Cheryl Burke & William Levy from Dancing With The Stars
Cheryl Burke & William Levy from Dancing With The Stars

Known for her smile and indefinable energy on the dance floor, Dancing With The Stars’ Cheryl Burke has distinguished herself as one of the most recognizable and most in-demand professional dancers on the ABC primetime megahit. Nabbing two consecutive wins in the second and third seasons of the show cemented Burke’s status as a tour de force performer. A string of handsome dance partners with sex appeal to match her own established her media viability beyond the dance floor.

Cheryl’s charm, discipline, and effortless choreography helped to usher former boy band singer and television personality, Drew Lachey, and former NFL running back, Emmitt Smith, to disco ball greatness with two back-to-back first place wins. During season thirteen, television audiences watched as reality star, Rob Kardashian, came of age on the dance floor with dance partner, Cheryl Burke, by his side. The duo came in second place behind All My Children actor and Iraq war veteran, J.R. Martinez, and his dance partner, Karina Smirnoff.

Season fourteen of Dancing With The Stars pairs Cheryl Burke with sexy Latin star, William Levy. The pair heated things up in the season’s premiere episode with a steamy Cha Cha that got the blogs buzzing about their palpable chemistry. It was a combustible combination of Cheryl’s low cut costume and William’s confident hip thrusts that sent shockwaves through television screens and cultivated their status as the “it couple” of this season’s Dancing With The Stars.

In my interview with Cheryl Burke, she opens up about working with dance partner, William Levy, following her passion, and her relationships with fellow Dancing With The Stars cast members. (Allison Kugel): Each new season of Dancing With The Stars when you’re partnered with a new star, does it feel like a brand new experience for you?

Cheryl Burke: It really does. Everyone asks me, “This is your thirteenth season, are you over it yet?” And I’m really not because every single season you deal with a new personality, and it’s challenging for me as a teacher to be able to learn how this person actually works. A lot of it is psychology as well (laughs), you know? Learning to deal with a different personality every season, and teaching somebody to dance. Everyone learns differently, so it’s a challenge for me every season. How has it been with William Levy as your dance partner this season? What’s fun about working with William, and what’s the most challenging thing about teaching him to dance?

Cheryl Burke: The most fun thing about him is that he’s really a natural dancer so it’s fun to be able to experiment different dance moves on him, and to see how he learns. Also, there is a language barrier between us so it’s been interesting for me to see how information is processed in his brain. It’s been challenging for me to be able to communicate [with him], but I’m learning every day how to deal with his personality. How is William Levy’s English?

Cheryl Burke: He speaks English, but it’s broken English. What makes him so cute is his thick accent and watching him learn. He’s not very patient with himself and he gets frustrated very easily. He has that hot Latin blood. He just wants to learn everything, and he wants everything to be perfect right away. Is it true that Latin men make great dancers?

Cheryl Burke: So far, yeah. They do have something special in them. They have lots of charisma and lots of spice when they dance. They have a temper and are hotheaded sometimes, but when it’s good, it’s good. He is really working hard. On this show you go through so many different emotions every single week from frustration to feeling great because you finally got the routine. If you’re not patient with yourself, this show is going to be really frustrating for you.

William Levy & Cheryl Burke from Dancing With The Stars
William Levy & Cheryl Burke from Dancing With The Stars What was going through your mind when you and William Levy danced the Cha Cha on the first show of this season? Are you in the zone and feeling the sensuality of the dance, or are you in your head and thinking about technique?

Cheryl Burke: Definitely not technique. It’s definitely more in the moment. I always tell my partners, it’s just me and you out there and no one else. Sometimes people who are not used to dancing live, or doing anything live in front of people, they get distracted. The technique is why we have rehearsal. You can’t go out there and think about technique. You really have to go out there and perform. That’s why we rehearse for so many hours in the day, so that your body really gets used to the technique. It’s all about muscle memory. What’s the difference between dancing with someone who would feel more like a brother or a father type, versus someone you’re attracted to?

Cheryl Burke: It’s different, and I’ll choreograph it differently. My dance with Wayne Newton, I had to choreograph our Cha Cha differently. It’s not going to be lots of hip movements, as much as I would do with William Levy. I choreograph to my partner’s strengths and to what me and him can accomplish together. I’ve had everyone from that father figure, to a brother type or a friend. It’s different every season. Do you think you dance better when there is some sexual tension between you and your dance partner?

Cheryl Burke: I don’t think so. Rob Kardashian and I, we really didn’t have much sexual tension, but we definitely did have that brother and sister relationship. We went pretty far. We came in second last season and I think it’s all about mutual respect. You don’t have to have the hot chemistry. Obviously, it’s exciting and it’s fun, but dancing isn’t just between two single people having fun together. There are so many different stories you can tell through dance. On the nights when you’re dancing live on Dancing With The Stars, what’s your pre-show ritual?

