- Cheryl Burke
Find your passion. Once you do, nothing can stop you.
– Cheryl Burke
Dancing with the Stars champion and entrepreneur Cheryl Burke is a survivor of childhood sexual molestation and dating abuse. She has recounted her experiences in chapter five of her memoir Dancing Lessons: How I Found Passion and Potential on the Dance Floor and in Life. It is one of the most enlightening survivor stories that I have read.
Shy Girl to Star
Cheryl Stephanie Burke was born on May 3, 1984. Her mother was a nurse from the Phillipines, and her father was an attorney. Both parents became highly successful entrepreneurs, but their marriage did not last long. Cheryl’s mother married a dentist in 1993. Cheryl was reared by her beloved nanny Ima, who died from breast cancer when Cheryl was twelve.
She spent many years in therapy before she understood the devastating impact of sexual molestation that started when she was in kindergarten. The perpetrator was a trusted handyman hired by her parents. When he attempted the same behavior with Cheryl’s older step-sister, he was arrested and sent to prison.
Cheryl’s parents were riddled with guilt. Cheryl was a shy child who didn’t have many friends outside dance studios. This changed during her junior year in high school when she “came out” as a dancer at a fashion show. Cheryl’s mother is a huge fan of ballroom dance, and she invested heavily in Cheryl’s training.
Cheryl Burke and Rick Fox
Professional Confidence and Personal Insecurities
Cheryl discovered her passion for ballroom dance early. She blossomed on the dance floor and loved the discipline her training required. Survivors often submerge themselves in professional passions but struggle with intimate relationships. Childhood abuse and molestation damage our sense of self.
Cheryl frames her story around dance styles. In the “Paso Doble: Fighting Back” chapter, she candidly shared how the handyman had groomed her for molestation and how she later sought validation from two abusive boyfriends. While she now intellectually appreciates the connection, it appears she’s still struggling to form healthy relationships:
I’ve seen many child psychiatrists and other therapists. . .But despite all of that counseling, I never realized then what I realize now. The molestation affected all of the relationships I’ve had over the years. It had a lot to do with my shyness and insecurity; consequently, I turned to my boyfriends for validation. I had sex at a young age because that’s what they wanted and that was my way of showing them love and of feeling loved. . .abusive relationships. . .I thought that’s what I deserved. . .
Now, if I see any early signs of domination or jealousy ~ anything that remotely seems to be crossing the line ~ I’m gone. . .
I can still be needy with men. I seem to be a happier person when I’m in a relationship than when I’m on my own. I want to be an independent woman, but there are times I crave being with someone. I’m on top of the career stuff; it’s the personal stuff that’s still a challenge.
She is justifiably proud of the strength it took for her to recognize and break the pattern of abuse in her life. She is totally committed to being healthy in every aspect of her life.
- Cheryl Burke and Emmitt Smith
Partners for a Season, Lessons for a Lifetime
Cheryl taught her celebrity partners how to dance, and they taught her life lessons:
- Drew Lachey: Be yourself in front of the cameras.
- Emmitt Smith: Respect is a two-way street. Earn it from others and demand it from yourself.
- Ian Ziering: Think bigger ~ brand yourself ~ expand your horizons.
- Wayne Newton: Always take time for others. Be kind to all your colleagues, and always leave the room with a smile on your face.
- Cristian de la Fuente: Loyalty
- Maurice Greene: Laughter is the best medicine in dealing with life’s frustrations.
- Gilles Marini: Enjoy life to its fullest. Ask yourself: Am I doing this because I love it or because it will please somebody else?
- Tom DeLay: It’s okay to agree to disagree.
- Chad Ochocinco: What you see isn’t always what you get (she recognized early that he was a player and decided not to enter into an intimate relationship with him).
- Rick Fox: Enjoy the journey.
- Drew Lachey and Cheryl Burke
It is possible to. . .win back your life.
– Cheryl Burke
Healing Doesn’t Happen Overnight
Cheryl Burke sees the healing process as a journey. She is fortunate to have strong support from her family. Her mother, who has an MBA, is actively involved in her dance studios. She also maintains solid professional relationships with her dance partners.
She survived. She’s thriving and has found joy.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness month. Please join me in wearing your purple and celebrating survivors.