Dark Secrets Dancing With The Stars Pros Tried To Hide

The following article includes mentions of substance abuse, child abuse, and eating disorders.

The professional dancers who appear on "Dancing with the Stars" have mastered the art of dazzling viewers with glitz, glamor, fancy footwork, and flawless spray tans. Many of them have starred on the ABC reality competition for years, whereas the show's cast of celebrity contestants changes each season. However, viewers learn a lot more about the lives of the stars as they progress on the show than they do about its pros.

Thanks to a "DWTS" theme night that has the celeb competitors revisit the most memorable years of their lives, we've heard about some of their darkest moments, including talk show host Ricki Lake losing her home to a fire, Olympian Amy Purdy having both legs amputated after she contracted bacterial meningitis, actor Jodie Sweetin's struggle with substance abuse, and the tragic death of Bindi Irwin's beloved father, Steve Irwin.

We've also seen controversial celebrity contestants with scandalous pasts try to redeem themselves: Paula Deen competed after she confessed to using racial slurs, and Sean Spicer traded a podium for a puffy shirt after telling a few fibs as Donald Trump's White House press secretary. But the celebs on "DWTS" aren't the only ones who have survived adversity and scandals. So dim those ballroom lights and retract that disco ball: We're taking a deep dive into the dark secrets of the show's pros, whose pasts and personal lives are rarely explored on the reality series.

Cheryl Burke was a 'functioning drunk'

Cheryl Burke's long career on "Dancing with the Stars" began in 2006, and she competed on and off on the show until 2021, making her one of its most seasoned pros. But early on, her secret struggle with alcohol use was affecting her performance.

In a September 2021 essay for Us Weekly, Cheryl explained that her big "wake up call" was the March 2018 death of her father, who "struggled to stay sober throughout [her] entire life." However, an incident on Season 10 of "Dancing with the Stars" in 2010 also made her realize that her drinking was becoming an issue. At the time, NFL player Chad Ochocinco was her partner.

"It was still when I was drinking ... and I remember messing up on my own choreography ... I butchered my own routine when I'm supposed to be there for the celebrity," Cheryl said in an October 2020 episode of her podcast, "Pretty Messed Up." Unfortunately, this just made her drink "way more." She told "Heart of the Matter" host Elizabeth Vargas that there was even a time she was drinking multiple vodka sodas every day, and she described herself as a "functioning drunk." Thankfully, she turned her life around and "celebrated three years of sobriety" in 2021, she revealed in her Us Weekly piece. She credited her decision to talk about her journey on her podcast with helping her remain sober, writing, "Being public about my struggle made me hold myself accountable."

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Why pros might not speak out about celebs' bad behavior

How long the "Dancing with the Stars" pros stay in the competition is tied not only to the technical ability of their partners, but to the celebs' popularity as well, so when a star behaves badly, there's an incentive for the pro not to address it in front of the "DWTS" cameras. Sometimes, however, they can't prevent leaks about some behind-the-scenes drama.

For example, David Hasselhoff was allegedly a real hassle to work with. When the "Baywatch" star competed on Season 11 in 2010, an insider told Us Weekly that he was a diva who constantly changed his rehearsal schedule and engaged in other demanding behavior, disappointing his partner, Kym Johnson. "His people would call staffers 20 times a day. ... At first, Kym thought getting Hoff as a partner was quite a coup, but then quickly realized it was a mistake," the source dished.

Kym was also allegedly on the receiving end of a tantrum when "Family Matters" star Jaleel White was her partner in 2012. A source told Us Weekly that White yelled at Kym, "got in her face," and told her she was an "idiot" — all because she had reacted when he stepped on her foot. The insider claimed that producers, pro dancer Mark Ballas, and celeb Donald Driver all attempted to intervene. The report about White's alleged behavior got so much attention that he later had to tell People, "It was completely exaggerated."

Hope Solo accused Maksim Chmerkovskiy of hitting her

Maksim Chmerkovskiy was one of the most outspoken pros on "Dancing with the Stars," and sometimes he seemed to struggle with hiding his displeasure with some of his partners. After he skipped a dance with Vanessa Lachey during Season 25 in 2017, sources told People that the pair had "a big chemistry issue." But the star who really got under his skin was professional soccer player Hope Solo.

Maks seemingly did his best to hide his animosity toward Solo when she was his partner in 2011. He even dropped an F-bomb while defending her after one of judge Carrie Ann Inaba's critiques rubbed him the wrong way, per Entertainment Weekly. But in her 2012 autobiography, "Solo: A Memoir of Hope," the Olympian claimed all was not well behind the scenes. Solo alleged that Maks "slapped" and "manhandled" her. "[He] hit my stomach so hard with his open palm that I had a red handprint there for the rest of the day," read another accusation (via Us Weekly).

