Dancing with the Stars Celebrities: “What Do You Mean, I’m A Ringer??” Part 1

This is the one issue that comes up over and over again when discussing DWTS. We see it in our comments; you see it tossed about on message boards like an accusation or castigation. Almost always it’s in reference to ALL of Derek’s partners, which is just ridiculous. Most of the male pros and a few of the female pros have had a ringer of one kind at one time or another – that’s just the way it goes. NO ONE has a ringer, or “dancer” every single time – that’s abundantly clear to anyone who engages their brain.  Frankly, if we didn’t have the occasional ringer and had a season of mediocre dancing, I think people would tune out very, very fast.  I don’t mind an amusing or talented ringer – what I DO mind is the revisionist history that follows a DWTS season where the accusations start to fly.  Even the mainstream media and certain pro dancers (cough-Louis-cough) – never very clever at the best of times – chimes in on this hue and cry.  It’s quite narrow minded. And it’s just not that simple – as I will show.  🙂

How do I define “ringer” – well, for me, it’s not so black and white. ALL kinds of people have advantages over other people going into the show that have NOTHING to do with dancing.  To isolate ONE positive attribute (dance experience) and ignore the others is too simplistic and narrow minded. There are also degrees of dance experience from someone who taught dance (Mya) to someone who was in a music group which performed a lot of choreography (Nicole, Lance, Sabrina, Mel B, etc.). Even college or professional cheerleaders fall into the ringer camp, albeit a bit lower on the sliding scale than your average boy bander. There is no denying that training to be a cheerleader and learning the choreo gives you a leg up (cough) on someone like Shannon Doherty or Tom Delay. But if you took dance when you were a little girl, prior to even being a teen ager? Give me a break.  We can certainly debate if there is a real difference between cheerleading and the Pussycat Dolls – but spare me the sermons on how Joanna took ballet until she was 11. If anyone is silly enough to point to that as an advantage – well then nearly ALL the female celebrities have that advantage. Not so.

But those are your ringers with dance experience – what about someone who comes on the show and you know instantly that they are going to win?? Wouldn’t they also be a ringer? I say absolutely. If you come on the show and you’re so beloved or popular (with the DWTS Demo) that everyone knows you’re going to win, then I say that’s a form of ringer all its own. Kristi, Shawn and Donny – all extremely popular athletes and entertainers and all nearly guaranteed a win. I say “nearly” because Shawn was nearly unseated by a hot, gorgeous, very talented dancer in Gilles Marini. On paper, however, Shawn was a shoe-in.  Evan Lysacek almost falls into this camp and I thought he would win his season – but he apparently burned a few bridges in his time with a potentially huge voting block of skating fans.  I would ordinarily put someone like Jennifer Grey in this category, but not this time, simply because her liabilities really did outweigh her popularity. Being age 50 is no small thing when it comes to the task of dancing on DWTS; add in the screws in her neck and the problems with her foot and you’ve got someone unlikely to actually win. That she did win is likely a testament to Derek’s ability to choreograph entertaining routines around a fairly limited amount of motion, compared to her competitors, most of which were at least 20 years her junior.  All that said, I did give her a low level ringer status due to the age and physical ailments offsets.  I also put KirstieAlley in this group at a lower level – she’s another older, beloved, iconic actress, although possibly not at the level of Jennifer Grey. Hard to say where to draw the line on that one, as she was older than Jennifer, but didn’t have the same physical ailments.

This is what I mean when I say all kinds of people have advantages (and in some cases huge disadvantages) coming into the show.  You don’t get to just point and scream “RINGER!!!” unless you’re a child who doesn’t know any better.  We’re going to use this blog to actually THINK about this. We’re going to discuss how the *disadvantages* a celebrity has have just as much impact on their chances of winning as their advantages do – no one is just a ringer in a vacuum. And we’re going to list all the pros and their partners, and where they fall on the sliding scale of “ringerdom”. 🙂  We’re also going to discuss the difference between dance “experience” and dance “ability” because a lot of people seem to think the two things are interchangeable.  If you need Websters, this would be a good time to pull it out. 🙂 I’ll also talk about the difference between hindsight (all of Derek’s partners are dancers!!!), and who were actually likely to be good on paper going in. And who weren’t.

We’re going to start with the female pros, mainly because they are easier – and there are fewer true ringers. That will be in Part II – first, some notes on how I got to where I did on categorizing the dancers over the seasons.


Here are the categories:

If a person falls into more than one of the categories I broke “ringers” into, they got labeled with the one most likely to take them far in the competition.

R&B/hip hop singers: If you call Lil’ Kim a ringer, you have to also call Debi Mazar one due to hip hop experience. And if you’re going to call both of them ringers, then you best add Aaron Carter and Romeo in there as well. I didn’t give any of these people ringer status of any kind, mainly because I don’t think any of them were known as dancers, like boy/girl banders would be. Same reason that I excluded Toni Braxton from this category. I did, however, include Mario as my impression was that he did have some experience with more choreography.

I didn’t label someone as a ringer if there was dance experience in childhood (no, ballet until age 11 does NOT make one a ringer). Or if they learned one or two dances for a movie.  Therefore, if Jennifer is an experience ringer, so are Brandy and Ricki. I called none of them experience ringers, since it is very easy to fake it in a movie by doing multiple takes and just little sections of a dance at a time.  Conversely, if someone did Broadway musicals, I gave them a low level ringer status mainly because that requires some choreography, and no second takes for flubs, like you get in the movies.

Broadway experience was not counted if it is off set by age. For example, Cloris is not labeled a ringer for her Broadway experience, but Marissa Jaret Winokur is a low level Ringer. John O’Hurley is a grey area – broadway experience more than 20 years ago, but still hale and hearty. Florence Henderson also has Broadway experience, but because of her age, I did not label her a ringer. I would argue that she stuck around a long time due to her popularity as Mrs. Brady, but again, lots of people would get that tag in hindsight.

I did not count performing arts high school as experience unless the person was still in their early 20’s, i.e. Monique Coleman.  Hence, if you want to claim Nicole’s performing arts school helped her, you ALSO have to say the same for Brandy. Since Nicole has experience learning choreography for Pussycat Dolls, and Brandy only learned one dance for a movie, Nicole has the ringer label and Brandy doesn’t.

The only Olympians counted as fan base ringers are those in figure skating or gymnastics due to those sports being the main ones watched by DWTS older and younger female viewers.  Apolo was included due to his extreme popularity at the time he participated on the show. For this reason, I have also included Hope Solo from Season 13, however, I give her a lower rating because I believe the extent of her popularity is debatable. She is included mainly for a high degree of media coverage prior to joining the show.

What is a “Dual attribute Ringer?”  Well, there aren’t many of those. Those are the people who are not only extremely popular within the DWTS voting demographic, but also have some form of training. These are the people who, as soon as their name was announced, you knew they were going to win. Not only did they have dual ringer status, but they had no serious downside to their status. No jail time, no screws in their neck, and so on.  All positives on paper and in reality.  There are only TWO of them in 13 seasons. Can you guess who?? 🙂  If you guess one of Derek’s partners, you’re wrong.

Stay tuned for part 2, where we examine the female professionals and their celebrity partners…