Things You Might Not Know About Fan Favorite Dancing With The Stars ProsPublished on November 8, 2019. Updated October 28, 2020
Over the course of its nearly 30 seasons, Dancing With the Stars has created a large and passionate fanbase. While the center of the show is supposed to be the stars, there is no denying that the pro dancers have become a major draw for many of the fans. The veteran pros have become celebrities in their own right now, and every season, fans have certain pros they are hoping will return to compete. Get to know the show’s most well-known pros with these lesser known facts:
30. Derek Hough and Mark Ballas- HGTV Stars
Mark Ballas and Derek Hough starred together on a four episode series called Mark & Derek’s Excellent Flip. The show aired on HGTV in 2015 and showcased the two taking their skills off the dance floor and into the work of home renovation. The pair bought an outdated ’60s ranch-style California home and have to flip it in just four weeks. Derek and Mark bought the house for 1.275 million and sold it for 1.895 million, making a $620,000 profit.
29. Karina Smirnoff – Education
Karina Smirnoff’s parents didn’t want her to only focus on dancing, so she completed a double major in Economics and Information System Programming at Fordham University. She was planning on going to law school but, while in university, she rekindled her love of dance and began studying rumba, jive, samba, and waltz.
28. Val Chmerkovskiy – Violinist
He may be a master at dancing, but it seems it is in Val’s nature to master difficult talents. Throughout his years on Dancing With the Stars, he has shown off his violin skills and, as it turns out, he is a classically trained violinist and also played concertmaster violin with his youth orchestra in Carnegie Hall. Despite no training or musical inclination before, Val’s parents took their 6-year-old to the Music Academy where he auditioned by singing a song that caught his uncle’s attention when they were in the car together. At the school he was told he had to pick an instrument and decided on the violin. Through the series of events, Val went from never holding a violin before to going on to become a classically trained violinist, which he and his family believed would be his career path while Maks would be the dancer.
27. Peta Murgatroyd – Ballerina Dreams
When she was only 15-years-old, Peta suffered an extremely bad ankle injury which prevented her from getting up on her toes in her ballerina shoes. After doctor visits and an MRI, it was discovered that she had a bone floating around in her ankle and the only way she would be able to dance again was to have surgery. She recovered from surgery, but she was never 100 percent again. Peta became incredibly frustrated and disappointed in herself, but she found solace in taking salsa classes once a week at the town hall. In an interview she said, “I fell in love with it. I literally just said to my mom one day, I’m done with ballet. I can’t do it knowing I can’t give 100 percent anymore, so I’m going to switch over and do ballroom dancing.” Her new found joy agreed with her because a year later she was winning dance competitions as a ballroom dancer and joined the cast of Burn the Floor.
26. Cheryl Burke- Long Lost Sibling
Cheryl Burke had a very difficult year in 2018 when her father passed away, and then discovered she had a sibling she never knew about. Burke opened up about the experience, “With my father’s passing came a lot of darkness but there was also a lot of light – I found my sister who I had never known. We recently met for the first time and it was such a surreal experience to walk into a room to meet and walk out feeling like we had known each other forever. In her I see the same drive and passion that our dad had and there’s clearly a major family resemblance. It may have taken 30 years to find each other, but I am so excited to have another sister for life.”
25. Artem Chigvintsev- Actor
Artem Chigvintsev only television experience has not been just Dancing With the Stars. Many may not realize, but Artem actually appeared in a season four episode of The O.C.! He played a charming man who dances seductively with Julie Cooper (played by Melinda Clarke). Then in 2016, Artem was teamed up with The O.C. star Mischa Barton when the actress joined season 22. This is not an accident, obviously,” he joked at the time about the partner he was given. He also appeared in the Adam Sandler and Kevin James film I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry.
24. Sharna Burgess – Australia to London
Sharna was born in Wagga Wagga, New South Wales, Australia, to Ray and Lucy Burgess. She grew up in Australia before moving to London, England at the age of 18 where she won many titles and toured with the show, Simpy Ballroom. Following the tour she was given a spot on Burn the Floor, which she performed with for six years. She also appeared on Australian Dancing With the Stars and So You Think You Can Dance.
23. Maksim Chmerkovsiky – Learning English
Maks was only 14 when along with his parents and little brother, Val, he immigrated to Brooklyn, New York from Ukraine. The transition wasn’t necessarily easy for Maks and he revealed that he learned English at first by reading the street signs in Brooklyn.
22. Val and Julianne Hough – Almost Partners
In 2003-2004, a 17-year-old Val had ended his relationship and dance partnership with Sandra Udis, and therefore was in the market for a new partner. Immediately his attention went to Julianne Hough, who had been dancing for quite some time with Mark Ballas, but she had quit competing a year earlier to focus on her music career. Undeterred, Val phoned Julianne in the hopes she would resurrect her dancing career, and after initially rejecting the idea, she phoned Val back and said, “‘I’ve reconsidered and you know, for these last eight months, I’ve been thinking about ballroom a lot. I definitely miss dancing, and miss competing, and to be honest, all those times I was thinking about it, the only person I could ever see myself coming back to competition with was you.’” While Val was ecstatic about her agreement, he was also under pressure from the president of the World Federation of Ballroom Dancers to dance with Valeriya “Lera” Kozharinova, and while he thought Julianne Hough was everything he wanted in a partner, he hadn’t met Lera yet. After dancing with Lera in the days before Julianne was supposed to fly to New Jersey, Val changed his mind and had to figure out a way to tell Julianne that he asked her to come out of retirement for nothing, and became so nervous he made Maks call her to break the news. “Choosing Lera as a partner wound up being the biggest favor I could ever do for Julianne,” Val wrote. “Julianne and I might be married right now, or dancing and competing as partners. It’s crazy how the world works. Sometimes the things that don’t happen have the biggest impact on your life — not the things that do happen.”
21. Derek Hough and Mark Ballas – Early Friends
When Derek was only 12-years-old he was sent to London to take master classes at Center Stage where he would live and study with dance coaches Corky and Shirley Ballas. His sister Julianne joined him in London several months later. Both siblings only planned on staying for a year, but they showed such immense talent that Shirely invited them to stay and live with her so she could prefect their dancing skills. Her only child, Mark Ballas, also stars on Dancing with the Stars, and is now extremely good friends with Derek after growing up together. The three dancers all went to the Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts and received training in all forms of performance like gymnastics, theater, song and dance (jazz, ballet, and tap). Shirley said, “He and Julianne were like little stars. One time, he didn’t come to class. I inquired about where he was and found out they were going through family difficulties. I asked someone to get in touch with him and, out of the blue, he asked if he could come live with me in London!”
20. Cheryl Burke Meets Boy
Cheryl Burke first met Boy Meets World actor Matthew Lawrence in 2006 when his brother Joey Lawrence competed on Dancing With the Stars. Burke and Matthew Lawrence went on to date until 2008 when rumors of infidelity ended their relationship. Almost ten years later, the pair found their way back to each other and on May 3, 2018 Lawrence proposed on Burke’s 34th birthday. The pair were married on May 23, 2019.
19. Emma Slater – Actress
The professional dancer initially wanted to be an actress and had a role in the musical Mamma Mia – which starred Meryl Streep – as one of the friends of Amanda Seyfried’s character and she sang on the movie’s Grammy-nominated soundtrack, which was produced by Abba. She was also on ITV1’s Popstars to Operastars and became the ballroom advisor.
18. Artem and Carrie Ann Inaba’s Relationship
One of Artem Chigvintsev’s least talked about but most interesting relationships was with none other than Dancing With the Stars judge Carrie Ann Inaba. The two first met in the early 2000s on the set of So You Think You Can Dance and began dating in 2006 despite a 15 year age gap. Unfortunately, the age gap along with controversy about Artem led to a lot of drama in their relationship. Before his relationship with Inaba, Artem was married to American professional ballroom dancer Giselle Peacock, but eight months after their wedding he was chosen for So You Think You Can Dance, and left her, leaving her to accuse him of marrying her for a green card. In 2009, after two and a half years of dating, Artem and Inaba called it quits.
17. Maks’ Broken Leg
When he was only 13, Maks broke his right leg in a sledding accident that required surgery and the installation of a titanium rod to stabilize his leg. He was immediately told the severity of the injury would most likely cause long-term difficulties and doctors highly doubted the possibility of a dance career, but miraculously he was dancing again six months later. In 2010, while appearing on Celebrity Ghost Stories, Maks revealed there was a supernatural twist to his miraculous broken leg recovery. . He recalled that often a woman, Maria, would help his leg in “strange and powerful” ways. When he got signed on to Dancing With the Stars, he invited Maria as a thanks for helping him achieve his dream, and when she didn’t show up, he went back to the hospital to look for her where he was told there was no Maria. Not long after he was going through old pictures with his mother and recognized his long deceased great grandmother as the Maria that helped to heal his leg.
16. Derek Hough – Multi-talented
Derek’s a man of many talents! Not only is he gifted with the talent of dance and choreography, he’s also musically gifted! Growing up he learned to play drums, piano and has taken on many musical Broadway roles throughout his professional career. However, the best of his singing talents can be found alongside best friend Mark Ballas. In 2005, these two dancers started up a pop-rock group called Ballas Hough Band and released a self-titled album in 2009. It was actually quite successful, landing on Billboard’s Top 100. Hough and Ballas both played guitar and were the lead vocals of the band. Other members included Sam Marder, Harry Sullivan and Emily Grace. They have three singles together, “Do It For You,” “Do You Love Me,” and “Move.” Hough and Ballas performed the song “Move” on DWTS and it was supposed to be the lead-off for their second studio album, but the song failed to reach the charts so they parted ways with Hollywood records in 2010 and the album was never released. Today the two dancers perform separately, but they are still supportive of each other’s careers.
