When the cameras roll on Dancing With the Stars’ 15th season—an all-star spectacular—you may be focused on your favorite returning competitor, or a pro you’ve come to love. But don’t overlook the troupe of professional dancers who perform throughout the show in special numbers and alongside musical guests. Ballroom pro Sharna Burgess is just one of those talented dancers and choreographers, and we caught up with her this summer for some behind-the-scenes scoop, as well as the lowdown on how she stays healthy on and off the show.
Spry: Are you excited that the show will have all-star competitors this season?
Sharna Burgess: It’s super exciting—it’s going to bring back some great talent. It will also be interesting to see who’s retained what they learned on the show, and who hasn’t. Maybe some have been keeping up with dance lessons. It’s going to be an extremely intense competition!
Spry: What’s it like being part of the Dancing With the Stars troupe?
SB: It’s fantastic. I love that we get to dance every week, and a lot of the time we get to choreograph, too. I love that creative process, especially when you work with talented dancers. I’m in this industry because I love to be creative, and I love to be able to explore that artistry every week.
Spry: What’s involved in being in the troupe?
SB: It’s a lot of work. We perform anywhere from one to three numbers per show. On average, we will put a number together in 5-6 hours, then come back for 4-6 hours to clean and rehearse. From there you decide, do I need another number?
[In Season 14], they added in trios and additional numbers. Sometimes we have multiple musical artists performing—plus, we even dance to bumpers in and out of commercial breaks. They up the ante as the season goes on, to keep making it exciting and fresh. We definitely do work every day, but they’re not always 12-hour days as such. We always start early on Sunday morning to get ready for show day on Monday.
Spry: What was this past season like?
SB: The talent that we had was out of this world—that’s why they could add in additional numbers. Donald Driver, the winner, is wonderful. He understands dedication and training, and it makes a difference. He had some very late nights perfecting those routines, he improved so much every week and it was noticed. In the finale, his freestyle was by far my favorite. I wanted to get up there with him! But at the same time, I was emotionally invested in all three finalists. It was bittersweet: You want someone to win, but you don’t want anyone else to lose.
Spry: Some of the injuries the contestants suffer are scary—like Melissa Gilbert’s concussion and whiplash! Do the celebrities ever ask for advice on how to avoid injury?
SB: They ask all the time for help on how to physically get through these 10 weeks. Most of the time that advice comes from their pros. It’s about eating right, warming up, cooling down, and if you do have an injury, don’t push it too far. You’ve got to work through it. Get everything checked out, have regular massages to loosen up those muscles. After the initial shock, you get into a swing of things. It’s amazing what your body can do when you push it.
Spry: Do you have a workout routine in addition to what you do day-to-day for the show?
SB: It’s difficult during the show. I do try to get it in when I have time. I like to go to the gym, get a little extra cardio and core training. What I have been doing is the Insanity workout in my lounge room. It’s only 45 minutes out of your day, and it’s by no means easy, but it’s a fantastic workout. I’m fit and it’s hard! I saw results and changes in my body right away.
Spry: What about your eating habits? Do you follow a specific plan?
SB: I like to try and keep as healthy as I can. That doesn’t mean I’m an angel! In the morning if I have a really big day ahead of me, I love to have a protein pancake made with oats, egg whites and some bananas or strawberries. I can snack through the day but that sustains me quite well. I’ve noticed that if I make a conscious effort to choose vegetables to snack on instead of saltine crackers, it works out better! I take vitamins and drink a lot of water, and that helps me get through my days. Water is magic—when I haven’t had enough, I feel it in the evening. When I’m not working, I like to have five to six small meals a day. I try to have red meat only once a week. I eat a lot of fish, a lot of salad, and a lot of green vegetables.
Spry: What do the judges look for over the course of the season?
SB: At the core, they look for improvement. I think it’s almost become specific to the person, the dance, what they’re looking for the next week. If they had sloppy arms or bad posture one week, that’s what they look at the next week. That’s what you do as a dancer—you work on your faults.
Spry: Do you have a dream celebrity contestant?
SB: My favorite man in Hollywood is Josh Hartnett. I think he’s gorgeous. I’ve had a secret crush on him for years. That’s someone I’d love to get on the dance floor!
Spry: Dance reality shows are having a big moment—there are several new ones on TV, like the CW’s Breaking Pointe and Ovation’s Chance to Dance. How do people in the industry feel about them?
SB: I think you can’t fault what dance shows have done for dance, especially Dancing With the Stars. People thought ballroom dancing was nerdy or something their grandparents did, and the show has shown that hot, young, sexy people do it, and that everybody can try it. It’s really educated the public about the world of dance, and put dance into the living rooms of American people. It’s helping our art take off and stay alive and current.
Spry: What would you say to someone who’s watched the show and is interested in learning to dance?
SB: Take a salsa class with a bunch of friends. You will have so much fun, and you don’t stop moving. That’s the beauty about dancing—you don’t feel like you’re running on a treadmill and doing 200 crunches. You don’t realize that your heart rate is going up and down! Dance of any form is a fantastic way to stay in shape and get healthy.