TMZ later reported that "sources close to Maksim" had denied the allegations, and as for Maks himself, he shared his true feelings about Solo when he said he would choose to "kill" her while playing "F**k, Marry, Kill" in a 2015 interview on the podcast, "Allegedly with Theo Von & Matthew Cole Weiss." "She's just a sh***y person," he said. "She lied about a bunch of stuff. ... I had a very tough time dealing with that."

Multiple pros had eating disorders and body image issues

One negative aspect of being a professional dancer that "Dancing with the Stars" viewers don't hear about on the show is how the pressure to look good in those skimpy costumes can cause female pros to suffer from body image issues and struggle with eating disorders.

When "Spy Kids" star Alexa PenaVega competed on the show in 2015, she opened up about how she "struggled with bulimia" after movie producers told her to lose weight, per E! News. But rather than share their similar stories on "DWTS," the show's pros have turned to other outlets. In 2008, Lacey Schwimmer told Access Hollywood that she developed anorexia when she was just 13 years old, at the beginning of her dancing career. "I was really, really scary thin," she said.

Another pro, Karina Smirnoff, began competing when she was a toddler, and she told OK! that "trying to be in a certain weight class" made her engage in unhealthy behaviors to lose weight when she turned pro as a teen. "I didn't eat for two weeks and after that I was so nervous because I was about to do a competition and I had no energy and my body started reacting in a way that I hadn't experienced before," she recalled. Jenna Johnson, meanwhile, told Woman's Day she once struggled with body image issues that made her "super, super depressed," but she developed a healthier mindset when she stopped comparing herself to others.

If you are struggling with an eating disorder, or know someone who is, help is available. Visit the National Eating Disorders Association website or contact NEDA's Live Helpline at 1-800-931-2237. You can also receive 24/7 Crisis Support via text (send NEDA to 741-741).

Male pros commented on female pros' weight gain

It's safe to say that you'll never hear pros critique their competition's bodies on "Dancing with the Stars," but in 2008, Louis Van Amstel and Maksim Chmerkovskiy didn't hold back while telling TV Guide (via Today) what they thought about Cheryl Burke and Lacey Schwimmer gaining weight. "[People] look at this show to be inspired and think, 'If I just work hard enough, I can look like that. If they watch someone who's dancing her butt off and she's still heavy, they can be discouraged," Van Amstel said. As for Maks, he recalled telling Cheryl and Lacey that they "needed to do something about" their weight gain and warning them that "the camera adds 10 pounds."

Lacey later told Access Hollywood that Maks assured her he had been "misquoted," but afterward, she began engaging in unhealthy behaviors in an attempt to lose weight. Luckily, this didn't last. In 2011, she told In Touch (via Daily Mail) that she was no longer letting anyone's body-shaming get to her. "I like having curves — I'm proud of them!" she said.

As for Cheryl, in an October 2020 YouTube video, she recalled how the "Dancing with the Stars" producers made her and Maks put on a united front after his comments grabbed headlines: The pros performed together on the show while Jessica Simpson sang live. "[Maks] went up to my mom. He was like, 'I'm so sorry I said that about your daughter,'" Cheryl recollected.

Some parts of the show might be fake

Sharing the secrets of a show that producers don't want viewers to know could be a career killer for a "DWTS" pro, but plenty of stars who have competed for the mirrorball trophy have spilled the tea about what goes on behind the scenes. They've even suggested that some moments on "Dancing with the Stars" are fake.

Outspoken talk show host Wendy Williams was paired up with Tony Dovolani for Season 12, and in 2014, she shared a big "DWTS" secret with Today. "When they put you in the room and you have to talk to the camera about your experience ... they script what you say," she dished. Some contestants have also complained about misleading editing being used to manipulate viewers. "The show's producers cut it to make it look like I was going after [my competition]," NFL legend Emmitt Smith told Esquire in 2012. "And they didn't even show the entire clip. That's the power of cutting and editing." He and his partner, Cheryl Burke, would finish fourth during their All-Star Season.

In her book, "Solo: A Memoir of Hope," Hope Solo claimed that her partner, Maksim Chmerkovskiy, "wanted to cause some drama" in hopes of preventing their alleged planned elimination (via Radar). Former pro Chelsie Hightower also suggested that some dramatic moments are manufactured. "After 19 seasons, people start to catch on as to what works and what they think the audience wants," she told the Sioux City Journal.

Gleb Savchenko's wife accused him of infidelity

America's longest-running soap opera might air on ABC, but the network probably wants to keep that type of drama out of the "Dancing with the Stars" ballroom. However, some of the show's pros have found themselves involved in real-life plotlines involving deception, infidelity, and jealousy.

