Cheryl Burke's Confessions on Life, Love, 'DWTS'


The freestyle dance has become one of the most popular dances on the show in the past ten seasons (there are two seasons a year) because for the first time the couples don't have to adhere to the strict rules of the ballroom. This is a time in which the couples get to have fun, let loose, and unleash their creativity. Just about anything is acceptable. The number one rule is not to follow any rules.

Drew was practically salivating at the chance to dance a no-holds-barred routine to any song he wanted. I found him one day sitting in his dressing room poring over the iTunes catalog on his laptop.

"Cheryl, I found it. Let me play this for you," he said excitedly.

"Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy)" by the country duo Big & Rich came pounding out of the speakers, and I just stared at Drew as though he were crazy. I had never heard the song before, I had never heard of Big & Rich, and I could not possibly imagine myself dancing to country music.

I wanted to have more of a Latin influence in our music and our routine, something that would feel more traditional and comfortable for the kind of partner dancing I was used to. But Drew was adamant that his country song would be great for our freestyle. He insisted that this was exactly what the producers meant when they said to let loose and do something original and completely unexpected. He had me there.

One of the producers happened to be in the hallway, and Drew summoned her into the room to tell her his idea. Of course, she absolutely loved it. I was outnumbered. So that night, I got myself a copy of the song and played it over and over to get it into my head and my body. The more I played it, the more the song grew on me, but when I tried to figure out how I would choreograph the routine, I was stumped.

We went to the wardrobe department, and the staff had a field day with our song. The innuendo of the song helped them conjure up sexy cowboy and cowgirl costumes for Drew and me: Drew's costume was a sleeveless shirt and tight jeans, and mine was a tiny pair of denim shorts and a bra top. We both rocked cowboy hats and boots.

Even suited up, I was still panicking two days before the finale as I tried to put the finishing touches on the dance. Drew kept insisting, "We need to spice this up, Cheryl!" We'd been dancing together for weeks, and now that we actually had a dance to do with no rules, we both became choreographers—and he was a pretty ambitious one. He wanted to add more lifts, more playfulness with the movements to jibe with the flirtatiousness of the song. He kept saying, "This is good, but let's make it great. It's our last dance. Let's push it as far as we can—and then a little bit more."

The Freestyle: Finding Myself in the Spotlight

Egging things along even more was Drew's wife, Lea—Drew's very pregnant and about-to-give-birth-at-any-minute wife, Lea. She came to the rehearsal to see how we were doing, and I was sure she'd cringe when she saw the routine. Instead she insisted that we add even more suggestive moves. She kept saying, "This is a sexy, suggestive song, and you guys have to really play off the lyrics more. Don't be afraid. Go for it!"

So we did. Drew and Lea both had great ideas and awesome enthusiasm. Drew had such a good gut instinct about the whole thing, and his wife's stamp of approval validated our efforts. Our goal was to have fun and have the audience have fun with us, and it looked as though we were on the right track.

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