Cheryl Burke: I pray, and I have God give through me in a way. I just want to give up all my power. I’m very spiritual in that way. [I feel like] I’ve done everything I can do and I’ve worked as hard as I can. Sometimes I have this out of body experience where you don’t even really remember what happened. You just dance, and you dance with pure joy. Most of my performances, I don’t even really remember. The media is calling William Levy and you the breakout stars of this season. What are your thoughts on that?

Cheryl Burke: I was pretty nervous in the beginning dancing with him because I didn’t think anyone really knew who he was. I know he’s very famous in Latin America, but I didn’t know how people were going to respond to him. We started a week later than everybody else, so I was like, “Oh my Gosh, I don’t know if this guy can even dance!” I think that’s why this show is so popular, because you have people like William Levy who come on the show who maybe not everyone knows, and then people grow to love them. William is more than just a good looking guy. He’s really humble, he’s funny, he has a great personality and I look forward to being able to share that with everybody. In your opinion who is hotter: Brad Pitt or your Dancing With The Stars partner, William Levy, who they call “The Cuban Brad Pitt?”

Cheryl Burke: I would say William, because he can dance. I haven’t seen Brad Pitt dance. I think being cute and being able to dance is really hot. As a general rule, what’s your type? Are you into the dark ethnic looking guys or blondes?

Cheryl Burke: I like dark. I’m more of a dark feature type of girl, but I’ve dated my share of blondes as well.

William Levy & Cheryl Burke from Dancing With The Stars
William Levy & Cheryl Burke from Dancing With The Stars Who decides what dance you’ll do each week and how your costumes will be designed?

Cheryl Burke: The producers decide on the dance that you’re going to do. They probably decide based on your personality. With a Latin heartthrob coming in, they wanted us to do a Cha Cha in the beginning, not a Foxtrot. This week we are doing the Quickstep because it’s a ballroom dance, and we started with a Latin dance. As the weeks go on it’s a process of elimination based on what dances you haven’t done. I love watching everyone on Dancing With The Stars do the Quickstep. There is something about that dance and the pace of it that’s amazing. It fascinates me how quick the movements are.

Cheryl Burke: Oh, I know. We’re exhausted. All we’re doing is jumping around and trying to be in sync. It’s a tough dance, and for William he is just exhausted. If you imagine jumping around for two hours straight, it’s not easy on the body. And I get exhausted too. It’s all about repetition and doing it over and over again, we’re not just doing it once. We have to break it up into sections and repeat it over and over again. We have to do it with music, without music and then fix his frame and then his technique. We’re probably dancing at least fifty to sixty times during the day. At the beginning of your career as a professional dancer, before Dancing With The Stars ever existed, was there a time when you wondered how you would make a living as a dancer?

Cheryl Burke: Absolutely. My mom was a businesswoman so she would always say, “What are you going to do? Think about your future. Dancers don’t make a lot of money.” At that point in my life I had just turned professional. My mom let me take off a year after high school; I actually took off a couple of years to focus on my dancing. I was really thinking, “How am I going to make a living?” I thought I was just going to teach and travel the world and compete, and do what a lot of dancers do to this day. They enter competitions or they open up their own dance studios, or they travel the world teaching and competing. I thought that was what my life was going to be. It’s kind of a gypsy lifestyle.

Cheryl Burke: Kind of. That’s how I was raised. All my friends in the dancing world, that’s what they do. It’s actually a fun job but it’s hard on the body. You don’t have a business where people are working for you. You are your business. If you were sick one day or if something were to happen to you, you lose money. My mom always taught me to make a business for myself because you want to be able to still make money if you can’t work that day, or if you can’t work for the week. But for me, I’m such a passionate person and I am not going to do anything I’m not passionate about. Dancing has always been my passion. Even if I had to work extra hard to make a living, I would do it. Are you surprised at the mainstreaming of all things musical theatre and dance on primetime television?

Cheryl Burke: I started in the second season [of Dancing With The Stars]. When they asked me to do the show I was watching the first season, and I thought, “I don’t know if America is going to embrace this. It looks a little cheesy.” I didn’t know how much longer it was going to last, so when they asked me at the end of the [first] season I wasn’t really thinking about the future. It was more like, “Ok. I’ll do this one season and then we’ll see what happens.” But it was such a surprise to me to see how people really embraced the show. I can’t believe we’re still going strong into season fourteen. It’s amazing and we all feel very blessed because of this show. And you have a dance studio as well.

Cheryl Burke: Yes, I actually have two dance studios. I have one in the Bay Area where I’m from, and then one in the Laguna Nigel area in Los Angeles. Are people taking numbers and lining up to have you teach them dance?

