Can we all agree that the pros are the real stars of Dancing with the Stars? It makes sense. We've been with most of these dancers for almost all 10 seasons. We've seen their ups and downs for about three hours a week for 20 weeks a year. They are their own sitcom stars, with types to boot — the bad boy (Maks), the cute kid (Derek), the Disney princess (Julianne), the exotic hottie (Edyta), etc. There have been a whopping 28 pros in the series' history. (See the full list below.) Some are one-hit wonders, like Corky Ballas who was drafted for Cloris Leachman duty in Season 7. Many have danced on at least five seasons. Edyta Śliwińska is the only pro to have danced on all 10 seasons (while only wearing enough fabric for five).
At this point we have three two-time winners: Julianne Hough, Cheryl Burke and Mark Ballas. We also have three one-time winners: Derek Hough, Kym Johnson and Alec Mazo. Sometimes doing well seems to be luck of the draw. Whatever pro gets Nicole Scherzinger, Mario Lopez, Shawn Johnson, Apolo Anton Ohno, Mya, Brooke Burke and Gilles Marini already has a leg up. But sometimes that's a handicap of its own. Not every celeb on that list won their seasons, possibly because they made it look too "easy" and therefore launched the whisper campaign that they were already too "experienced." Then there are the pros who seem punished by the gods — like our beloved Tony Dovolani, who tends to get ... how shall we put it ... "emotionally frail" women. His two exceptions are Stacy Keibler, the best dancer of Season 2 even thought she didn't win, and Melissa Rycroft in Season 8, who was his last minute replacement from the injured Nancy O'Dell. Tony took both ladies to third place. If Tony got the younger Mark/Derek dancers more often, maybe he'd have his own mirror ball by now.
At any rate, we're picking our top six candidates for best pro ever and we'd love to hear your thoughts as well.
Julianne Hough debuted in Season 4, which she won with Apolo Anton Ohno, then she won the next season as well with Helio Castroneves. But when given someone not involved in the sports world — like comedian Adam Carolla, Hannah Montana star Cody Linley and her own ex-boyfriend Chuck Wicks — she never made the finals. She is recognized as one of the best and most popular dancers on the show, with creative choreography that rivals the work of her equally energetic brother, Derek.
Cheryl Burke started in Season 2 where she launched her own back-to-back wins: First with singer Drew Lachey, then with football star Emmitt Smith. Cheryl has maintained a strong track record, coming in third with actor Cristián de la Fuente in Season 6 and second with actor Gilles Marini in Season 8. She's also been made to suffer such challenges as Wayne Newton in Season 5 and politician Tom DeLay in Season 9, who withdrew from the show due to an injury. She is a tough little cookie and that has helped her transform a disparate group of tough guys into strong dancers.
Mark Ballas started in Season 5 with now ex-girlfriend Sabrina Bryan. They were considered early frontrunners and a surprise early elimination. Mark went on to win Season 6 with Olympic figure skater Kristi Yamaguchi. Olympians have served Mark well — he won his second mirror ball with Olympic gymnast Shawn Johnson. But when dancing with non-Olympians he has not made the finals. He and Shannen Doherty were the first ones eliminated from Season 10. He is one of the peppiest and most energetic dancers, with a huge smile on his face no matter what's going on.
Derek Hough also started in Season 5 and like Mark he tends to get young, energetic dancers. Since Derek is slightly taller than Mark, he gets more model types. He also tends to get the sexiest chicks, which does help. He started with another 90210 alumnus, Jennie Garth, and not much happened there. He dated his next partner, Shannon Elizabeth, and won the mirror ball pretty easily with now co-host Brooke Burke. He and singer Lil' Kim and model Joanna Krupa also did well, but never got to the finals. Now he is dancing with the woman Carrie Ann Inaba called the best dancer they have ever had on the show. So is Derek just the beneficiary of producer favoritism, or is he such a strong choreographer that he can make it look easy for his dancers?
Kym Johnson is like a slightly older version of Julianne, which means she usually gets slightly older and crazier stars to dance with. She started with Jerry Springer — punishment enough — then almost won with Joey Fatone. You could argue that they should've won over Apolo & Julianne. She had no luck with Mark Cuban and Penn Jillette, but got to the final two with football player Warren Sapp in Season 7 and finally won with Mr. Showman Donny Osmond in Season 9. (Can we forget David Alan Grier? He seemed so upset by not doing well.) We're surprised Kym isn't around this season, considering her track record and popularity. She's a low-key, even tempered little Aussie who gets results without diva fits.
Speaking of diva fits (kidding!), Maksim Chmerkovskiy is definitely one of the top dancers and choreographers on the show, a fact that gets lost behind his looks and temperament. He started in Season 2 with Tia Carrere and has been here ever since. He managed to get to third place with boxer Laila Ali and second place with pop star Mel B, before hitting a dry patch with Misty May-Treanor, who was injured and dropped out, plus Denise Richards and Debi Mazar. Now that he has Erin Andrews you can see the spark back in his eyes. He knows he has a better dancer than the rest and he knows how much that does matter, even in a popularity contest.
So who is the best of the bunch? We'll leave the definitive answer up to you. By the way, here's the full list of pros from all 10 seasons:
Alec Mazo Andrea Hale Anna Demidova Anna Trebunskaya Ashly DelGrosso Brian Fortuna Charlotte Jorgensen Chelsie Hightower Cheryl Burke Corky Ballas Damian Whitewood Derek Hough Dmitry Chaplin Edyta Śliwińska Elena Grinenko Fabian Sanchez Inna Brayer Jesse DeSoto Jonathan Roberts Julianne Hough Karina Smirnoff Kym Johnson Lacey Schwimmer Louis van Amstel Maksim Chmerkovskiy Mark Ballas Nick Kosovich Tony Dovolani