In November 2020, Elena Samodanova claimed her husband, "DWTS" pro Gleb Savchenko, had cheated on her. "After 14 years of marriage, and multiple affairs, I've decided enough is enough," Samodanova told People, adding that "a recent inappropriate relationship" was the final straw. Gleb's response made it evident that Samodanova believed he was having an affair with one of his celebrity partners on the show, "Selling Sunset" star Chrishell Stause. "My relationship with Chrishell was and remains strictly platonic," his statement about their split read.

Chrishell soon revealed she was actually seeing another pro, Keo Motsepe, whom she later accused of lying to her in a series of posts on her Instagram Story (per Us Weekly), and Gleb was romantically linked to actor Cassie Scerbo in December 2020, per E! News. Later that same month, Gleb turned the tables on his ex, telling ET that it was Samodanova who had been unfaithful. He accused her of cheating on him with Vlad Kvartin, who has appeared on "DWTS" as a troupe member. Gleb also claimed Samodanova was jealous of his career because he "got the show and she didn't" when they both auditioned to be pros in 2013. Yikes!

Two pros were abused as kids

Cheryl Burke and Julianne Hough have talked about a topic that fans probably won't hear the "Dancing with the Stars" pros discuss on the show: the abuse they suffered as children. 

In 2015, Cheryl appeared on the TLC special "Breaking the Silence" to talk about child molestation. As recapped by People, she spoke about her molestation by a neighbor when she was growing up. At age 6, she was forced to face her abuser in court, where her testimony was used to convict him after he got caught attempting to sexually abuse another child. "It was so terrifying to see him face to face," Burke recalled. In a 2011 interview on "Piers Morgan Tonight," she revealed her abuser was someone she trusted and even considered a "fatherly figure," saying that she initially didn't tell anyone about what was going on because she "didn't want to get him into trouble."

Hough was also reluctant to speak out against her abuser, telling Cosmopolitan she feared it would hurt her dancing career. "I was abused, mentally, physically, everything," she revealed in her 2013 interview with the magazine. She shared few other details about what happened to her, but did say that she was 10 years old at the time and attending a prestigious dance school in London. According to Star magazine (via Radar), the parents of pro dancer Mark Ballas were allegedly upset about her claims because she had lived with them while she was in London.

If you or someone you know may be the victim of child abuse, please contact the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-Child (1-800-422-4453) or contact their live chat services.

Did Artem Chigvintsev use his ex-wife for a green card?

Artem Chigvintsev and his one-time "Dancing with the Stars" partner Nikki Bella might be one of the show's great love stories, but Artem's ex-wife has painted a less-than-flattering picture of what he was like before he joined the show.

The Russian-born dancer was once married to an American named Giselle Peacock, who was also a professional dancer. According to the Daily Mail, the couple divorced after just eight months, and Peacock believes their union was so brief because Artem was just using her to get a green card. She also said she supported Artem financially during their marriage and that he was "obsessed with fame, success and money."

However, it was not Artem who was being blasted for a past relationship in 2020. In an interview with ET, he said that the scores judge Carrie Ann Inaba was giving him and Kaitlyn Bristowe felt "personal." Fans piled on, believing his romantic past with Carrie Ann had something to do with the low number paddles she held up. Before his divorce from Peacock was finalized in 2006, Artem began dating Carrie Ann, and their romance lasted until 2008. It was Artem's fiancée who attempted to smooth things over between the exes after Carrie Ann started getting hate online. Nikki told Us Weekly that she chastised Artem and even convinced him to film an apology. "I was like, and you've made it so personal. She's getting bullied," Nikki recalled.

Cheryl Burke admits she's partly to blame for partners' injuries

In an appearance on "The Kelly Clarkson Show," Cheryl Burke listed her "Dancing with the Stars" partners who have suffered injuries, saying she's at least somewhat responsible for them. The possibility of this happening is something the show's pros might not want potential celebrity competitors to know about, and the rigorous competition can cause physical issues long after all the confetti has been swept from the ballroom floor.

"Ray Lewis was my partner last season. First football player to ever get injured. My fault," Cheryl said. Her past partners' injuries list also includes Tom DeLay's two fractured feet and Cristián de la Fuente's broken arm. "I don't think that you're the best person to promote yourself as a dance partner," Clarkson quipped.

Sometimes the injuries celebs suffer on the show are so serious that they require surgery. "Dirty Dancing" star Jennifer Grey didn't just take home the mirrorball trophy in 2011 — she also left with a ruptured disc that caused her extreme pain. Luckily, she underwent a successful surgical procedure to repair it, per People. Bill Engvall also earned a few battle scars because he dared to put on his dancing shoes. The "Blue Collar Comedy" tour star had to have knee replacement surgery after making it all the way to the Season 17 finale. He told MLive the experience was "brutal," adding, "I don't think people ever see the dark side of 'Dancing with the Stars.'"

