I want to thank everyone who tuned in and supported Dancing with the Stars Season 29. It was a unique season because of the pandemic, one where we all worked extra hard to bring some entertainment and light into everyone’s homes. It was also a special season because I believe that it brought us all a lot closer as a family. We did it as a family and we did it with love, and I truly believe you can feel it in every episode we created together. Before we say goodbye though, I wanted to leave you with my top ten most memorable Dancing with the Stars performances of all time.
1. Drew Lachey and Cheryl Burke’s “Save a Horse, Ride A Cowboy” Freestyle, Season 2
This iconic piece of choreography performed by Drew and Cheryl in the finale of Season 2 was when Dancing with the Stars became the show it is today. Cheryl broke down boundaries of style and created a perfect vehicle that both entertained the crowd and suited Drew’s style of movement. It was sexy and fun and just a downright show down. I loved this piece and when anyone asks me what my favorite performance of Dancing with the Stars is, this one always pops into my mind first. From the orange and gold costumes tinged with Western themes all the way down to the cowboy boots, this piece felt like it became a bit of American history while entertaining us all.
2. Nyle DiMarco and Peta Murgatroyd’s “The Sound of Silence” Freestyle, Season 22
Some dances just take your breath away, and this one took mine away for so many reasons. Set to a darkened stage with a piano on fire behind them, Nyle and Peta began in such an intimate way. The details of each movement and the lyrics both remind us that Nyle DiMarco is, in fact, Deaf (He’s an activist and created the Nyle DiMarco Foundation to help Deaf people all over the world). The poignancy of this piece added a depth to each of the movements. His connection to Peta and the music was beyond what we normally see in a couple because of his unique attributes. Not only did this performance leave behind a passionate and artistic masterpiece but it also left behind a message. During the season, Nyle had an interpreter who would always sign for him, as well as translate everything that was being said to him. I was inspired and learned to sign so that I could tell him how I felt that day about his performing on our show.
3. Kaitlyn Bristowe and Artem Chigvintsev’s “Toxic” Argentine Tango, Season 29
What was so special about this number was the journey that led up to it in Season 29. Kaitlyn had received a few low scores leading up to this dance, and I had given her some stern feedback. Kaitlyn had potential and, in my opinion as a judge, she had more to give. I gave her honest feedback about her Paso Doble and there was an outcry from Bachelor Nation that I was being unfair to Kaitlyn. I’ve noticed that around the 7th week of each season of Dancing with the Stars, people get very impassioned about who they are rooting for and the social media feedback can get quite negative towards the judges. I’ve seen it happen from Season 1 on. It’s always happens. But I believe in honest feedback because I want people to have the ultimate experience on our show, and that kind of experience only happens when you challenge yourself and push yourself to go beyond what you thought was possible.
We all witnessed Kaitlyn find her perfection in the expression of her Argentine Tango. Together, Kaitlyn and her partner Artem faced that Argentine Tango with a fire and determination unlike any prior performance. And it was incredible! It was sheer and utter perfection. Every movement was executed with the right balance of passion, power and intention. Every line was stretched to perfection, every step placed with meticulous attention to detail. It was truly amazing to witness. And this moment was one of pure joy not only for them, but for all of us in the ballroom. Magic is magic, after all. I love when people who join our show can experience a dance of perfection, where you surpass your own expectations, where you are almost beyond human, where you and the dance become one. I remember my perfection moments in my own dance career and I love when our contestants can have that moment for themselves, and can look back at that instance of pure ecstasy and can claim it as their own. There is nothing like earning a moment in your life, through blood sweat and tears, and to be at one with pure expression and creativity. Bravo!
4. Amy Purdy and Derek Hough’s “Only Human” Contemporary, Season 18
It was only Week 3 in the competition, and it was the first time Amy exposed her prosthetic legs. Amy is a double amputee, snowboarder, Paralympic medalist, and inspirational speaker. In my opinion, she was one of the most inspiring people ever to be on Dancing with the Stars. Her ability to compete so strongly while being a double amputee was eye-opening. We had to hold her to the same standards as everyone else that season, and she stood up to that test and smashed the concept of “limitation.’ This performance showcased the power of vulnerability in dance. It demonstrated so clearly that when you open your heart and share of yourself in dance, or in any venue, you can touch the world in a way that’s life-affirming. In dance, the only tool is the person dancing. Dance is truly the artistry of a human being. This performance is etched in my heart as the dance that touched our nation. Amy showed me and everyone else that anything is possible when you take it one step at a time. There is a move in that choreography that I will always remember: the final steps where Amy suspended in the air by her partner Derek and she was walking on air. And I think we all could see ourselves in that moment, walking towards our dreams.
