The cast of "Dancing With The Stars" Season 16 was announced Tuesday morning, and two of the show's most familiar faces were missing from the lineup. Neither Maks Chmerkovskiy nor Chelsie Hightower were listed among the professional dancers, confirming rumblings that the two stalwart partners would not be returning to ABC's dance extravaganza this season.
Rumors of Chmerkovskiy's desire to leave the show have been swirling since September. With his contract set to expire this year, he told the New York Post, “What else do I have to do there after 15 seasons? It makes total sense. The audience can’t expect for me to want to stick around, and the producers can’t expect for me to want to stick around.” TMZ reported Friday that Chmerkovskiy would be focusing on other TV and film projects. His brother Val will still be a dance pro on "DWTS."
"I just want to set the record straight to all of my amazing fans that I will unfortunately not be returning for this season of 'Dancing With the Stars,'" Chmerkovskiy told Life & Style in a statement. "I’ve been a pro dancer on the show for about seven years now and am eager to explore other opportunities that have been made possible because of 'Dancing With the Stars.' I'm going to take this time to dive into producing and acting, while fulfilling my sponsorship obligations."
Hightower, who has been a "DWTS" pro since 2009, let the news slip that she would not be returning for this season of "DWTS" in an airport interview with TMZ last week. She stressed that the decision was not her choice, and left the door open for a possible return in the future.
“We frequently rotate the professional dancers, so it is not unusual for them to rest a cycle,” an ABC spokesperson told Life & Style in a statement. “As we consider who will be matched up each season, there are a lot of factors that dictate which couples make the best pairings. We appreciate each of our dancers dedication to the show, so this is a very difficult decision. Anna [Trebunskaya], Chelsie, Maks and Louis [van Amstel] continue to be a part of the 'Dancing With the Stars' family.”
"Dancing With the Stars" Season 16 premieres Monday, March 18 at 8:00 p.m. on ABC. The first results show airs Tuesday, March 26 at 9 p.m.
Check out the cast of "Dancing With The Stars" Season 16 in the slideshow below: