10. Valentin Chmerkovskiy
A flirty cabana boy with a sensitive soul, Val embodies what many people really want out of Dancing With the Stars: nudity. The younger Chmerkovskiy brother (shown with All-Stars partner Kelly Monaco) is already a serious contender for the season 16 crown with 16-year-old Zendaya Coleman.
9. Peta Murgatroyd
She could have been just another sexy stranger after getting eliminated first with Metta World Peace. Instead, the Aussie sorceress’s dazzling sparkle spell on the ballroom has included a victory with Donald Driver (shown) in season 14, a sweet takeover for Cheryl as Gilles Marini’s partner to nearly win All-Stars, and the present-day ability to make us forget Bachelor boy Sean Lowe even has abs of his own.
8. Anna Trebunskaya
The fiery Russian’s quick, no-nonsense wit, commitment to cheese, and luscious red locks are severely missed in season 16. Despite several good runs, her best attempts to secure the COVETED MIRRORBALL TROPHY have been with Evan Lysacek in season 10 and Jerry Rice (shown) in season 2. Still, Anna’s ability to entertain us has been as dependable as the way the disembodied British announcer voice said her last name: ”Tre-BUN-skaya!”
7. Kym Johnson
Another darling Aussie, Kym’s played the Good Girl Sandy role since her third-season romp with Jerry Springer — and it totally works for her. A paragon of class and style even in the face of a few dud partners, the fan favorite eventually won twice, with Donny Osmond in season 9 and Hines Ward (shown) in season 12. Her magical legs can just sprout fringe out of nowhere.
6. Julianne Hough
Julianne breathed new excitement into DWTS in season 4 with her whip-fast choreography and bubbly chemistry with Apolo Anton Ohno. She’s worn many different sequined hats since leaving the show — movie star, country singer, Ryan Seacrest’s girlfriend — but I will always think of her first and foremost as a fringed tiger.
5. Tony Dovolani
After establishing early dominance with season 2’s Stacy Kiebler, Tony’s suffered some pretty lame partners through the years — perhaps it’s his own fault for being so gosh darn patient as a trainer and disarmingly even-keeled in the face of MAJOR DRAMA. His All-Stars win with Melissa Rycroft (shown) was a long time coming. (I still chant ”Free Tony” every so often — haunting memories from his season 10 death sentence starring Kate Gosselin.)
4. Cheryl Burke
The first female pro winner (and first consecutive winner) is a tough bedazzled cookie, but as long as she’s paired with someone willing to try, Cheryl’s fierce training method guarantees results. Amidst a slew of memorably top-notch dances, I recall fondly her series of miraculous one-armed lifts with an injured Cristián de la Fuente — and, of course, the absurd/awesome ”Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy” routine with Drew Lachey (shown), which set the standard for DWTS freestyles.
3. Maksim Chmerkovskiy
Just thought everyone could use a reminder that Maks had long hair in season 2. YAY! His flagrant ego always made him the most polarizing pro — but love him or hate him, it’s hard not to miss the self-dubbed Bad Boy of the Ballroom/Sex on a Stick’s swagger?and most significant asset. When his partnerships didn’t work, they were brutal, but whenever Maks got a funny lady willing to play his game (Mel B, Erin Andrews, Kirstie Alley), he was simply the best. This is his show, remember? Len Goodman is still trying to forget.
2. Karina Smirnoff
Karina finally won season 13 with J.R. Martinez, but she’d been killing it with exquisite choreography, perfectly suited to her partners’ strengths and weaknesses, for years before that. A regular since season 3, she’s reliably fun/kooky during rehearsals but always seems to come even more alive on show night. Karina’s the perfect tour guide for pure, technically beautiful escapism — what Dancing With the Stars is all about.
1. Derek Hough
Hard to believe, but Derek first appeared in season 4 as a guest instructor for Apolo and his younger sister Julianne. The choreography king and three-time winner — with now co-host Brooke Burke (shown), Nicole Scherzinger, and Jennifer Grey — has been churning out the show’s flashiest, most innovative routines ever since. Sure, he’s the judges’ pet, gets the most already-talented celebs, and grows weird half-beards on the reg. But his prowess cannot be denied: Derek is the sequin that sparkles the brightest.
And now for our favorites from The Troupe…
Trouper: Mark Ballas
The two-time winner (with Shawn Johnson, shown, and Kristi Yamaguchi) mathematically deserves to be in a Top 10, but his tendency to overdo it facially and steal the spotlight away from his partners can be off-putting.
Trouper: Chelsie Hightower
Lovely Chelsie (seasons 8-15) didn’t take on a partner for season 16, but her frequent Tuesday night exhibitions with fellow So You Think You Can Dance alum Dmitry Chaplin have helped us get our fix. I’ve been enthralled with the good-natured leggy blonde since she took rodeo cowboy Ty Murray in her sparkle-bangled hand and led him through possibly the most profound improvement arc of the series to date.
Trouper: Tristan MacManus
Awww. There’s never enough Tristan! After three lovely but slow and very patient seasons with Nancy Grace, Gladys Knight (shown), and Dorothy Hamill, plus one brief, boob-y encounter with Pam Anderson, my dream prom date — look who’s already fantasizing about Week 3’s theme! — deserves one of those young, spry rubber band partners that Derek and Mark always get. How long will the wry Irishman have to wait for his lucky charm?
Trouper: Edyta Sliwinska
I still can’t believe Lady Legwarmer, who danced in the first 10 seasons, never won the COVETED MIRRORBALL TROPHY. When I picture DWTS in my head, the Polish beauty is still the ridiculously svelte silhouette, surrounded by a halo of glitter, that first comes to mind. Never one to steal the spotlight for herself (despite many, many barely there costumes that threatened to do so), Edyta conjured up countless magical, extra-cheesy moments — like Cameron Mathison’s Superman-themed paso doble in season 5.
Trouper: Alec Mazo
After winning the first season with Kelly Monaco (and valiantly holding up an errant strap on her costume), the handsome, quiet Russian — and Edyta’s husband — never quite recaptured that magic with four subsequent partners.