5. Mel B and Maksim Chmerkovskiy’s “Free Your Mind” Pasa Doble, Season 5
This was a Paso Doble that set the bar for all Paso Dobles to come. Maks and Mel started in an embrace. Suddenly Mel turned around and marched right down center stage, owning us all with her attitude. Her costume was one of the sexiest we had ever seen, and she had her breakthrough with that dance. We had never seen something so risqué before, something so daring and on the edge. It had an “in your face” and rebellious attitude that left us all with our mouths agape. She was dressed as a dominatrix and she had never danced with that much passion or precision before. Mel B’s in my hall of famers for her powerful performance, command of the dance and that aggressive but controlled Paso. Whenever I hear that song I still see Mel B, coming down centerstage and ready to blow your mind.
6. Meryl Davis and Maksim Chmerkovskiy’s “Feel So Close” Tango, Season 18
This performance proved Meryl Davis to be one of the absolute greatest female celebrity dancers in the history of Dancing with the Stars. She delivered everything you could ask for in a perfect Tango. What was so incredible was the way she mastered the technique. I can still see her hold in my mind’s eye, with the fingers of her left hand placed just perfectly. She had an elegance and grace to her, but it was matched with a ferocity and a power that was focused like a laser. She had the most elegant and elongated neck and her head was always at the absolute perfect angle. Meryl was a perfectionist, and the magic was also in the immense and palpable chemistry she had with her partner. She brought out the best in Maks; I believe that was his best season as well. It’s wonderful when you see someone firing on all cylinders as Maks was in his season with Meryl. His choreography was intricate and extremely challenging, and she pushed him to his outer limits as well. Dancing with the Stars is so many things but it is also a wonderful showcase of alchemy of partnerships, and how people can change people and bring out the best in each other. This was one of those partnerships and this dance was one of their best. Artistry in motion.
7. Hélio Castroneves and Julianne Hough’s “Hey Pachuco” Quickstep, Season 5
This was my favorite Quickstep ever! I still remember Hélio in that yellow zoot suit. Len, Bruno and I would often refer to his Quickstep with Julianne as the “gold standard.” It was filled with content and was jam-packed with energy and excitement, at least until he dropped her a little roughly at the end in the final pose. I think she hit her head, but was ultimately fine. She stood up and laughed hysterically. It was such a vibrant performance, and the way they glided by us in fantastic form, body contact on pointe, incredible and basically flawless footwork… It was one of the brightest moments in Dancing with the Stars history.
8. Alfonso Ribeiro & Witney Carson’s “3-6-9” Jive, Season 19
This dance woke up the house at Dancing with the Stars! It was Alfonso’s first dance of the season and he came out of the gates and blew us away. It was so strong and so powerful, but so much fun! There’s a naturalness to they way he performs, and this routine left an impact that told us all to watch this guy! Alfonso’s musicality and his innate ability to feel the moments and know when to stretch out a move and when to bring it tightly gave him the nuances that make a performance really come to life. This dance is all about his showmanship and ability to bring it out in the best way. When Alfonso stepped off the lifted stage onto the hardwood, he lit the place up. Some dances just make you wanna dance and they make America feel good. This was one of those and Alfonso is a showman through and through. Whoop Whoop!
9. Allison Holker and Riker Lynch’s “He’s A Pirate” Paso Doble, Season 20
This dance was so fantastic. It was epic! Riker transformed in the role of Captain Jack Sparrow and danced as a man possessed. He was brilliant, and so was Allison! At the end when the cannon went off, that was how I felt inside. I felt so much joy for what they just accomplished that it was like my heart exploded. The room exploded into wild and well-deserved applause. Riker’s performance was larger than life and like a live-action Disney ride come to life. He danced with more enthusiasm and precision than he had ever danced before, hitting all his lines with incredible shaping and and dancing like the leading man he was meant to be! You could tell that he was just “living his best life” at that moment. The performance had all the excitement of the film right there on the ballroom for all of us to witness, up close and personal. He had a flourish to every step that made this dance worthy of being called Disney Magical.
