Most Awkward Dances Ever On Dancing With The Stars

With an impressive 30 seasons under its belt, ABC's "Dancing with the Stars" has been dazzling audiences since 2005. The reality show matches professional dancers with celebrities of all kinds to perform a variety of dance styles. Stars from TV and movies, professional athletes, and even political figures have competed against each other to win the coveted Mirrorball Trophy.

Over the years, there's been everything from wardrobe malfunctions to on-air mishaps and baffling eliminations. Of course, there's been numerous memorable moments and winners as well. According to TV Line's ranking of all the past winners, the "DWTS" GOAT arrived in Season 22 with "America's Next Top Model" alum, Nyle DiMarco. An inspiring model and deaf activist, the contestant rose to the challenge, using vibrations of the music and beat counting in his performances.

As wonderful as all that is, many viewers watch for the dancing, the music, and the sheer entertainment of it all. But on some occasions, when the contestants took to the stage, something about their performance felt a little ... awkward. Whether it's the wardrobe, the moves, or the overall theme of the number, viewers found themselves cringing. As of fall 2022, the Emmy-winning show also started streaming on Disney Plus. Suffice it to say the family-friendly element of the platform has the potential to heighten the cringe factor of some of these less-than-family-friendly dances. 

Throw on something sparkly and come clumsily shimmy with us into the most awkward dances performed on "Dancing with the Stars."

David Hasselhoff and Kim Johnson's cha cha

In 2011, David Hasselhoff was named by the Guinness Book of World Records as the Most Watched Man on television, thanks to shows like "Knight Rider" and especially "Baywatch," which garnered more than 1 billion viewers in 1996. But in Season 11 of "Dancing with the Stars," the actor might have wished he had fewer viewers. When Hasselhoff took the stage for his first dance with partner Kym Johnson, he was dressed all in black, complete with a leather jacket and sunglasses — not unlike his alter ego, Michael Knight. 

Dancing to Tom Jones' "Sex Bomb," the pair's cha cha wasn't too challenging. As a result, Hasselhoff gave it his all — he got into character and even seemed to share chemistry with his partner. Then, halfway through the number "The Hoff" whipped open his jacket, lip-syncing the song's sultry lyrics, before swinging his coat between his legs and tossing it aside — for good measure, we can't forget the hip thrusts.

At the end of the performance, Judge Carrie Ann Inaba couldn't contain her laughter, with Bruno Tonioli commenting (per The Mercury News), "It was like a potpourri of insanity disguised as dance." To add insult to injury after "Sex Bomb" bombed, the pair was the first to be eliminated. Afterward, the performer told ABC, "All I wanted to do was have fun and play it up and that was our goal, and I thought we did well in that respect."

Geraldo Rivera's Donald Trump parody

Journalist and political commentator, Geraldo Rivera, took to the stage with partner, Edyta Śliwińska, in Season 22 of "DWTS." Of course, we have to give props to the man, who at the time was in his early seventies, for getting on stage and dancing with a professional. Sadly, the former talk show host lasted only two episodes. Were his moves a bit rigid and his technique lacking? Sure, but it's likely his getting the boot had more to do with the uncomfortable theme of his final number. Dressed as Rivera's frenemy Donald Trump, the contestant performed the Salsa to Tito Puente's "Ran Kan Kan." 

Starting out behind the presidential desk in the oval office, Rivera's "Trump" has a phone call with Vladimir Putin interrupted by Śliwińska slinking over and lying across the desk as "Melania." In an apparent dig at Trump's controversial comments about Mexico, a "Bienvenidos a Mexico" banner dropped down from his desk, and drummers adorned with sombreros appeared from the sidelines. As noted by Thrillist, "As both dance and political satire, this segment failed horribly." Per The Wrap, during rehearsals Rivera explained his reasons for the parody, "I'm a Latino — that is one thing Trump is not."

Not only did the dancing duo get the lowest score of the night, but judge Carrie Ann Inaba quipped, "Unfortunately, you did not make dance great again, but you did make me laugh." Meanwhile, Tonioli stated, "[It was] Impressive, but for all the wrong reasons."

Kym Johnson and Dmitry Chaplin's rumba tease

In Season 10, during a professional dance segment, few people were likely paying attention to the name of the dance that Kym Johnson was performing with Dmitry Chaplin when it popped up on the screen. While he was dressed in all black, his Season 9 champion dance partner was wearing what looked like a black lace bra and underwear covered only by an open white dress shirt, not unlike the one Demi Moore wore in "Str*ptease."

