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

Meet the dancers of MDC3: Madi Smith, Diego Pasillas, and Emma Mather (left to right). Photo by Joe Toreno. Hair by Marina Migliaccio and makeup by Lisa Chamberlain, both for the Rex Agency.

Meet MDC3: The "World of Dance" Winners Who Defied the Odds

In March 2020, the same day the "World of Dance" cast got word that production would be shutting down due to a global pandemic, MDC3 artists Madison (Madi) Smith, Diego Pasillas and Emma Mather stood shoulder to shoulder onstage, bracing to hear the final results of the competition. The champion title and $1 million prize money were within reach, decided entirely by the three celebrity judges sitting in front of them. As their competitor's scores dropped from the lips of Derek Hough, Jennifer Lopez and Ne-Yo at roughly 2 percentage points below their own, viewers watched realization dawn. MDC3's mouths dropped into gigantic Oh's before their hands slapped over their faces in disbelief. Sparklers shot up while confetti rained down, and the announcer shouted, "MDC3, you are the winner of 'World of Dance'!"

It was an impressive accomplishment for any group of dancers, let alone three teenagers who'd faced rejection from the show three times over. Despite their youth (Madi is 18, Diego is 17 and Emma is 16), this moment was hard earned through years of dedicated patience.

Keep Reading SHOW LESS
Mason Evans assisting at New York City Dance Alliance in Orlando, FL (Evolve Photo & Video, courtesy Mason Evans)

5 Dancers Share What It's Really Like to Return to Competitions Right Now

For the first time since the coronavirus hit the U.S., competitions and conventions are meeting in-person once again (brimming with safety precautions, of course), and dancers couldn't be more thrilled.

We asked five standout comp kids about their recent experiences attending competitions around the country—and how they're taking advantage of these long-lost opportunities.

Keep Reading SHOW LESS
Because the future of Black dance is happening right now (Braylon Browner photographed by Rhiannon Lee, courtesy Braylon Browner)

Celebrating Black Futures Month: 4 Up-and-Coming Black Dancers Making History Right Now

Throughout the month of February, many Americans celebrate Black History Month, a period of the year dedicated to honoring the contributions of Black figures to American culture and society.

The lesser-known Black Futures Month, which is also celebrated in February—and often in conjunction with BHM—looks to art and artists to envision an equitable future for Black Americans. At Dance Spirit, we're celebrating #BlackFuturesMonth by spotlighting four young Black dancers whose dance journeys are proving that the future of Black dance is bright.

Keep Reading SHOW LESS

Editors' Picks

Enter the Cover Model Search