11 'Dancing With the Stars' Freestyle Routines That Stand the Test of Time

by Kristyn Burtt | 6/19/2019 2:18 PM

Photo credit: ABC.


Every season Dancing With the Stars gives us routines that we watch over and over again. Some go viral because they make us laugh, others stay with us because they make us cry. However, there is something special about those freestyle routines during finale week that make us cheer.


The freestyle routines have been a part of the show since it debuted in 2005. The first season, the routines didn't have the same epic feel that they do now — the pieces just had more freedom from the rules of traditional ballroom and Latin dances. As the years have gone on, the costumes and set pieces became more elaborate and more performers were added to the mix.


In anticipation of DWTS' 28th season this coming fall, we picked a few of our favorite freestyle routines over the years. Some were chosen because they were game-changers for the show, others were chosen because they still make an emotional impact.


More: What's at Stake for 'Dancing With the Stars' in Season 28?


Drew Lachey & Cheryl Burke, Season 2:


Cheryl Burke introduced the game-changing routine that put freestyles on a creative path and DWTS has never looked back. The "Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy)" with Drew Lachey introduced a whole new look and feel to the ballroom. Instead of traditional ballroom steps, there was two-stepping, push-ups, denim and cowboy boots capping off a successful season. (Strong runner-up for Cheryl Burke: her freestyle with Jack Osbourne.)


Apolo Anton Ohno & Julianne Hough, Season 4


Julianne Hough came in on her first season, much like Cheryl Burke did in her first year, and just nailed it. Her freestyle routine incorporated hip-hop as the main style and let everyone forget that DWTS was originally a ballroom competition. Apolo Anton Ohno held his own and knocked out a few impressive flares while Harold Wheeler and his orchestra actually sang, "Bust A Move."


Hines Ward & Kym Johnson Herjavec, Season 12


DWTS viewers were treated to a marching band in the ballroom. That musical element made this dance feel big and epic. Hines Ward was the bandleader and Kym Johnson Herjavec was the majorette. From his detachable sleeves on his band uniform to her white go-go boots, the duo embodied every element of this joyful routine.


Kellie Pickler & Derek Hough, Season 16


Season 16 will always be a season that DWTS fans will debate because of the two worthy finalists: Kellie Pickler and Zendaya. Derek Hough knew that this final dance carried a lot of weight because the women were evenly matched in talent.

He stripped down the freestyle dance — free from set pieces and over-the-top costumes — and let the movement and the music speak for itself. This routine was also a major moment for the show because it made everyone realize that the less-is-more approach can also get you a Mirrorball Trophy. 

More: 9 Contestants We Think Deserve a Second Chance on 'Dancing With The Stars'


Corbin Bleu & Karina Smirnoff, Season 17


Karina Smirnoff had a contestant who could do any style in Season 17. Corbin Bleu was a well-trained dancer and a strong performer. Their freestyle had them hanging from the rafters during their entrance, and they even incorporated Michael Jackson's patented anti-gravity boots from "Smooth Criminal."


Alfonso Ribeiro & Witney Carson, Season 19

Alfonso Ribeiro waited years to do DWTS and it was worth the wait. The freestyle Witney Carson created really showcased the multitude of styles that Ribeiro excelled in — including tap. It was a terrific nod to his Broadway roots in The Tap Dance Kid. 


Sadie Robertson & Mark Ballas, Season 19


This was a great season for freestyles and this Super Mario Bros. piece showcased the Mark Ballas creativity we all know and love. His inspired choreography shows how he envisioned this piece in his mind — it was a video game come to life. (Strong runner-up for Mark Ballas: his freestyle with Lindsey Stirling.)


Rumer Willis & Valentin Chmerkovskiy, Season 20


Val Chmerkovskiy's choreography delivered a lot of drama in his freestyle for Rumer Willis. She was a spectacular performer out there on the ballroom floor, so he didn't give her excessive set pieces and costumes. He let her technique and her acting play out organically.


More: 8 Epic Routines Choreographed by 'DWTS' Pro Lindsay Arnold That We Love


Nyle DiMarco & Peta Murgatroyd, Season 22


This memorable piece, choreographed by Talia Favia, is so hauntingly beautiful. It incorporates Disturbed's cover of "The Sounds of Silence" and Nyle DiMarco's story as a deaf man. Peta Murgatroyd was so invested in DiMarco's journey on the show, you could see her heart out there on the ballroom floor each week.


James Hinchcliffe & Sharna Burgess, Season 23


The genius of Sharna Burgess' creativity is seen in her use of spoken word and sound effects to accompany the music. James Hinchcliffe used his serious accident in 2015 as the basis for moving piece that he connected with physically and emotionally. This is another season that DWTS fans often debate — Laurie Hernandez versus James Hinchcliffe — was a battle to the bitter end.


Jordan Fisher & Lindsay Arnold, Season 25


Jordan Fisher danced his way into DWTS history as the youngest male winner, he was 23 years old at the time. Lindsay Arnold continued her streak of high-level choreography and danced like a champ through the pain of a knee injury. Nothing was going to stop this duo from winning the Mirrorball Trophy!


Let us know what freestyle you love from Dancing With the Stars. Is it a dance on this list or is there another one that you love?


Don’t miss Dance Network’s ‘To The Pointe’ interview with ‘DWTS’ pro, Keo Motsepe:

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