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Image: "Dancing With the Stars" pros
The pros are, from left, Maks Chmerkovskiy, Lacey Schwimmer, Louis van Amstel, Anna Trebunskaya, Dmitry Chaplin, Karina Smirnoff, Mark Ballas, Cheryl Burke, Tony Dovolani, Kym Johnson and Chelsie Hightower.
TODAY contributor
updated 3/18/2011 1:41:54 PM ET 2011-03-18T17:41:54

“Dancing With the Stars” fans haven’t shied away from sharing their less-than-satisfied take  on the assortment of showbiz talent soon to join the 12th season of the ballroom bash. They’ve called the group “lackluster” and “barely recognizable.” Some have even considered tuning out all together.

It seems the thought of seeing Kendra Wilkinson or Mike Catherwood waltzing off with a win just isn’t exciting to many dance enthusiasts. And catching a glimpse of a sequin-covered Sugar Ray Leonard isn’t doing it for them either. So what’s an otherwise loyal “Dancing” devotee to do?

Story: Chat with Ree and Anna about 'Dancing'

With Monday night’s premiere looming, it’s time to shift focus.

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If Petra Nemcova and Ralph Macchio aren’t regarded as mirror-ball trophy material, just remember that “Dancing’s” top honors aren’t just for the (sort of) star-studded cast. Those ballroom bragging rights are shared by the professional hoofers tasked with turning all manner of celebrities into dance-floor contenders.

Don’t like the “Dancing” stars? Don’t worry! There are still plenty of deserving pros to cheer for when the season gets underway.

Story: Is new ‘Dancing’ cast dream come true or dud?

Overdue for ballroom bragging rights
Instead of getting worked up about dialing Romeo’s digits every week, consider giving his partner, Chelsie Hightower, the support. The “So You Think You Can Dance” alum has three good seasons under her ballroom belt. Granted, the less said about her fourth season alongside partner Michael Bolton the better. Then again, that wasn’t really her fault.

If Hightower doesn’t represent the high point of the professional footwork to come, just think of the other dancers long overdue for recognition, such as ballroom bad boy and Latin dance champ Maksim Chmerkovskiy.

The 12th season of “Dancing” marks Chmerkovskiy’s 10th term on the show. In addition to entertaining the crowd with his smooth moves and shirtless tendencies, the easy-on-the-eyes pro always offers extra entertainment with his attitude. Rehearsal footage reliably reveals his gruff backstage manners, and the 31-year-old’s on-stage encounters with “Dancing’s” veteran judges are often popcorn-worthy affairs. Surely he deserves a win for that!

Sneak peek: 'DWTS' celebs show off their moves

On the off chance “Dancing” fans don’t agree about Chmerkovskiy, maybe they’re finally ready to reward the hardworking Tony Dovolani.

Dovolani’s long since brought his winning game to the stage, even if he hasn’t locked in a real win for it yet. His finale night runs with Stacy Keibler and Melissa Rycroft prove that. Still, there’s another reason someone should give him a trophy — just to make up for the dance-floor injustices Dovolani had to endure in 2010.

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Last season, the 37-year-old left the show far earlier than his efforts warranted. That exit came courtesy of an inexplicable viewer vote that left Bristol Palin in the competition and Dovolani’s partner, Audrina Patridge, out. If that weren’t enough of a “Dancing” war wound, keep in mind that this is the same man who had to teach Kate Gosselin how to appear confident as she stumbled through each weekly routine two seasons ago. Talk about a thankless job.

No way to win this time
But let’s face it. Past performances aren’t going to win the pros any accolades. If they want to drum up big fan support, they’ll have to show equally big results with their pre-assigned celebrity sidekicks.

In other words, sorry, Chmerkovskiy and Dovolani!

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It might be fun rooting for the fellas in the first few weeks, but with respective partners such as Kirstie Alley and Wendy Williams, the guys are doomed when it comes to the ultimate prize. Sure, the women are bound to entertain with their big personalities, but Williams is a self-proclaimed left foot, and Alley’s not exactly known for her graceful moves.

Too bad. Unless you happen to be one of the other nine pro dancers in the running. At least they stand a chance — some more than others.

Keep an eye on the triple threats
While Anna Trebunskaya, Louis van Amstel, Dmitry Chaplin, Lacey Schwimmer, Kym Johnson, Karina Smirnoff and the aforementioned Hightower all enter the competition with an equal shot and an equal incentive to go all the way, two top dancers have an extra reason to curry fan favor.

For two-time “Dancing” champs Mark Ballas and Cheryl Burke, this season offers a rare shot at the coveted three-peat.

