Mary Elizabeth Winstead was born on November 28, 1984, in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, to James Ronald and Betty Lou (née Knight), and is the youngest of five children. Her grandfather was a cousin of actress Ava Gardner. When she was five years old, her family moved to Sandy, Utah, a Salt Lake City suburb. She attended Peruvian Park Elementary, where she took advanced classes. A talented dancer and singer, Winstead studied dance in a Joffrey Ballet summer program in Chicago, Illinois and sang in the International Children's Choir. During her youth, Winstead initially hoped to pursue a career as a ballerina and appeared in local ballet productions. As she entered her teens Winstead was forced to quit ballet due to her height. She later stated: "I realized pretty early on that I was already too tall by the time I was 13. . . You know, your body has to stay that way for your entire life, and it's pretty hard on your muscles and your bones". Realizing that a dance career was unlikely, Winstead turned to acting; as she was still a teenager at the time, this required her to be homeschooled through most of high school.