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Robert Cartagena is a boxing correspondent for SFBay.ca. He graduated from SF State in 2011 with a B.A. in journalism and spent more than a year contributing monthly articles to The Hudsucker, an online magazine with a blog twist. He has a passion for sports journalism -- particularly boxing -- as well as film reviews. He also enjoys blogging and aspires to be a professional actor one day.

Melissa Rycroft dances to the top of ‘Dancing with the Stars: All-Stars’

In the first-ever all-female finale in the 15-season history of Dancing with the Stars, television personality Melissa Rycroft won the mirrorball trophy that so eluded her during her previous run almost four years ago, defeating Olympic gymnast Shawn Johnson and General Hospital star Kelly Monaco in what was probably the most competitive season finale so far.

Melissa Rycroft (right) and Tony Dovolani celebrate with their newly-won mirrorball trophy at the Nov. 27 season finale of "Dancing with the Stars: All-Stars" (Courtesy of: ABC.com)

Melissa Rycroft (right) and Tony Dovolani celebrate with their newly-won mirrorball trophy at the Nov. 27 season finale of “Dancing with the Stars: All-Stars” (Courtesy of: ABC.com)

What’s significant about the victory is the fact that during season eight, Rycroft advanced to the finals – along with Johnson and French actor Gilles Marini. Despite her efforts, she finished in third place while Johnson went on to capture the mirrorball. It must have been a case of déjà vu for Rycroft as she advanced to the finals and (once again) faced off against Johnson, who partnered with Derek Hough. But with original partner Tony Dovolani by her side, she ensured that history would not repeat itself this time around.

This season was literally an all-star season (hence the title Dancing with the Stars: All-Stars) as previous contestants (champions, finalists, etc.) returned to the ballroom for a second shot at mirrorball glory. Joining Rycroft, Johnson, Monaco (the inaugural champion) and Marini on the dance floor were:

  • Olympic speed skater Apolo Anton Ohno (Season four champion)
  • Singer and actress Sabrina Bryan (Season five fan favorite)
  • Indy 500 champion driver Hélio Castroneves (Season five champion)
  • 98 Degrees singer Drew Lachey (Season two champion – and brother of Nick)
  • Activist Bristol Palin (Season 11 finalist – and daughter of Sarah)
  • Actress Kristie Alley (Season 12 runner-up)
  • *NSYNC singer Joey Fatone (Season four runner-up)
  • Retired NFL running back Emmitt Smith (Season three champion)
  • Actress and former Playboy model Pamela Anderson (Season 10 fan favorite)

With the 16th season premiere just three months away, I wanted to reflect on a few of my favorite (and in some instances, least favorite) moments from the season. To reflect on every single dance this season would take forever, so I narrowed the field down to strictly my favorites. Keep in mind that high scores didn’t necessarily influence the choices listed below.

(Courtesy of: ABC.com)

Best Male Performance: Gilles Marini (“I Will Always Love You” – Week 5: Guilty Pleasures)

Despite falling just half a point short of a perfect 30, the Switched at Birth star produced some ballroom magic with partner Peta Murgatroyd to Whitney Houston’s timeless 1992 classic. They took a Hollywood approach to their dance, complete with the red carpet and paparazzi. The rumba, itself, was elegant and demonstrated how strong their chemistry was. Judge Carrie Ann Inaba (who got so caught up in the moment that she fell out of her chair) described the performance as poetry in motion – and it was exactly that. It was one of Gilles’ best dances and showed he was a force to be reckoned with on the dance floor.

  • Honorable Mention: Apolo Anton Ohno (“Man in the Mirror” – Week 9: Semi-Finals)

Though he was eliminated the following night and fell one week short of the finals, the season four champ went out with a bang with his rumba. The mirror used at the start of the routine symbolized more than just the song’s title; by looking at the man in the mirror, Apolo realized he needed to channel his passion and emotion into this hit-or-miss dance – and he hit it right out of the park (or ballroom, to be more precise). With partner Karina Smirnoff by his side, Apolo had his breakthrough night as the couple produced a stirring mixture of elegance and romance.

(Courtesy of: ABC.com)

Best Female Performance: Sabrina Bryan (“Wanted” – Week 6: Country Night)

With certain dances, emotion is essential to the performance. Such was the case for the former Cheetah Girl, as the Hunter Hayes hit reminded her of a previous relationship that took turns for the worse. Channeling such emotion, Sabrina turned in a beautiful rumba that despite one small mishap, moved everybody in the ballroom and earned her and partner Louis van Amstel a well-deserved 30. It was definitely Sabrina’s best dance of the competition – and sadly, her last.