Skimpy costumes are nothing new to entertainment, and certainly not to "Dancing with the Stars," but this look felt particularly low effort. Given that host, Tom Bergeron, often remarks, "This is a family show," and the fact that it started streaming on Disney Plus in Fall 2022, wardrobes like this one just might make for some uncomfortable living room scenes for parents and kids. When introducing the performance, Bergeron himself slyly noted"They got it here after we exhausted our wardrobe budget" Johnson's outfit also earned her a spot on ET's list of "The Most Naked Moments From 'Dancing With the Stars.'"

Still, at the very least the dancer seems to have a say in what she wears on stage, as she actually collaborates with the show's designer. Speaking with The Hollywood Reporter, she explained how she builds outfits, saying, "I get inspiration from what's current at the moment or what's been on the runway."

Kate Gosselin and Tony Dovolani's Paparazzi paso doble

In 2007, Kate Gosselin jumped onto the television scene with the reality show, "Jon and Kate Plus 8," so she was no stranger to having all eyes on her when she appeared on "Dancing with the Stars" in 2010. The mom of sextuplets made it about halfway through the season with her partner Tony Dovolani before she was eliminated. 

During week 3, Gosselin and Dovolani performed the paso doble to Lady Gaga's "Paparazzi," an obvious parody on what Gosselin went through being a reality star. The dance started with her holding a couple of tabloids and tossing them aside before her partner began taking photos of her awkward runway walk. Carrie Ann Inaba summed it up simply with, "That was odd." The judge then went on a mini-rant, basically telling Gosselin there was no passion, and her attitude came off ... well, off. Meanwhile, Bruno Tonioli appeared to see something the others didn't, and felt Gosselin at least played the part — even if it didn't come through into her dancing. "[It] has to translate into movement, my darling," he told the star. "... You looked like you were walking."

For the season finale, Gosselin got a second chance to woo the audience with an encore performance of the dance — this time merging the track with Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive." She may not have survived elimination, but her awkward performance was at least memorable.

Elizabeth Berkley's Saved by the Bell Parody

In season 17 of "Dancing with the Stars," Ukrainian-American dancer Val Chmerkovskiy was paired up with "Saved by the Bell" actor Elizabeth Berkley. After four successful weeks, they were set to do the jive for the "Most Memorable Year of My Life" theme. In the prep package during rehearsals, Berkley spoke of teaching her baby son to dream big. Since she credits "Saved by the Bell" for changing her life, she wanted to pay tribute to the show with their dance.

A notorious "Saved by the Bell" plotline was when Jessie Spano became addicted to caffeine pills. Touted as both one of the most iconic but also silliest pop culture moments of all time, fans continue to celebrate the scene where she breathlessly sings, "I'm so Excited ... I'm so scared" before sobbing in Zack's arms. Naturally, that's the moment Berkley and her partner chose to highlight for their number. 

Starting with Berkley sitting in "Jessie's room," Val comes through the window like Zack used to. When he asks Berkley what she's holding, she tells him they're jive pills, adding, "Yes, I need them, Val. I need them to jive." The after-school special tribute served up a double whammy of awkward nostalgia. The original scene was a cringe-fest, and this parody didn't fare much better. Luckily, the judges thought the dancing was well executed, which makes sense given Berkley's dance background, including the lead role in the 1995 erotic drama "Showgirls." 

Olivia Jade and Val Chmerkovskiy's Purge paso doble

Social media influencer Olivia Jade Giannulli took to the "Dancing with the Stars" stage in Season 30, partnered with two-time champ Val Chmerkovskiy. On week 6 of the competition, the pair performed a paso doble for the horror theme with a tribute to the film series, "The Purge." Jade, who is the daughter of actor Lori Laughlin and designer Mossimo Giannulli, entered dressed as Kimmy from "The Purge: Election Year," complete with a mask and blood-stained white dress. Wielding a sledgehammer, she promptly restrained and then pretended to hit Chmerkovskiy in the head. 

The mock murder wasn't the only disturbing part as warning messages and ghoulish images flashed on the screen behind them. The entire macabre tone stood in stark contrast to a smiling Chmerkovskiy who was apparently fine with being purged. Despite the couple receiving high scores and compliments from the judges — including Derek Hough commending Olivia on doing a great job with a difficult routine — they still ended up in the bottom two. If comments on a "DWTS" Twitter post were any indication, fans of the show still weren't over Laughlin's college scandal, in which the contestant was entangled. It potentially didn't help that her dance saw her happily depicting a homicidal horror brat, willing to kill for some candy.

