Interview with Cheryl Burke (DwtS Offseason Update: 3-8-06)

Cheryl Burke has had hardly a day off in months. Eight straight weeks of training and performing with singer Drew Lachey led the couple to a championship on the second season of ABC’s Dancing with the Stars. And since then, Cheryl’s life has been a string of interviews and appearances.

She has no desire to see it end.

“Most of the publicity is done,” Cheryl, 21, said in a phone interview late last week, days after winning the competition. “I’m still doing some radio interviews and spur of the moment stuff. But I hope there’s even more!”

Cheryl’s Dancing with the Stars whirlwind almost started a year ago. Before the first season, her name came up as a possibility for the show. But, at the time, Cheryl wanted to concentrate on her burgeoning professional career. “I competed about twice each month, and it takes year-round preparation for four to eight hours a day.”

Cheryl was then living in New York City, to which she’d moved from her native California after turning 18. “New York is the place to be for serious competitors. The European coaches go there.”

Finding the right coach can be essential. While most professional dancers do the bulk of their own choreography, coaches can help perfect routines, turning a good dance into a first place dance. “I try to find coaches who deal with the styles I like to dance,” Cheryl said. “I don’t train with more than two coaches at a time. It’s easier to keep things straight.”

Dancers also often seek simplicity and consistency when choreographing their performances. “I used the same routine for two years. You might add or subtract something, but the basic routine stays the same.”

Though she’d spent the last two years of her life performing variations on the same routine, Cheryl was about to find herself choreographing at least one new dance every week.

In August, ABC’s interest in Cheryl was rekindled when some network scouts spotted her at a professional competition in Southern California. Between then and November, ABC conducted interviews with Cheryl and other dancers.

The network offered Cheryl a slot on Dancing with the Stars and paired her with former 98 Degrees singer Drew Lachey. The timing was perfect for Cheryl, as she was tiring of New York and had decided to part ways with her professional partner.

Cheryl’s transition from the world of pro competition to Dancing with the Stars was made easier because of some familiar faces: the show’s other professional dancers. “We all knew each other beforehand. Ballroom dancing is a small world.”

Prior to being cast, Cheryl had experience going up against (and defeating) some of her TV competition. At last April’s San Francisco Open, she won the International Latin event, edging out Dancing with the Stars pros Jonathan Roberts and Anna Trebunskaya. In that same competition, first-season DwtS winner Alec Mazo and his professional partner, show regular Edyta Sliwinska, placed fourth.

Cheryl said she has a good relationship with the other pros from the show, like Tia Carrere’s partner, Maksim Chmerkovskiy. “Max is one of nicest guys I know. He’s hard-working and likes to compete. It was a shame he went out so early.”

The familiarity and friendship between pros also helped them quickly assemble exhibition routines and demonstration dances. The pros collaborated on the choreography for the exhibitions and demos, though one usually oversaw the final product. “We’re all pros, so our dances with each other weren’t difficult. We spent about three hours over two days working on each exhibition routine.”

“But working with our celebrities was the priority.”

Training a non-dancer on a tight schedule was challenge enough for the professionals. But there was one area in which the celebrities were the experts: exposure. On Dancing with the Stars, Cheryl performed before a much larger audience than she’d ever dreamed she would.

“In the beginning, I thought I would be so nervous. But when I perform, I perform for whoever is in front of me. When I actually went onstage, I focused on the audience that was there. I performed for them, instead of letting myself realize in the back of my mind that there were 27 million people watching.”

Cheryl kept her nerves in check all season, and over the two-episode finale, she and Drew earned the best scores from the show’s judges. In what was probably the season’s most entertaining dance, the two performed a freestyle to Big and Rich’s “Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy).” The freestyle was the only dance of the competition for which there were no restrictions or required elements. And, for once, the team wasn’t at the mercy of the show’s music director. “We got to pick the music for it, too.”

Even though the couple won the final judges’ vote, they still needed support from the home viewers in order to help them defeat former NFL great Jerry Rice in the final standings. Going into this season, Rice had the largest built-in fan base of any of the celebrities. By comparison, Drew and Cheryl had to earn their votes largely from scratch.

Over the season, Cheryl and Drew became one of the show’s most popular couples. But, until after the final show ended, they never knew how the public felt about them. Cheryl thought she might be one of the season’s villains, so she resisted any temptations to peek at Internet message boards. “I tried to avoid them, because some of them might not be very nice.”

She had nothing to worry about. The couple had won over fans online and offline, at home and abroad. Cheryl, whose mother is Filipina, inspired news media from the Philippines to cover Dancing with the Stars. Cheryl received well-wishes from Pinoys throughout the competition. “It was great to know that they were behind me one hundred percent.”

The couple’s popularity with the show’s audience ultimately pushed Drew and Cheryl to victory, and the couple is grateful. “I have to give a big, big thanks to all our fans. Drew feels the same. We couldn’t have done it without them!”

For now, Cheryl’s decided to put her professional dance career on hold. “I’ve relocated to L.A. I’m looking for an agent, so I can try commercials, acting, or whatever comes my way.”

She’s also teamed up with one of her competitors from DwtS, Louis van Amstel, who was Lisa Rinna’s partner on the show. “Right now, I’m starting some projects with Louis. We may do shows at competitions or perform at corporate events.”

With all these other plans, would Cheryl be up for another run on Dancing with the Stars? “I would love to return for Season 3! There’s no ABC rule against it. [First season pro finalists] Alec and Charlotte just chose not to come back.”

If you would like to contact Cheryl, read more about her, or check her upcoming schedule, you can visit her website:

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