(Courtesy of: ABC.com)

Best Team Performance: Team Call Me Maybe (Shawn Johnson and Derek Hough, Sabrina Bryan and Louis van Amstel, Melissa Rycroft and Tony Dovolani and Apolo Anton Ohno and Karina Smirnoff – Week 5: Guilty Pleasures)

“Guilty Pleasures” week would not be complete without 2012’s biggest guilty pleasure (and one of mine), “Call Me Maybe.” The routine took you back to high school and had all the energy and exuberance of Carly Rae Jepsen’s smash hit. The dance floor even resembled a football field, with the men dressed as football players and the women showing school spirit as cheerleaders. Each couple introduced themselves in unique ways, from Shawn executing a cartwheel to Melissa becoming a human jump rope. It was a feel-good performance that had you cheering for Team Call Me Maybe!

(Courtesy of: ABC.com)

Best Unorthodox Performance: Shawn Johnson and Derek Hough (“Knight Rider” Bhangra – Week 9: Semi-Finals)

“What the heck is a ‘Knight Rider’ bhangra?”

That’s what the season eight champ asked when she and her partner were chosen to perform the dance with a Knight Rider twist. Bhangra refers to several types of Punjabi-style dances, the earliest conducted by Punjabis in the central northern areas of Punjab to celebrate the harvest. Unlike traditional ballroom dance, bhangra focuses more on individual techniques that push your body to a certain extent – or in Shawn’s case, leave you breathless. The routine was nonstop energy at its best and helped the couple earn not only a perfect 30, but a spot in the finals as well. Plus, Derek looked like Hollywood’s next action star dressed like David Hasselhoff’s iconic character, Michael Knight.

Best Freestyle: Shawn Johnson and Derek Hough (“Carnaval de Paris” – Week 10: Season Finale)

The highlight of any Dancing with the Stars season finale is the freestyle round, and this season, the freestyles were “super-sized.” None was more super-sized than Shawn and Derek’s. It was a high energy mix of Moulin Rouge and Cirque du Soleil that included assistance from the Fierce Five – Olympic gymnasts Gabby Douglas, McKayla Maroney, Aly Raisman, Kyla Ross and Jordyn Weiber. Some traditional ballroom techniques were also incorporated into the routine and Shawn added some gymnastic flare with various flips and cartwheels. But the icing on the cake was the roll she executed off Derek’s shoulders – all while he was rolling forward as well! That move alone solidified it as the season’s best freestyle and if not for Drew’s freestyle from 2006, probably the best of all 15 seasons.

  • Honorable Mention: Melissa Rycroft and Tony Dovolani (“I Was Here” – Week 10: Season Finale)

    (Courtesy of: ABC.com)

All three freestyle routines incorporated some aspect of Cirque du Soleil, but Melissa and Tony captured that spirit and beautifully brought it to life. Melissa truly gave one of her best performances that evening and looked simply amazing executing certain moves with her legs. Such gracefulness – not to mention, flexibility – would make you think that she was a professional ballerina. The performance was poetry in motion and while I consider Shawn and Derek’s the better of the two, Melissa and Tony’s was in a class of its own.

Most Shocking Elimination: Sabrina Bryan (Week 6: Country Night)

The same week Sabrina earned a perfect score for her beautiful rumba was the same week she was eliminated from the competition. To make matters worse, she was eliminated five years to the exact date – in the exact same week – that she was eliminated during her season five run. Talk about a terrible case of déjà vu! It’s been more than a month since the elimination and I’m still baffled that despite earning the highest score of the night (tying for first with Apolo and Karina), Sabrina was STILL eliminated. I was also shocked that had she not been eliminated, Apolo would have – which would have been a shame either way.

  • Honorable Mention: Drew Lachey and Hélio Castroneves (Week 3)

What made these eliminations shocking was not the fact that they were former champions, but rather, how early in the competition they left – especially performers of their caliber. The way I see it, the performers who are being eliminated despite putting on some of their best performances don’t receive enough credit for such hard work – and that’s a lack of recognition from the viewers, not the judges.

Finally, I’d like to acknowledge a few noteworthy dances that did not make my list:

  • Shawn Johnson and Derek Hough’s Jive (Week 2)
  • Gilles Marini and Peta Murgatroyd’s Bollywood (Week 4)
  • Kelly Monaco and Valentin Chmerkovskiy’s Comtemporary (Week 4)
  • Shawn Johnson, Derek Hough and Mark Ballas’ Samba (Week 8)
  • Melissa Rycroft and Tony Dovolani’s Argentine Tango (Semi-Finals)

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