published Wednesday, July 11th, 2012

Pierce: Even Cheryl Burke gets her confidence shaken by criticisms of her weight

IF YOU GO

She: An Expo for Women takes place 11 a.m.-7 p.m. July 21 and noon-6 p.m. July 22 at Chattanooga Convention Center, 1 Carter Plaza. Tickets are $12 at the door, $10 in advance at www.timesfreepress.com/she.

Cheryl Burke says if "Dancing With the Stars" fans believed everything tabloids printed about her, they'd think "I was a partier or I'd slept with all my partners. It's pretty ridiculous. Just because I'm on a popular TV show, I get targeted. Everyone is watching every step."

But four years ago, the tabloids took a weight potshot that really got under her skin -- not just because it was insulting and embarrassing, but it also had the potential to affect her career.

"For any woman to see 'Oh my gosh, she's fat!' -- it's a big deal," Burke exclaimed in a phone interview about the 2008 tabloid furor over a five-pound weight gain. "But especially for me because I'm a dancer and an athlete, and I feel like I'm in great shape."

Burke is the top female professional on ABC's hit dancing competition. She's the only female to win twice and has waltzed into the Final Four with her partners for eight of her 13 seasons on the show.

She will be in town Sunday, July 22, for the She expo at the Chattanooga Convention Center, where she'll dance with DWTS colleague Mark Ballas and greet fans.

During each DWTS season, Burke dances before 26 million viewers in costumes that are little more than bedazzled bikinis held together by four sequins and some flesh-tone netting. Seriously, though, there is NOWHERE to hide any unnecessary pounds on her 5-foot, 4-inch frame in those skimpy costumes.

But during that 2008 season, an unflattering photo of her in a bikini was plastered on a tabloid page mocking her weight with the accusation she was letting herself go. It launched speculative stories for weeks on whether she would be returning to DWTS, whether she was too fat for television.

"Obviously it affected me, and I just had to keep my head up. As long as I felt healthy and I felt confident in who I was, that's all that mattered," she said.

But like it would any female, the criticism shook her confidence.

"It was really hard to face millions of people that season, to be able to dance in those costumes, when they were calling me overweight," she said.

"I'm human, so it did affect me, obviously, but you have to try to move forward and not listen to what people say about you."

The dancing queen said in an interview then that she had simply enjoyed her hiatus between DWTS seasons and hadn't monitored every bite that went into her mouth.

And for that she deserved such national censure?

Sure, she's not perfect. She admits she has a guilty pleasure. It's carbs, she said.

"I'm a salty-type girl. I don't need a dessert, I'd rather eat chips and salsa or cheese and crackers," she said, laughing.

Burke faced down her critics and came in third with partner Cristian de la Fuente that season. She lost that weight plus some.

She said she learned it's important for her to "work out and sweat" every day to keep her body toned and taut for TV.

"I love Jazzercise dance workouts," she said. "That really helps me stay in shape. You burn 600-800 calories in an hour. It's a lot of fun, and it goes by fast. If I don't have time to do that, I'll hop on my treadmill and run 3 to 4 miles. Or, if I want to do yoga, I'll do that to mix it up a little."

She also said the experience reinforced the importance of believing in herself and positive affirmation.

"I try to just stay grounded, keep my close friends and family around me, because at the end of the day it (tabloid talk) is just going to eat you alive. That's what this town is all about: surviving here. Everyone is not going to love you. People are going to want to hate you. You just have to keep your head up and focus on what's important."

about Susan Pierce...

Susan Palmer Pierce is a reporter and columnist in the Life department. She began her journalism career as a summer employee 1972 for the News Free Press, typing bridal announcements and photo captions. She became a full-time employee in 1980, working her way up to feature writer, then special sections editor, then Lifestyle editor in 1995 until the merge of the NFP and Times in 1999. She was honored with the 2007 Chattanooga Woman of ...

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