How some of the show's horror-themed dances will sit on Disney Plus is anyone's guess. And this Purge-inspired routine certainly took that theme to new extremes.

Kelly Monaco and Val Chmerkovskiy skivvy flamenco

Val Chmerkovskiy might have won the mirror ball trophy twice, but he gets the turkey for awkward dances, making our list for the third time when he partnered with Kelly Monaco in Season 15. The contestant was a returning champ, having won the trophy in Season 1 with partner Alec Mazo. During the week 9 semi-finals, the pair danced the surfer flamenco, and in rehearsals, cameras caught tension between the two with Chmerkovskiy looking impatient with his dance partner. When they hit the dance floor, it wasn't long before his already open shirt came off. Then both dancers tossed away their bottom halves, leaving Chmerkovskiy in a black speedo for a water-floor finale. 

Unfortunately, in terms of technique, her partner's tough love didn't help Monaco rise to the occasion and judge Bruno Tonioli commented that she'd missed the mark. Even worse, he said, "I think you've been upstaged by the speedos." Carrie Ann Inaba agreed with Tonioli about the lack of technique, calling it robotic. Based on the reaction from the crowd — which, admittedly, could have more to do with Chmerkovskiy's skimpy swimwear as much as the kiss he planted on Monaco afterward — the professional "DWTS" dancer felt the judges' scores were unfair. He told the press afterward (via Today), "I think (they) are very irresponsible this year with some of their comments and their inconsistent scoring and their comparing."

Kendra Wilkinson and Louis van Amstel's patriotic foxtrot

During Season 12 of "Dancing with the Stars," Kendra Wilkinson and Louis van Amstel had the honor of performing the show's 1,000th competitive dance. And given the Americana theme, it seemed only fitting that the duo danced to "Yankee Doodle Dandy." Wilkinson even commented that she loved the song, telling Today she was proud to do the dance. The former Playboy Playmate had received some less than flattering comments about her lack of elegance, so the Foxtrot was her chance at redemption.

That's all fine and "dandy," but this dance needed more than good feelings, stars, and stripes. Unfortunately, it was a bit like a gumbo of adjectives that don't belong in the same pot at the Fourth of July picnic. The couple was draped in the American flag, which by the way, is technically against the official Flag etiquette code. Throwing extra awkwardness into the mix, the pair's moves were a bit juvenile and cutesy. Plus, the crotch-height cut of Wilkinson's skirt along with her thigh-high stockings felt like a major Yankee-Doodle-don't.

Still, the pair received some positive comments from the judges. Carrie Ann Inaba even told the "Kendra Sells Hollywood" star, "This is the most confident I've ever seen you." The couple came away with an unimpressive low score of 22 — but it was enough to keep them safe for another week.

Michael Bolton and Chelsie Hightower's Hound Dog jive

Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Michael Bolton only lasted two weeks on Season 11 of "Dancing with the Stars," and unfortunately his exit was not pretty. Paired with professional dancer Chelsie Hightower, Bolton danced the jive to "Hound Dog" by Elvis Presley. So, of course, the dance began with Bolton in the dog house — literally — before being tossed a bone by his dance partner. The awkward beginning only got worse with the dance itself, which appeared stiff. Bolton even looked bored at times.

Things then transitioned into an even deeper level of cringe with the judges' comments. In fact, Bruno Tonioli's were so harsh that he ended up in the doghouse after telling Bolton, "You did it all very, very, very badly. I think this is probably the worst jive in eleven seasons." Len Goodman immediately reacted, telling his fellow judge that he was being rude and unfair. To add insult to injury, Bolton was voted off. He told "Good Morning America," he thought Tonioli should publicly apologize and be reprimanded, adding, "My mom was there, she flew in. She's 90 and I thought she was going to really enjoy it, and I just didn't expect that level of disrespect from him."

Producers of the show sided with judge Tonioli. ABC even released a statement saying, "While we respect the feelings of our celebrities and dancers, we don't feel Bruno should be expected to apologize for doing his job."

Janel Parrish and Artem Chigvintsev's burlesque attempt

Hopefully, parents didn't mind explaining what a lap dance was during Janel Parrish's Burlesque number on Season 19 of "Dancing with the Stars." During Week 5, the "Pretty Little Lies" actor partnered with Artem Chigvintsev for the "switch-up" and performed to Jessie J's "Mamma Knows Best."

There's no denying it — Mamma was hot ... and her dance partner was quite the alpha male during the performance. But the sultry dance might have been a little too hot for some. So hot, evidently, that Chigvintsev even danced without a shirt. Parrish herself must have felt a line being crossed because she apologized to her dad the moment she stepped up to the mic.

One of the main issues the judges had was that the dance veered away from the style it should have been. Julianne Hough stated that the true art of the dance relies on the power of suggestion, rather than overt displays of sexuality (via DWM Dance Studios). "Burlesque has a cheekiness and almost a quirkiness and almost a dryness," she said. "That was really raunchy and sexy." Regardless, there was still one judge who loved the performance, with Bruno Tonioli stating, "[It's] never too sexy for me, honey."

Gilles Marini's sexy salsa three-way

Speaking of hot and sexy, during Season 15's trio challenge, actor Gilles Marini danced the salsa with partner Peta Murgatroyd, and they invited Chelsie Hightower in for some added spice. From the get-go, they all seemed to be on the same page with Hightower commenting during rehearsal (via Daily Mail), "This is going to be one hot, sexy trio." Marini explained that in the number, the girls would be vying for his attention. Of course, he gave them a good reason to, starting the dance off with some slow and low hip gyrations. 

The "Sex and the City" actor, who had already been a runner-up in Season 8, played up his role well — perhaps a little too well. "Ménage à trois seems to come natural to you," Bruno Tonioli told the contestant and added that Marini's attention to the ladies threw off his timing. Carrie Ann Inaba agreed (via Daily Mail).

Still, the dance was a challenging one and the judges must have been impressed overall as they gave the trio a combined score of 29 out of 30. Even before the scores came out, Marini boasted, "That was a dream come true." Unfortunately, viewers didn't agree and Marini was eliminated.

Lacey Schwimmer and Mike Catherwood's groupie jive

The pressure was on for Mike Catherwood during week 2 of "Dancing with the Stars" Season 12. After getting low scores during the first week, Len Goodman warned him, "You've gotta come back and really do a good jive, otherwise, it's the boulevard of broken dreams." Naturally, Catherwood was determined to step up his game and wow the judges, stating during rehearsal, "This week, main motivating factor: Explode Len and Bruno's face with my fiery dance moves."

Dancing the jive to "The Boys are Back in Town" Catherwood didn't exude the confidence he'd hoped for, despite Schwimmer playing the part of an obsessed groupie — complete with a barely-there outfit — to his sexy rock star. But while his goal was fiery, the end result felt choked. What little swagger he showcased made the radio star come across more like an excitable child proudly showing off their latest triumph to their parents. 

Still, the judges gave him some positive nods for his technique with Bruno Tonioli praising his kicks and flicks. However, all the judges seemed to agree that the performance aspect overall was not great, with Len Goodman telling the contestant (via Los Angeles Times), "You were flying about like a wasp at a picnic." Catherwood was visibly disheartened by their low score of 17 and sadly the pair was eliminated.

Bonner Bolton's wandering hand

Okay, maybe this one will have to officially be an honorable mention since the awkwardness didn't happen during the dance but afterward. In 2017, a seemingly naughty slip of the hand resulted in what fans online would call #handgate. Model and former professional cowboy, Bonner Bolton, appeared on Season 24 of "Dancing with the Stars," where he was partnered with Season 27 winner, Sharna Burgess. 

For the first week's performance, they did the cha cha to Luke Bryan's "Move." For a first dance from someone with little experience, he did a decent job, especially when Bolton executed that cowboy stomp — phew! And even though the scores were only 5-6, the judges gave positive feedback. Seemingly foreshadowing what was to come, Bruno Tonioli commented, "I'm telling you, Sharna, you're in for the ride of a lifetime." And how.

Apparently, after their number, Bolton was watching Nick Viall and Peta Murgatroyd on the TV screen while Sharna was watching them directly. Bolton's hand came around Sharna's waist and dipped toward her crotch area before she plucked it up and moved it away. Viewers rushed to their social media feeds to chatter about the sus hand placement and it went viral. Later, Bolton told Extra TV he was so engrossed in watching the show he didn't even realize where his hand was. Burgess genuinely seemed to believe him, and said, "It was such an innocent mistake that has truly blown so far out of proportion."