If the tight-knit ballroom community is like high school, Shirley Ballas is the prom queen. Actually, she’s "The Queen of Latin,” thanks to her prowess in Latin dances. She’s not only the mother of Dancing With the Stars pro Mark Ballas and the ex-wife of DWTS pro Corky Ballas, she’s coached some of the best dancers in the world, including our beloved DWTS pros Derek and Julianne Hough.
She’s also a hot ticket, as DWTS fans saw on Season 12, Week 7 when she was invited to train the six couples as one of the “ballroom greats.”
Shirley started dancing at age 2. Before marrying Corky, she married a previous partner, fellow British dancer Sammy Stopford. She later met Corky at a Latin competition in Montreal, Quebec. They were married and two years later, they became the United States International Latin Style Champions; they successfully defended their title seven times.
While living and competing in Houston, Texas, their only child, Mark, was born in 1986. They moved to London when Mark was young and that’s where Corky and Shirley took future DWTS pros Derek and Julianne under their wing, training them as young dancers. (Derek even calls Shirley “mom” sometimes, as a second mother.) Corky and Shirley later divorced, and Shirley still lives in the United Kingdom.
During DWTS training this week, Shirley seemed to get particularly close with celeb Romeo Miller. Romeo’s partner, Chelsie Hightower, has her own long history with Mark’s mom. In a Dance Spirit interview, Chelsie discussed the time she had to impress “notorious ballroom coach Shirley Ballas” before landing a particular partnership as a new dancer. “Shirley is one of the top coaches in the world and is known as an intimidating lady,” Chelsie said. “I’ll never forget it: I came in, she looked me up and down, and it was the longest three hours of my life! I was scared to death.”
Mark’s own Season 12 partner, Chelsea Kane, was also intimidated by Shirley’s coaching, but for different reasons. "It's such a weird dynamic having a mom in a room who's telling you to grind on her son harder," Chelsea told E! of her Week 7 experience. "That's something that you spend your whole life trying not to do, so it's a confusing dynamic."
Shirley turned 50 last September and you can watch Mark, Derek, and others at her birthday bash. You can also watch her life story play out in a video called "Shirley Ballas: An Inspiring Journey," featuring shots of her life through the years. In addition to Corky, Mark, Derek, and Julianne, you might spot DWTS pro Maksim Chmerkovskiy and Week 7 guests, Donnie Burns and Luca Baricchi.