Jennifer Lynn Lopez was born on July 24, 1969, in The Bronx borough of New York City, to Puerto Rican parents Guadalupe Rodríguez and David López. She has an older sister, Leslie, and a younger sister, Lynda, a journalist. David worked the night shift at the Guardian Insurance Company before becoming a computer technician at the firm, while Guadalupe was a homemaker. When Lopez was born, the family was living in a small apartment in the Castle Hill neighborhood. A few years later, her parents had saved up enough money to be able to purchase a two-story house, which was considered a big deal for the relatively poor family. At the age of five, Lopez began taking singing and dancing lessons. She toured New York with her school when she was seven years old. Her parents stressed the importance of work ethic and being able to speak English. They encouraged their three daughters to put on performances at home—singing and dancing in front of each other and their friends so that they would stay "out of trouble". Lopez spent her entire academic career in Catholic schools, finishing at Preston High School. In school, Lopez did gymnastics, ran track on a national level, and was a member of the school's softball team. She excelled athletically rather than academically, competing in national track championships.
While attending her final year of high school, Lopez learned about a film casting that was seeking several teenage girls for small roles. She auditioned and was cast in My Little Girl (1986), a low-budget film co-written and directed by Connie Kaiserman. Lopez acted as Myra, a young woman at a center for troubled girls. After she finished filming her role in the film, Lopez realized that she wanted to become a "famous movie star". To please her parents, though, she enrolled in Baruch College, only to drop out after one semester. She told her parents about her dream of becoming a movie star, but they insisted that it was a "really stupid" idea and that "no Latinos did that". The differences in opinions led Lopez to move out of their family home and into an apartment in Manhattan. During this period, Lopez performed in regional productions of the musicals Jesus Christ Superstar and Oklahoma!. From there, she was hired for the chorus in a Golden Musicals of Broadway, which toured Europe for five months. She was unhappy with the role, as she was the only member of the chorus not to have a solo. She later got a job on the show Synchronicity in Japan, where she acted as a dancer, singer, and choreographer.