10. Nev Shulman and Jenna Johnson’s “Black Swan” Paso Doble, Season 29
This dance was powerful and had a certain gravitas that makes it a stand out to me. Yes, I am a fan of Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake which I do believe this was a tribute to or was inspired by, and that could have worked against it because his dancers are quite spectacular. I’m not comparing the two, but this dance dug its way into my heart by sheer determination. Jenna and Nev threw themselves into this dance and infused the element of drama into it. This dance proved that Nev deserves be on a stage performing and entertaining people forevermore. His killer smile always lights up the room, but here in this dance, he ignited our imaginations. They truly transported us into a world of imagination, and I love when dance can take us out of this world and let our imaginations light up and lead us. This was a magical performance and Jenna’s choreography was a highlight indeed!
HONORABLE MENTION: The Judges Partner Dance featuring Paige Vanzant and Antonio Brown with Mark Ballas and Sharna Burgess, Season 22
In Season 22 of Dancing with the Stars, the judges were asked to create numbers for the couples on the show and I created this Paso Doble for Antonio Brown and Paige Vanzant. Each judge was assigned two teams and tasked with creating a performance to feature them and help them in their journey towards the Mirrorball Trophy. Antonio and Paige were very different types of performers and were at very different skill levels, but I love a creative challenge. My goal and strategy was to use the one thing they had in common: their incredible athleticism. I had a few ideas floating in my mind, but I kept thinking about the film Prometheus by Ridley Scott. I wanted to put Antonio and Paige in that type of raw, dark, alien and otherworldly environment where it took pure physical strength and a beyond-human desire to survive. These two titans Antonio and Paige had that kind of energy and I wanted to highlight that because, in that aspect of things, they were equals. I knew it would create a more balanced performance if I highlighted their physicality and incredible prowess. I used this song because the lyrics emphasized the competitive spirit and nature of the competition: “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.” I knew this would help them tap into their inner gladiator spirit.
The element of man (and woman) versus nature was the main theme here and it was imperative that I create that kind of environment not just through lighting but through actual texture. I asked for the box of chalk that they started in. It took a few attempts to find the best way to create the effect without overdoing it, but with the right camera angles and with the jib moving in the right direction, it created the impact I was looking for. I wanted my dancers to seem as though they came from the earth and were of the earth element. It was an epic battle within a battle, even though they were actually and ultimately a team of four. They needed to survive and fight with all their might to survive. In the end, they survive…. they make it to the promised land, where the water flows and they can keep going. I chose to end with them walking into the water with a “less is more” energy for the most impact; my goal was instilling hope. The whole piece was very heavy and physical and it needed the energetic relief, so I saved it until the end. It was powerful to witness. We only had one chance to rehearse it in the water, and we had never done it in full costume until it was showtime. I’ll admit I was a bit nervous, but I loved creating this for them.
Sharna Burgess and Mark Ballas were great to work with as choreographers. I had worked with Sharna before with Noah Galloway and I have always loved and respected her talent. Mark was not as comfortable or trusting at first but ultimately, the piece spoke for itself. My role as creative director was to create the world, choose the costumes and add the lighting and sound effects. I also created the beginning and the end of the piece (I’m always hands-on for the beginning and the end of anything I direct— that first impression goes a long way). I directed the moments, beat to beat: what happens where, who dances with whom and for how long, what we are going for at each moment as far as storytelling goes, what we want to feel and what intensity we need and where. That’s all my part, but I cannot take credit for the steps. At Dancing with the Stars, the pros are always the choreographers and are responsible for their partners. Here, in the role of creative director, I was very happy with the outcome. I am proud of this number and truthfully, I am always happiest when I get to be creative.
It’s been an amazing, truly unprecedented season of Dancing with the Stars, and I couldn’t be more thankful for the chance to look back through all that our performers have accomplished so far. I’m so proud of every member of this incredible family, and I can’t wait to see what next season holds!
To read more about Carrie Ann’s behind-the-scenes experience on Dancing with the Stars, read her Dancing with the Stars Diaries here.