William Levy & Cheryl Burke from Dancing With The Stars
William Levy & Cheryl Burke from Dancing With The Stars

Cheryl Burke: We have lots of amazing professional teachers at my studio and my mom runs both of them. When I’m not on the show I’m definitely at my studios. I always offer more big group classes, signings and meet and greets when I’m not on the show. The reason for that is so I can meet everybody. There are only so many hours in the day so it’s important for me to be able to introduce myself to everyone, and to welcome new students. You look extremely confident on Dancing With The Stars. Is there any particular dance where you feel less secure, either about your body or your dance technique?

Cheryl Burke: Ballroom dancing is my way of expressing who I am. Dancing has always been a way for me to express myself. I feel like if you don’t have any confidence doing it you’re not going to look good. You need to feel for yourself that you’re doing the best you can. There have been many times where maybe I wasn’t feeling my best or I wasn’t feeling confident, and you can see it out there on the dance floor. So it’s really important for me to stay focused in my head and to tell myself that I’m doing the best possible job I can. How do your opinions of your and your partner’s performances generally line up with that of judges Carrie Ann Inaba, Bruno Tonioli and Len Goodman?

Cheryl Burke: Sometimes I don’t agree with them. Len Goodman is the actual real ballroom judge. Whatever comes out of his mouth, most of the time I will agree with him. With Carrie Ann and Bruno, they know what a great performance is. I’m not sure if they know exactly the right technique, but when they talk about performance or the chemistry I definitely listen to them. What are some of your other passions outside of dancing?

Cheryl Burke: I love to travel. I promised myself that [during] every hiatus I’m going to go somewhere different, and I started that about two years ago. So far, I’ve been to Spain and I went to Australia. After this season I want to go to France, I’ve never been. I work really hard and I play really hard (laughs). It’s important for me to have a balance in life. Have you seen the Marc Anthony and Jennifer Lopez show, Q’Viva!: The Chosen? They travel throughout Latin America looking for the best talent, and quite a lot of it is different forms of dance from all of the Latin cultures.

Cheryl Burke: I’ve seen clips of it, but I am definitely interested in seeing it. When you travel to these different countries, are you interested in seeing each country’s dance culture?

Cheryl Burke: I actually went to Argentina about a year and a half ago to learn how to really Argentinian Tango, and I was part of this Tango company for a few months. It really brought a whole new inspiration for me. It’s important for me to inspire myself every time I feel like I’m getting bored. And it’s important for me to always challenge myself with new things. When I went to Argentina I had training every single day and it was really nice to learn again. It’s important for me to constantly learn instead of always teaching. Out of all of the professional dancers from Dancing With The Stars, who are you close with outside of the show?

Cheryl Burke: We’re all really close. We’re one big family. We’ve known each other since we were kids, and we go on tour together. We’ve been on five tours around the whole country. One of my really good friends who I just went to visit during our last hiatus was Kym Johnson. I went to visit her in Australia. Kym and I always keep in touch during hiatus. It’s interesting that you say you all grew up together. Were you on a competitive dancing circuit with many of the professional dancers from Dancing With The Stars?

Cheryl Burke from Dancing With The Stars
Cheryl Burke from Dancing With The Stars

Cheryl Burke: Yes, ballroom dancing is a small, little world. A lot of us are in different age categories, but we’ve all known of each other. Some people, like Maksim [Chmerkovskiy], Karina [Smirnoff] and Tony [Dovolani] have been professional dancers longer than most of us. Kym Johnson was in Australia so I actually never knew who she was until she started on the show in season three. Derek [Hough] and Mark [Ballas] are younger than me, so they competed in a younger category. But we all knew of each other. Does competition get heated between the dancers, or is it all in good fun?

Cheryl Burke: It’s really just in good fun. We were all a little bit like, “Oh my God, it’s season fourteen. How are the ratings going to be?” At the end of the day we all want to make this a great show. This is something that we want to continue doing. Most of us come back each season, so yes, we are competing against each other, but it’s not a one and done situation. I’m sure some of the celebrities feel like this is a competition, like, this is it and this is my one chance to compete. But for us, we’re always back every season. Yes, we’re going to do the best possible job we can, but we also want to make sure that the show comes back. We’re so happy. This show has changed all of our lives! Do the contestants get really heated with one another during the competition?

Cheryl Burke: I think more towards the end, I think we all do. First of all, we’re all exhausted from working seven days a week, ten weeks straight. You can see that light at the end of the tunnel. The celebrities, at the end, they’ve made it that far so they want to win. They want that disco ball (laughs)!

Cheryl Burke: Yeah, which is so ridiculous (laughs)!

“Dancing With The Stars” airs on ABC, Mondays 8/7c and Tuesdays 9/8c.

Follow Cheryl Burke on Twitter @CherylBurke.