Cheryl Burke Says ‘Dancing With the Stars’ Should Not Air During Strikes, Weighs In on Controversial Casting of Adrian Peterson

Cheryl Burke is sharing her story. The professional dancer, who competed on 25 seasons of “Dancing With the Stars” before retiring earlier this year, just launched a new podcast.

On iHeartRadio’s “Sex, Lies and Spray Tans” podcast, Burke will share behind-the-scenes secrets and stories from her time on the hit ABC series as well as interviews with former and current pros and contestants. The first two episodes are available now.

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While promoting her new project, Burke opened up to Variety about the Season 32 cast of “Dancing With the Stars,” shared her thoughts on the show airing during the ongoing strikes and reacted to Sharna Burgess’ recent comments criticizing the show for casting Adrian Peterson, who faced child abuse charges.

Your new podcast is called “Sex, Lies and Spray Tans.” As an avid “Dancing With the Stars” viewer, I get the spray tans part! Can you explain the sex and lies part?

With the closeness of two people ballroom dancing and the body contact… I’ve always said that “Dancing with the Stars” needs to have an after show called “Dancing With the Stars: After Dark,” because there’s so much that goes on in these rehearsal spaces, during dress rehearsals, during the live show that the fans who’ve been a part of this show for so many decades now have no idea what’s going on. So I feel like it’s almost my duty now that I’m not on the show to let them in on a few little innocent secrets.

The last time we spoke was when you announced you were retiring after last season. At the time, you were rallying to be a judge. What happened there?

I’m not the person to ask. I know they wanted to go back to three judges and fair enough. At the end of the day, people would probably rather see more of the interaction between the couples than the judges speaking. I will always be a fan of the show. This by no means is a dig to the show. I know where I came from, I would never bite the hand that fed me and that continues to be me. I’ll be the No. 1 fan that they know that I am. This podcast is more just because we don’t get a chance to talk to the other celebrities in length like this. I talked to Heather Morris, who — I wasn’t on that season — but got her take and her conspiracy theory as to why she thinks she got eliminated. This has also been part of my grieving process with this show, because what a shame it would have been just to keep all this stuff to myself.

As you brought up, Heather Morris explained in her episode that she felt she was eliminated when she was just to create drama on the show — not because she was voted out. Is there is a possibility that sometimes shocking moves on the show aren’t just based on fan votes?

I mean, do we really know this? There is standards and practices there: It is 50% the judges’ votes and 50% fan votes, but digging deep, who’s convincing the judges? When you strip it back even further, let’s just say this is a television show. I’m still butt hurt by me and Juan Pablo Di Pace’s exit, which wasn’t so graceful. I’m still upset about it. We got 60 out of 60. Did not one person vote? At the end of the day, it is a show. What’s such a shame, and where this formula is quite genius, is where they get us because we put everything in the show.

You also spoke with Morris about being fat-shamed by pros Louis van Amstel and Maksim Chmerkovskiy in the past — and Maks will be an upcoming guest on the podcast. How were you able to move forward in those friendships?

At the end of the day, I have to move on from it, because no matter what, we will always be co-workers regardless. The dance world is a small world. I believe that they have grown up since then. I like to think that way at least. I have indirectly I guess — especially with Louis, we spent a lot of time together last season — [said], “Careful with the words,” in general. We’re now, as a collective, a little bit more aware. But that really scarred me. I understand their personalities. I’m not making excuses for them. Would I like for them to actually come up to me today and say, “I’m so sorry” — really look at me and say that? Yes, but that my expectations versus theirs — maybe they don’t even remember, to be quite honest, but I do and I’m never going to forget, but I forgive. For me.

Let’s talk Season 32. Sharna Burgess recently spoke out about the casting of Adrian Peterson, stating that she would have walked out if he were her partner due to his past abuse charges. How do you feel about that?

We’ve had a lot of controversial characters on the show. I think I danced with Ray Lewis — that was a bit controversial. When it comes to abuse, I do agree with Sharna. However, you sign up to be a part of the show. And honestly, as a pro dancer, whoever walks in through that door, you don’t turn around and walk out. You’re signing up for this. It’s not like you can request, but if you say certain things that you’re triggered by, you would hope that that wouldn’t happen. But this is showbiz. I respect her, of course. I come from abuse as a little girl. At the end of the day, I don’t promote it. But my job is, I’m an employee. You can’t just turn around and walk out and say I’m sorry. That’s not part of the contract. It’s a fine line.

There are people online also calling out Britt Stewart, who is partnered with him.

Let me just clear this up: We have zero say of who we dance with. Honestly, for most of these pro dancers, they are counting their blessings that they are asked back. Think of most jobs in America. Most people don’t want to be there. We’re lucky that we get to do what we love to do and get paid for it on national television. You’ve got to separate; not every workplace you’re gonna agree with their morals, values and beliefs, but you signed up for it. We all have to pay bills.

Alright so there are some actors on the show and it technically is a WGA show, but moving forward. How do you feel about that?

Well, after the Drew Barrymore thing, I have mixed feelings. Even in the pandemic, people can say, “Why would you do this?” When you’re talking about the entertainment industry, this is a sensitive subject. In order for things to change, we have to stick together, point blank, because if one show just decides to think about the show on its own, this is not going to make big changes. It is not going to change the way these other people — the opposing team — are thinking. At the end of the day, we have to stick together because that’s the only way to ever make any significant change. Even the cast of “Friends,” when they asked for more money, they all stuck together. The problem is that if we don’t, then we’re setting a precedent, and I don’t think it’s gonna be good for the show, to be quite honest, in the long run. I understand what they’re thinking and I get it. It’s a business, but there is no business without the rest of the business.

So you don’t think it’s good for them to come back right now?
I think they should hold tight. I think we need to stand as one. We need to unite for real, and not just say we’re united.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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