‘DWTS’ Star Cheryl Burke Talks Being Sober, Says Dance and Sobriety Are Something You Have To ‘Do Consciously’

Cheryl Burke is a professional ballroom dancer, two-time Mirror Ball champion on Dancing With the Stars, and co-host on the Pretty Messed Up podcast. During a Zoom call with Showbiz Cheat Sheet, Burke discussed the similarities between her addiction and professional ballroom training experience. 

Cheryl Burke
Cheryl Burke | Paul Archuleta/Getty Images

Cheryl Burke is sharing her sobriety journey with fans on the ‘Pretty Messed Up’ podcast 

Burke and her season 29 partner AJ McLean started the Pretty Messed Up podcast in 2020. Together with their co-host René Elizondo, the trio examines the many facets of recovery. 

McLean and Elizondo are both sober, too. Throughout their partnership on and off the show, Burke and McLean have learned a lot from each other. 

During our conversation, Burke told Showbiz Cheat Sheet the biggest takeaway from working with McLean is how incredible allowing herself to be vulnerable can be. Burke, who has been sober for two years, continues to work every day at her recovery. 

Cheryl Burke’s alcohol abuse used to impact her work on ‘DWTS’

During a conversation on the podcast, Burke explained how she never used to view her addiction as a problem. Her drinking didn’t interfere with her work on Dancing With the Stars…until it did. 

Ironically, a stressful moment on DWTS caused Burke’s drinking to increase. 

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“One season I danced with Chad OchoCinco [Johnson],” Burke said of her season 10 experience, continuing:

I remember messing up on my own choreography.

It was this crazy voice in my head saying, ‘Go the other way, go the other way.’ Ever since that traumatic time, I drank way more because I was so scared of that voice.

I was self-sabotaging and from then on, I felt like my career plummeted down. I felt like I wasn’t as good because my mental state wasn’t as good.

From then on, Burke said she was drinking for a reaction — to feel something. 

Cheryl Burke used to drink to ‘numb’ herself 

“I don’t think I ever drank socially,” Burke said during the “Ask Us Anything” episode of the podcast. “I drank for a reaction, which was to numb myself and to be more social. It was never just to have one cocktail. I don’t think I’ve ever had that.” 

Fortunately, Burke has changed her ways. 

Learning a dance and being sober are about retraining your brain, according to Cheryl Burke

Learning the steps to a ballroom dance requires training and dedication. In Burke’s mind, achieving a healthy, sober life requires those same things. 

“I was in his shoes learning how to Argentine Tango,” Burke said during a conversation about her Backstreet Boy partner entering season 29 with a dance background. Contrary to popular belief, it’s harder to work with a dancer who has prior experience, in Burke’s opinion. 

“Having to un-train my brain is one of the hardest things ever,” she added. Burke said that was true in many facets of her life, both in the ballroom and in combatting her addiction to alcohol.

“Which brings us back to addiction and all of that as well,” she continued. “Like it has to be a conscious effort — it has to be something that you do consciously.” 

For Burke, adjusting to a sober lifestyle has been like training the muscles in her body to stay in hold or moving her feet in a way that mimics a traditional dance style.