“By the time you get to the end of the three months, you just need to go to Cabo and sip on mojitos.”
That recipe for relaxation comes courtesy of Sharna Burgess, who mentioned it after describing how grueling a season of Dancing with the Stars can be as you move closer to the end of a season.
“I would be at the studio from 9 o’clock in the morning until midnight sometimes,” Burgess said. “You have so many dances that you have to do and the stakes are so high that you’ll do a four- or a six-hour session, then you’ll take a break, you’ll come back, and you’ll do more. Sometimes you’ll come back and press will come in, or then you’ll come back for your wardrobe fitting. It is an entire day deal.”
Even if it may be a tiring and demanding process, Burgess, in her tenth season as one of the professional dancers on the show, expects to be competing all season and loves the experience. She finished the previous five seasons in fifth place or higher, including two second place finishes. Unfortunately, this season saw her and her partner, former NBA player Derek Fisher, the third couple eliminated. That’s something Burgess isn’t used to.
“I’m so used to being in the whole ten weeks of the season, so when we were cut so soon, I really felt it,” Burgess said. “I felt so much sadness in not being able to continue the experience for Derek.”
Fisher is someone that Burgess said she really built a friendship with, even beyond the show. That is why it was so disappointing the have the season end as early as it did.
“He lives up to every expectation of being the leader that he was, even in the NBA,” Burgess said. “He’s like an ultimate team leader and coach and he was just such a great support, not just for us as a team, but for everybody else out there, too. He was certainly missed once he was eliminated.”
Burgess got her start with dancing when she was a kid growing up in Australia. She was involved in many different kinds of sports early on, from dancing to tennis to basketball, but around the time she was 13, she had to choose just one to continue with. It isn’t hard to guess what she went with.
“I had to choose and what I was excelling at a lot was dancing,” Burgess said. “So I chose to stick with ballroom dancing because, again, I seemed to be excelling in that the most and I was dancing every day, seven days a week.”
By the time she was 15, she was representing Australia at the World Championships. However, this early success wasn’t what inspired her to become a professional dancer. It was actually a major setback she faced not long after that.
“I went through an injury when I was 15 and had about two years off the dance floor,” Burgess said. “Two years without dance is what made me realize how much I needed it in my life. Being a creative person and not having a creative outlet at the time was kind of making me a little bit crazy. I knew that I needed to get back into dance because that’s when I felt the most whole in a sense and I missed expressing myself in that way.”
But just because a major injury is what jump started her path to where she is today, that doesn’t mean she constantly worries about the possibility of another one.
“I sort of have the fearless approach,” Burgess said. “Especially when it comes to lifts. I have an ‘I’m going to throw myself at you and you’re going to catch me and we’re going to see what happens at the end of it’ kind of approach, which has worked out very well in the past.”
What she has had to deal with from an injury standpoint is celebrity partners who have come on the show with some sort of issue that might make it difficult to do everything involved in dancing. One such case was her season 24 partner, professional bull rider Bonner Bolton, who had previously broken his neck.
“It was a huge concern that I was going to injure him further,” Burgess said. “What I had to do was work around that and tailor dancing and change the technique and build different ways for him to learn to dance to protect his previous injuries.”
Two years without dance is what made me realize how much I needed it in my life. Being a creative person and not having a creative outlet at the time was kind of making me a little bit crazy.
Similarly, her season 20 partner, combat veteran and motivational speaker Noah Galloway, is missing his left arm above the elbow and left leg below the knee. For any of her partners who have been new to dancing, Burgess has crafted individual plans to make things work for whatever each specific partner’s needs are.
“There’s been a lot of ways to creatively figure out how to make dance works for these individuals, and I find that a really wonderful challenge,” Burgess said. “I have endless patience, so for me, as long as that person walks into the room and is ready to try and give it their all, I’ll be there 12 hours a day with you to figure this out because it’s what I love to do.”
With the different backgrounds, insecurities, and reasons for doing the show that each celebrity brings with them, Burgess said she spends a lot of time learning about her partners beyond what their dancing ability might be.
“For the first part of the season, it’s me trying to figure them out and figure out how I can be the ultimate coach for them, figure out their strengths and weaknesses,” Burgess said. “How do they learn? How do they like to communicate? How much pressure can they take? It really is not just teaching dance, but analyzing personalities and figuring out how to mold to them. I really do love that every season it’s a new person I get to work with.”
Burgess did admit that inevitably there are partners you’ll have that you just won’t get along with. Even then, she will try to find a way to work around that and make the best of the situation.
“There’s always going to be a personality that you clash with every now and then,” Burgess said. “But for the most part, I have always been able to find a way to create that chemistry and find that trust and build that friendship with my partner so we can enjoy dancing with each other.”
It may be obvious to some, but the partners that do the best on the show are, for Burgess, “the ones that eat, sleep, and breathe Dancing with the Stars for the entire season.” She pointed to her season 23 partner as one who surprised her with how much he put into the show and how great the results were, with the pair finishing second place that season.
“James Hinchcliffe, an Indy car driver that sits for a living, came in and had such an amazing work ethic and approach to learning that he excelled,” Burgess said. “To be honest, I think he’s in the top 3 to 5 males that have ever been on the show and not because it was a natural talent, but because he put the work in and went home, studied, watched videos, asked questions, and took notes.”
Although the work and the effort a celebrity puts into the show is important, at a certain point, Burgess said that you’ll find that people do well at one of the two styles of ballroom dancing, standard or Latin.
