And the seasons keep coming. Dancing with the Stars, the reality TV show that began in the summer of 2005, started its fifth season last fall topping the charts with more than 20 million viewers. Twenty-three-year-old Cheryl Burke, the raven-headed San Franciscan, has taken two celebrities to first place. She hopes to be invited back for the sixth season, which premieres March 17. She talked to Emily Macel last fall while on tour with last season's cast.
Tell us about your dance training. I did ballet and jazz first, then I switched to ballroom at the age of 12. My morn has always loved to dance so she put me into ballet. But she saw I wasn't excited about it. Then she started dancing ballroom socially with my dad. When she took me to a competition, I fell in love with it. In high school, I'd compete every free day I got. I never thought I would be on the number one hit show on television.
What is technically difficult in this work? There are two styles—Latin and Ballroom—both difficult. In Latin sometimes you can't bend your legs, you have to walk on straight legs, or you have to walk from toe to heel, It's very detailed. In Ballroom, it's the opposite. Sometimes you have to step onto a bent leg and then most of the time you walk heel to toe, It's really difficult for the celebrities to adjust. For me, I love competing in Latin.
Who was your main ballroom mentor? Allan Tornsberg. He was a World Champion and he took me under his wing and taught me everything I knew from the very beginning.
What's your week like when you're doing a season of Dancing with the Stars? We have a fourweek training period before the show and we do three to five hours every day. We start off slow because we don't want the celebrities to get exhausted. Then when the competition hits, we extend the hours to six to eight a day. Then we have live shows twice a week. For the professionals, it's exhausting because we have to come up with the choreography ourselves. But it's even more exhausting for the celebrities because it's a whole new dance and they have to memorize all these steps.
What celebrities have you partnered with on the show? My first partner was Drew Lachey in the second season and we won that season. The third season was with Emmitt Smith and I won that one as well. The fourth season was lan Ziering from 90210. The fifth was with Wayne Newton (left). They're all different. Drew was my first and he was a lot of fun; Emmitt was such a great guy; Ian was such a hard worker; and Wayne—he's a living legend.
Were they natural leaders? They don't know dancing so they leave it up to you. You have to teach them how to be a man and lead the woman. Maybe they're natural leaders in everyday life but when it comes to something they don't know, it's hard to lead.
What has been the most surprising thing about the show? I think it's the popularity of it. People are so in love with the show. It's not like ice skating that's been shown across the world, it's ballroom dancing. Dancers never get paid enough and we work really hard. It shows the public how hard it is to become a good dancer.
How is a ballroom competition different from Dancing with the Stars? In competitions, the couples all dance on the same floor together. What we do for TV is a show dance, we just do it solo and make it entertaining. In a competition you don't have the song you're dancing to, they just put on a song and you dance to it. With the show they give you a specific song to choreograph to.
Does it annoy you that the professional dancers aren't interviewed? I think it's slowly coming to the level that we're getting more attention. During the result shows we do a lot of professional numbers. At the end of the day it's Dancing with the Stars. But for some of us who've been on for a few seasons, now we're getting recognition.