15. Sasha Farber – Petition to Pro
One of the most inspiring stories to come from the show was when fellow pro dancer, Tristan MacManus, made a petition to promote Sasha Farber from dancing troupe to pro dancer. In the past, pro dancers have worked their way up from troupers, like Peta Murgatroyd and Sharna Burgess. In October 2012, Tristan tweeted out a link for followers to sign an ongoing petition and started the hashtag trend, “#Twitition Make Sasha Farber a pro on DWTS.”
14. Sharna Burgess – Early Star
At only 15 Burgess was chosen to represent Australia for the World Championships in both Standard and Latin styles and also performed in the closing ceremonies for the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games.
13. Val and Maks – How They First Felt About DWTS
Although both Val and his brother Maksim have become two of the biggest and most popular professionals on Dancing With the Stars, the series kicked off in the summer of 2005 without either Chmerkovskiy brother, and Val admitsthat at first, he took offense to the show’s concept because he thought it mocked the seriousness of ballroom dancing. “The formula of pairing professional dancers with celebrity partners, which was imported from a British program called Strictly Come Dancing, struck me as gimmicky and false. I feared the new show would do damage to the ballroom dance world that I love, but which had always struggled with being taken seriously.” After Maks decided to join the series in season two however; they’re opinions changed. Val and his family were forced to give it a chance and discovered it was from the mockery they thought it was going to be. “We fell in love with the show and came to admire the whole pro-celebrity concept.”
12. Derek Hough – Bullied
In addition to having an obscure childhood living away from home at such a young age, Derek said he was brutally bullied growing up. “I was punched in the face, pretty aggressively in the stomach. I was tied up in the trees and left in fields. When I was bullied, it was very physical, it was very aggressive, and it was something that, as I got older, I definitely forgave,” said Hough.
11. Peta Murgatroyd – Becoming a U.S. Citizen
After more than 10 years working and living in the United States thanks to Visas and her green card, Peta Murgatroyd became a U.S. Citizen in October 2019. In an emotional social media post, she shared, “” I dreamt of performing on the worlds biggest stage, I dreamt of people knowing my name, I dreamt of being the best at my craft, I dreamt of making a difference in the world and most of all I dreamt of making my family proud and proving that I could do it at the highest level. I love the life I created, but it wouldn’t be possible without the United States giving me the chance to succeed and live in the best country in the world, where dreams really do come true. This country gave me my career, it’s where I found the love of my life, and it’s where my first child was born. This will always be home now.”
10. Tony Dovolani – What’s In a Name
Tony Dovolani competed in an incredible 21 seasons of Dancing With the Stars before stepping away from the show, and in all that time fans might not have known that his name is not actually Tony. Although many might assume that his full name is Anthony, that isn’t correct either. Dovolani’s given name is Driton which is Albanian for “light.” When discussing naming his twins Adrian and Ariana, Tony stated, “Those particular names are close to my heart — Adrian and Ariana are some of the oldest Illyrian names. Adrian as in Adriatic Sea. As Albanians we celebrate everything through men and women — I had to give them both powerful names. His middle name is my real name, which is Driton. That’s my actual name. My nickname has been Tony forever.”
9. Karina Smirnoff – Saved by the Bell
Much like her former fiance, Maksim Chmerkovskiy, Karina Smirnoff moved from Ukraine to the U.S. when she was only 14 years old and was faced with a whole new world and a whole new language. In 2013, she opened up about leaving her home country and how she learned English from two very iconic U.S. series. “I recently learned the reason we left Ukraine when I was 14 was because crime was spiraling and it became too dangerous for us to stay. When I arrived in the US, I was afraid to speak at all in school. Everything was so different. I would run home from school and try to learn English from watching television shows. Friends and Saved By The Bell were two shows I always watched,” she shared.
8. Julianne Hough – In Harry Potter
In 2001, Julianne played a tiny part in the first Harry Potter film, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, when she was 13 years old. She told Us Weekly she had been hired as an extra to play a Gryffindor, one of the 4 houses at Hogwart’s School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. But for those who hope to find her cameo she warns, “don’t blink or you’ll miss me!”
7. Maks Chmerkovskiy – Dance Studios
When he was only 16 years old, Maks and his father opened a competitive dance studio called Rising Stars Dance Academy, which was geared towards young dancers. After a few relocations the studio ended up in Saddle Brook, New Jersey. Of the location, he stated, “I didn’t want to open a studio that would become just one of the studios in the area. I wanted to open my studio somewhere where there was nothing like it and where people would look at it with no preconceived notions.” Along with his brother, Val, Maks is now the co-owner of six competitive dance studios under the name “Dance With Me.”
6. Witney Carson – Emmy Nominee
Witney Carson was only 21 years old when she won her first Dancing With the Stars title with celebrity partner Alfonso Ribeiro, and has been one of the top pros to watch ever since. While Carson has been praised quite often for her breathtaking routines and choreography, the judges and fans weren’t the only ones who noticed. For season 19 she was nominated for the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Choreography.
5. Tony Dovolani – Son on the Spectrum
Longtime former Dancing With the Stars pro Tony Dovolani is the proud father of three children with his wife Lina. The pair welcomed daughter Luana in 2005, and in 2008 they welcomed twins Adrian and Ariana. When Adrian was 18 months old he was diagnosed with autism, but that never phased the dancer or his wife. “It’s funny because a lot of the times parents feel sorry for themselves and we didn’t feel sorry for ourselves once. We were like, ‘Alright, this is what it is and let’s find the best help for him. Let’s see what we can learn from him.’ With every case of autism, there are amazing kids; amazing people and you learn so much from each one of them. We thought, ‘Let’s see what field he can excel in.’ It has been very educational so far.” He’s also learned to see his son’s differences as a blessing, stating, “You can learn so much from an autistic kid. You start realizing that a lot of the petty stuff that you might have paid attention to that consumed your life, it’s not important anymore. You see things for what they are; they are not judging you or anything. It’s such a beautiful way to look at the world.”
4. Julianne, Derek, and Mark – Pop Group
In the 1990s, Julianne and her brother jumped on the bandwagon and started their own pop group. While Julianne and Derek were at the Italia Conti Academy of Arts, they teamed up with fellow student, Mark Ballas, now a Dancing with the Stars professional dancer. Their group was called 2B1G, short for “2 Boys, 1 Girl.” In an interview with People, Julianne laughed at the silliness of the pop group. “We had the corniest songs,” she told the magazine. “We had a song called ‘L-O-V-E Y-O-U,’ and we spelled it out with our hands.”
3. Jenna Johnson’s Fears
Season 26 winner Jenna Johnson may compete in front of million viewers, but that doesn’t stop her from having her own fears. The dancer has revealed that she is most afraid of roller coasters and the night time. ” I am deathly afraid of roller coasters. I hold my breath and almost pass out every time I ride one,” she revealed. She also admitted, “I was terrified of nights as a child and slept in my sister’s bed until I was a senior in high school. She hated it so much that some nights I would even resort to sleeping on her floor.”
2. Alan Bersten – Hyperparathyroidism
At only 23, Alan Bersten’s got some shocking news when he got diagnosed with a condition called hyperparathyroidism after a tumor grew one one of his glands. “They did a quick scan of everything and couldn’t tell if [the tumor] was benign or malignant until they opened me up,” he revealed. “Unfortunately the only surgery available was on April 11 so my mom quickly was like, ‘You don’t understand, he has to be on Dancing with the Stars. Is there anything we can do?’” Luckily, a surgeon was able to rush him in and confirmed that Bersten didn’t have cancer, but that didn’t mean it didn’t greatly impact him. “They said it was a miracle that the doctors found it because most people don’t understand they have it until they break a bone or they get kidney stones,” he said. “It was like all of my stars up there in Heaven watching over me.”
1. Maks The Bachelor
After several seasons on Dancing With the Stars, Maksim Chmerkovskiy had solidified himself as one of the show’s biggest stars and had become a celebrity, which garnered him unexpected attention from his home country. In 2009, Maks was offered the opportunity to star in a season of Ukraine’s version of The Bachelor, and he did it. After Val talked him into taking the offer, Maks filmed the season and after the season aired he had to go back to Kiev one last time for a follow-up episode and asked Val to go with him. While Val was aware the show would make his brother a star, he wasn’t prepared for just how big of a star. Upon their arrival at the after-party for the episode, Maks was accosted by a horde of female fans, one of which got herself completely wrapped around Maks, which rightfully angered her boyfriend and a brawl ensued. “The boyfriend steamed up to Maks, said, ‘I know you’ in Russian, then –boom!– punched my brother in the face. I reacted on pure impulse before I could think. Bam! I slugged the dude with a right hook I’d been perfecting in Brooklyn boxing gyms since I was a teenager. He crumpled to the ground.” According to Val that was the single moment his relationship with his brother shifted. “I remember thinking. You’ve looked out for me and had my back my whole life. Now, when the sh-t hit the fan, I did not hesitate, I did not think twice. It was as if I was at last ready to say to Maks, ‘Yo, I’m never going to stop caring about you or loving you or doing things for you but it will never again come from a place of owing you, or of ‘look how much my brother’s done for me.’ Now I’ve done just as much for you as you’ve done for me.'”