word flash to what people do in discos. No longer content with Travolta moves or slam dancing, nightclubs found something hot in between: the flashdance contest.
So strong is Beals' on-screen image that few can imagine her everydaypersona: a slim, somewhat reserved college student in sweater and jeans. To those who rave about her beauty, Jennifer says, "People haven't seen me the way I have. You can walk down the street any day and see women who are much better looking than me."
Yeah, sure. With dark brown eyes that can sparkle or pout, smooth olive skin and a big Pepsi smile that sometimes turns sly and lascivious, Beals is that screen rarity, an original. Having modeled since she was 16, she runs her own career without much help from her mom, Jeanne, a Chicago elementary schoolteacher (her father, Alfred, a black supermarket owner, died when Jennifer was 9). "She always reminds me that an education will last a lot longer than a movie," says Jennifer, who these days stays diligently behind the ivied walls. Most classmates take four or five courses; Beals, who earned high marks last semester, signed up for six this term. She and her beau, junior Bob Simonds, share a two-bedroom, off-campus apartment where Jennifer cooked a pre-Thanks-giving dinner for eight friends. (It was black tie, not a rip in the crowd.)
By mutual agreement with Paramount, Beals will not star in Flashdance II, already in production. She wants to try something different and is reading scripts for next summer. "I've been offered everything from a contessa to a football player. The only thing they all have in common is that they're very independent," she says. Meanwhile, she has signed to model the baggy styles of French designers Marithé and Francois Girbaud, a modified Flashdance look. (After meeting that other Ivy League clotheshorse, Brooke Shields
, Jennifer sent her a copy of Fitzgerald's This Side of Paradise, because it's "necessary reading before you go to Princeton.") So whatever Beals' future movies are, the floppy, flirtatious look will be around for some time, which is okay with its No. 1 model. Says Jennifer, "Every once in a while, a cabbie will blow his horn and say, 'Hey, Flashdance, how's it goin'?' That's very sweet." Or—as they say in Flashdance—what a feeling.