Derek Hough was 'faking it'

Derek Hough became one of the show's most beloved pros, and his popularity helped him establish a successful entertainment career that took him beyond the "Dancing with the Stars" ballroom. However, during his early days, he was hiding a secret: He doubted his abilities and even said that he was "faking it."

"I definitely look back at my approach to the show. In my earlier seasons, I was nervous, and I was uncertain," Hough said on an episode of the "Whine Down" podcast. While he did his best to make it look like he knew what he was doing, he admitted he "wasn't really a teacher or ... choreographer" at the time. Perhaps this lack of confidence is what caused Hough to suffer a slip-up that he later called "the worst thing that could possibly happen." He told Us Weekly that one unfortunate moment he can't forget from his first season is when he "dropped [his] partner, Jennie Garth, on live television."

In an interview with the "School of Greatness" podcast host Lewis Howes, Hough admitted that being a winner on "DWTS" didn't make him feel fulfilled early on, saying there were times he felt "so depressed" after a season ended, and he confessed he was "being ... selfish" by only focusing on his success. But the Emmy-winning choreographer faked it until he made it and learned an important lesson: One of his most valuable talents is his ability to "bring joy to others."

Val Chmerkovskiy allegedly broke Rumer Willis' heart

Val Chmerkovskiy and Rumer Willis teased viewers with their adorable "showmance" when they paired up for Season 20 of "Dancing with the Stars" in 2015, and they kept viewers guessing about the status of their relationship all the way to the finale, where they emerged victorious.

In a May 2015 interview with E! News, Val paid his fellow champ a compliment that made her giggle. "It's awesome, the fact that I can enjoy Rumer's aesthetically proportionate, beautiful physique. It's just a bonus," he said. Rumor had it that the daughter of Demi Moore and Bruce Willis became quite smitten with Val, but he eventually let her know he wasn't interested in her romantically. "Rumer has been upset lately because Val finally told her he won't ever date her," an insider told Radar that June.

Rumer reportedly got a tattoo to celebrate her and Val's victory, but after he broke her heart, she apparently couldn't bear to look at it anymore. "Now she feels like a fool, so she's now undergoing this painful tattoo removal," one source told Page Six in January 2018. She allegedly struggled to accept Val's relationship with his fellow pro dancer, Jenna Johnson, whom he would marry in 2019. But Rumer didn't cut Val out of her life forever; in 2021, the former dance partners reunited for a Dance & Co interview that saw them take a look back at their performances.

Why Chelsie Hightower went to therapy

Chelsie Hightower's tenure on "Dancing with the Stars" lasted from 2009 to 2013, and during that time, she was hiding a secret struggle from viewers. In a interview with Dance Spirit, the choreographer revealed she had "terrible performance anxiety," as well as social anxiety. Anxiety became an unwanted part of her life when she was just a kid, and it caused her to feel like an outcast in the world of professional ballroom dancing. She recalled "knowing that I was struggling with something that I didn't see anybody else struggling with" in an "All In" podcast interview.

She thought she'd conquered her anxiety after competing on "So You Think You Can Dance?," but unfortunately, dancing on another reality series in front of millions of people didn't just make her anxiety return; it exacerbated the problem. "When I moved to L.A. and began performing on 'Dancing with the Stars,' it hit me really hard," Chelsie told Dance Spirit.

She suggested that a difficult childhood contributed to what she was feeling, revealing that there were times her family didn't know "whether or not we were going to be homeless or be able to survive," which made being successful "a matter of life or death" for her (per "All In"). Going to therapy helped her understand and find ways to cope with her anxiety. "I love [therapy]," she told Dance Spirit. "It's helped me work through a lot, especially things that might trigger those thoughts and feelings."

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.

Derek Hough's bullies threatened him with a gun

While Derek Hough always exuded confidence during his many seasons on "Dancing with the Stars," there was a dark period in his life when bullies made him feel insecure and fearful. But worse than that, they threatened his life. In an appearance on the "School of Greatness" podcast, he revealed that he was just 6 years old when his bullies (who were also his neighbors) began tormenting him. "They would hang me up in a tree by my feet upside down," he said. "Would spit on me; they put a gun to my head, tell me they were going to kill me." He also recalled how they would "hogtie" him and abandon him "in a field."

Dance proved to be a real lifesaver for Derek, and he would go on to exact the ultimate revenge on his bullies by becoming a massively successful choreographer, actor, and musician — he even teamed up with TikTok star Jaxwritessongs to record a funny duet about bullying.

Derek also used his past experiences to help the victims of bullies, giving them advice and hope while accepting the Inspiration Award at GLSEN's Respect Awards in 2014. "Let me tell you right now, you are not alone," he said, per E! News. "Seeking help requires incredible strength and incredible courage. The most powerful weapon you have against bullying is your voice."