“Standard is where we have to be in frame, the things that Len gets very cranky about if it’s not right, the more traditional kind of looking styles,” Burgess said. “Then there is Latin, which is samba and cha cha and jive. It’s a little bit more free; it’s a little more open. It’s not necessarily as connected by hand-to-hand.”
Burgess said that viewers may not realize how different the techniques are between the styles of dance. But again, it may not just be physical ability that determines which style a celebrity does better at.
“It’s a personality thing, I think, and a very, very different way of moving,” Burgess said. “Not everything suits everybody. It’s always a journey to discover what looks good on that person and then you build a strategy to try and save the best dances for last.”
While each celebrity might have a particular style of dance that they do well at and enjoy, don’t ask Burgess which one she personally prefers. That’s not a choice she could possibly make.
“For me, that’s like saying which one of your kids do you like most,” Burgess said. “I think what makes me fall in love with a dance is the music and the story and what I’m trying to do with it. I’ve done Viennese Waltzs that are my favorite and I’ve also done cha-chas that I absolutely love or a paso doble or a contemporary. I love all forms of dance, even the ones I can’t do like breakdancing. I very much wish I could breakdance, but I’m just not meant for that.”
I think what makes me fall in love with a dance is the music and the story and what I’m trying to do with it.
One thing she has no trouble choosing a favorite of is the theme weeks on Dancing with the Stars.
“I love Disney week,” Burgess said. “I have been waiting for the day when I get to be Princess Ariel. It hasn’t happened yet, but I’m holding on to it, like one day it will. I feel like I’m meant to be her at some point.”
Another of her favorites is Halloween week, which she relishes now because Halloween is only starting to become a thing in Australia, so she didn’t have it when she was growing up.
“Getting to dress up in characters like that and really go all out with the excuse of it being a theme–I’m all about that,” Burgess said. “I love telling stories with dance and I love embodying characters, and anytime I can go full out with the hair and the makeup and really become someone else, I love it.”
What about her relationship with the other professional dancers on Dancing with the Stars? Well, as much as viewers might hope for something juicy here, Burgess dispelled any notion of hypercompetitive feuding behind the scenes.
“As corny as it sounds and as much as people probably don’t believe us, we really are one big family,” Burgess said. “We’ve all known each other for a very long time.”
Burgess mentioned that before getting on Dancing with the Stars, she was in a dance show on Broadway called Burn the Floor, which featured a number of other eventual Dancing with the Stars pros, such as Peta Murgatroyd and Sasha Farber. That’s just one of the examples of the long history she shares with many of the other pros and because of this, even during a long, grueling season, the competition stays friendly rather than fierce.
“We’re all so close that it doesn’t become a drama like anyone else thinks,” Burgess said. “We don’t have rivalry against each other like I think our fans think that we do. We all help each other, we all step into the room with one another and give help when needed or asked for and support one another.”
If fans want to see this camaraderie in action, they’ll soon have a chance as the Burgess and other pros will be embarking on the Dancing with the Stars: Live! – Light Up the Night Tour.
“This will be my fourth tour,” Burgess said. “I know every time we say this that it’s going to be the best yet, but truly every tour we’ve done has gotten better and better and better than the last one.”
The tour kicks off on December 30 and will run for eleven weeks until March 18. Burgess said that this is a longer tour than usual because there is no spring season of Dancing with the Stars, and that was part of what excited her about the tour.
“For us as pros, the reason why we love that is in a very, very selfish sense, it’s not about the celebrity anymore,” Burgess said. “It becomes about us dancing the way that we want to, creating what we want to and just doing what we love with our craft and pushing ourselves, not someone else. That’s why when people come and watch Dancing with the Stars: Live! they get to see us dancing like you will never see us dancing on the TV show.”
While the opening numbers each week on Dancing with the Stars might give viewers a glimpse at what the pros can really do, Burgess said it’s nothing compared to the full experience on the tour. Plus, she likes the opportunity to let viewers get to know her better than they might just watching the show.
“This is a two-hour show of us just dancing our butts off and leaving it all on the dance floor,” Burgess said. “I think that’s where our audience actually gets to know a little bit about us because, again, it’s not about the celebrity and so you get to see me. You just get to see Sharna Burgess. You just get to see Lindsay Arnold. And I think that is a really, really special thing and important for our fans to get to know us, too. We love that.”
Outside of her work with Dancing with the Stars, Burgess recently launched her Sharna Shop. Right now, the site is in its beginning stages and only shirts, water bottles, and accessories are currently available, but Burgess is really excited about what it ultimately will be.
“It’s eventually going to have some workout stuff on there: health, beauty, lifestyle,” Burgess said. “It’s pretty much going to be all the things in my world that I’m sharing with everybody else. It’s an incredibly exciting project and I truly can’t wait to share all of it with everybody.”
Beyond the fact that she gets to do what she loves, what Burgess really appreciates is the platform that Dancing with the Stars has provided her. It’s given her the ability to do more than just teach celebrities how to dance, and that’s what she really loves.
“I’m so blessed to do what I love every day and every week and I certainly don’t take that for granted,” Burgess said. “But what I also don’t take for granted is the voice that I have and the platform that I’m on and the responsibility that goes with that, with all the young women that now follow me and look up to me and knowing that I have to be an example for them, an example that I didn’t necessarily have. And I think that’s probably one of the most special things about being on Dancing with the Stars, apart from the experience of meeting celebrities and training and working in the competition. It goes so far beyond that for me and I do really love it.
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Sharna Burgess Discusses the ‘Dancing with the Stars: Live!’ Tour and More: Photographs courtesy of Brandon Showers