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It’s a feat that’s been accomplished only by Derek Hough, who won with Nichole Scherzinger, now-host Brooke Burke and last season’s leading lady, Jennifer Grey. Hough won’t vie for a ... four-peat? Quad-peat? Whatever. The point is he’s out of the running for season 12, so it’s up to proven pros Ballas or Burke to snag an extra impressive win this season. Both hoofers have the track record, the fan bases and somewhat promising partners to pull it off.

Story: Derek Hough is taking a break from 'Dancing'

C’mon, Chelsea Kane and Chris Jericho! Don’t disappoint them.

Regardless of which pro wins and which ones get early exits, fans come out on top just by throwing their support behind the dance-floor regulars. Good or bad, all-star casts come and go. Pros are perennial. Pick a few favorites now and no future “Dancing With the Stars” celebrity line-up can really be a letdown.

Ree Hines is rooting for a first-time winner this season. If it can’t be Maks, maybe Louis or Anna will finally grab the glittery glory. Follow @ReeHines on Twitter and tell her you pro pick.

© 2013 NBCNews.com  Reprints

Photos: 'Dancing With the Stars' cast

loading photos...
  1. Time to dance

    "Dancing with the Stars" hosts Tom Bergeron and Brooke Burke announced the 11 celebrities heading to the dance floor this season during a live news conference. As always, the cast includes athletes, models, actors, and a few people whose names aren't recognizable to your average American. (Adam Larkey / ABC) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Sugar Ray Leonard

    Retired boxer Sugar Ray Leonard, who has a cameo in the Oscar-winning film "The Fighter," surely had fast feet in the boxing ring, but can he fit in to the ballroom?

    Leonard is paired with pro Anna Trebunskaya. (Bob D'amico / ABC) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Petra Nemcova

    Czech-born model Petra Nemcova is perhaps most famous for surviving the 2004 tsunami resulting from an earthquake in the Indian Ocean. Her then fiance died in the tsunami, while Nemcova broke her pelvis and managed to cling to a palm tree for hours before being rescued.

    Nemcova is paired with pro Dmitry Chaplin. (Bob D'amico / ABC) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Ralph Macchio

    Ralph Macchio came to fame as the star of "The Karate Kid" in 1984. He was a teen idol of the 1980s, but has played only minor roles in film and TV since.

    Macchio is paired with pro Karina Smirnoff. (Bob D'amico / ABC) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Kirstie Alley

    When Shelley Long left the hit sitcom "Cheers" in 1987, Kirstie Alley stepped in as bar manager Rebecca Howe. Recently her yo-yoing weight has become a public issue, as she was a spokesperson for Jenny Craig and starred in a show called "Fat Actress."

    Alley is paired with pro Maksim Chmerkovskiy. (Bob D'amico / ABC) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Hines Ward

    Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Hines Ward was voted MVP of Super Bowl XL in 2006. He is half Korean and half African-American, and has worked as an advocate for biracial youths in South Korea.

    Ward is paired with pro Kym Johnson. (Bob D'amico / ABC) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Chris Jericho

    Chris Jericho has had plenty of success in the wrestling ring, but he's also served as a radio and television host as well as a rock musician.

    Jericho is paired with pro Cheryl Burke. (Bob D'amico / ABC) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Mike Catherwood

    Mike Catherwood, known as Psycho Mike, is assistant producer for the syndicated radio show "Kevin and Bean," and is also co-host of "Loveline" with Dr. Drew Pinsky. A former addict, he uses his own experiences to help callers.

    Catherwood is paired with pro Lacey Schwimmer. (Bob D'amico / ABC) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Romeo

    Rapper Romeo withdrew from the second season of "Dancing With the Stars" in 2006 and was replaced by his father, Master P, who is infamous in "Dancing" circles for barely moving his feet. He's now back for the 12th season.

    Romeo is paired with pro Chelsea Hightower. (Bob D'amico / ABC) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Chelsea Kane

    Chelsea Kane is an actress who is best known for playing Stella Malone in the Disney Channel sitcom "Jonas L.A.," and has also appeared in other Disney shows and original movies.

    Kane is paired with pro Mark Ballas. (Bob D'amico / ABC) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Wendy Williams

    Wendy Williams hosts her own syndicated talk show, "The Wendy Williams Show," and is a former New York radio DJ.

    Williams is paired with pro Tony Dovolani. (Bob D'amico / ABC) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Kendra Wilkinson

    Kendra Wilkinson is best known as a former girlfriend of Playboy founder Hugh Hefner, and as such starred on the reality show "The Girls Next Door." She is now married to Minnesota Viking Hank Baskett and has her own reality show, "Kendra."

    Wilkinson is paired with pro Louis Van Amstel. (Bob D'amico / ABC) Back to slideshow navigation
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Video: Inside Sugar Ray Leonard's 'DWTS' rehearsal

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