Sharna Burgess on Life as a "DWTS" Pro

The beautiful Burgess (courtesy Turk Entertainment PR)

It's that time again: "Dancing with the Stars" kicks off its 19th (19th!) season next Monday, September 15th. The latest group of celebs and their professional dance partners are already deep into rehearsals of their first routines.

While most "DWTS" coverage focuses on the blood, sweat and tears the stars put into the show, let's face it: Pretty much nobody works harder than the "DWTS" pros. Every single week, they create and polish new routines for people with zero, or almost-zero, dance experience—a singularly challenging task.

This season marks Aussie beauty Sharna Burgess' fourth turn as a "DWTS" pro. She's been paired with Tavis Smiley—a respected PBS host and political commentator known more for his reporting and writing than for his dancing skills. I talked with Burgess about what the "DWTS" experience is really like.

You're a "DWTS" vet now! What have you learned since your first season on the show?

You can prepare as much as you want, but to be honest, you can't control everything, so the best thing to do is relax. It's easy to get caught up in the competitive side of the show and to push your partner really hard. But at the end of the day, the goal is to give him a wonderful experience. You want to get to know your celebrity and enjoy watching him learn.

You have a lot of choreographic experience. How does choreographing for non-professionals compare to choreographing for professionals?

When I’m creating dances for a celebrity, it’s a different type of creativity. Throughout the season we build a vocabulary of steps that he's good at, and the key is to find ways to make them look fresh each week by changing the intention, or the story the dance is telling. When I was working with Andy Dick in Season 16, he had a pretty small vocabulary, but he’s such an amazing character and funny person that he was able to transform those few steps into 10 different dances.

When I'm choreographing for pros, it's more about looking for that groundbreaking thing that nobody’s done yet. Usually that involves listening to a song over and over again—to the point of driving myself insane—until I get a vision of what the theme will be, and then of how the movement will flow. Whenever I choreograph, the intention comes first and the steps come later.

Baby Sharna! Even at age 8, Burgess (here with partner Michael Butt) had the moves. (courtesy Burgess)

How have your rehearsals with Tavis Smiley been going?

Tavis has an amazing story. He grew up in a church that didn’t allow him to dance—he didn't even get to go to the prom! But while his dance experience is very minimal, he’s been wonderful to work with. He said something that really resonated with me: "Just because you know some of me doesn't mean you know the sum of me." We all think of him as this serious person, a political activist deeply involved in world affairs—the guy who's interviewed Obama three times. Yet beneath that is a fun, happy-go-lucky man, and it’s been a pleasure getting to know that side of him. That’s what I’m excited for America to see.

If you could partner any celebrity, who would you choose?

Hugh Jackman! I’ve always wanted to dance with him. He already has dance talent, and I think he’d be amazing. But to be honest what I look for in a partner isn’t necessarily talent. I want someone who's wiling to both work hard and have fun. It's important that they take it seriously—dancing is my job and the love of my life—but it should be a good time, too.

What’s most challenging about being a "DWTS" pro, and what’s most rewarding?

The challenge is that for a little more than three months, you don't get a single day off. Your relationships are put on hold, because the show consumes every hour of the day: When you’re not teaching your celebrity, you’re having wardrobe meetings or planning your group numbers. But that’s also what’s so amazing about it. I keep reminding myself that I'm one of those lucky people who get to do what they love 24/7. It’s a double-edged sword, but I'd never wish it away.

Latest Posts


Photo by Joe Toreno. Hair by Marina Migliaccio and makeup by Lisa Chamberlain, both for the Rex Agency.

Sienna Lalau: The Dynamite Dancer and Choreographer Helping BTS Make Magic

At just 20 years old, Sienna Lalau is the living definition of "dynamite dancer": bold, confident, almost addicting to watch, and, at her core, overflowing with pure passion. From her work with The Lab Studios to Video Music Award–winning choreography for BTS, there's no stopping this starlet from bringing her love of dance to the global stage.

"Dance is something that can truly connect people," Sienna tells Dance Spirit. "It's a universal language. We may not speak the same language physically, but when we dance, there's a connection where we understand each other on another level."

Keep Reading SHOW LESS

Go Behind the Scenes of “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series”

School is back in session at East High, and we've never been so excited to head to class.

Premiering May 14 on Disney+, Season 2 of "High School Musical: The Musical: The Series" brings the gang back together for a production of an Alan Menken classic, Beauty and the Beast. But before the final pedal can drop, chaos, drama, self-discovery and (of course) love ensue.

Keep Reading SHOW LESS
Heights Digital, Courtesy Marideth Batchelor

Viral TikTok Couple @cost_n_mayor Are the Dance Mom and Dad We All Need

Coming across a @cost_n_mayor TikTok on your "For You" page is like meeting a new bestie at competition: You instantly connect. From creating (and crushing) viral dance challenges to sharing the #relatable struggles of dancers (and couples, and dancer-couples) everywhere, the social media duo appeals to pro dancers and amateurs alike—and it shows, considering their 1.5 million-and-counting following on TikTok.

Keep Reading SHOW LESS

Editors' Picks

contest
Enter the Cover Model Search