published Monday, July 23rd, 2012

Dancers are stars at weekend She expo (with video)

Mark Ballas, left, and Cheryl Burke dance for attendees at the She Expo, held at the Chattanooga Convention Center on Sunday. Burke and Ballas, from the television show "Dancing with the Stars," danced for the audience and took part in a question-and-answer session.
Mark Ballas, left, and Cheryl Burke dance for attendees at the She Expo, held at the Chattanooga Convention Center on Sunday. Burke and Ballas, from the television show "Dancing with the Stars," danced for the audience and took part in a question-and-answer session.
Photo by Alyson Wright.
Thousands attend second day of the She Expo
Thousands watched as Mark Ballas and Cheryl Burke from television's hit show "Dancing with the Stars" performed on stage during the second day of the She Expo, presented by the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Miranda Masters came to see Mark Ballas' booty.

"What?" she said as her friends laughed. "I'm not going to lie. That is why I am here. It's just fun to watch them dance. The ways they can move — it's just awesome."

Ballas and fellow "Dancing With the Stars" professional partner Cheryl Burke performed in front of Masters and hundreds of others Sunday as part of the final day of She: An Expo for Women at the Chattanooga Convention Center. The expo is co-sponsored by the Chattanooga Times Free Press and Memorial Health Care System.

Along with dancing, expo attendees could visit one of more than 160 booths offering everything from free food samples to help with redoing kitchen and bathroom tile. Sunday also featured cooking demonstrations, a speech by 2012 Miss Tennessee Chandler Lawson and a fashion show featuring summer and fall trends for Chattanooga.

Ballas and Burke elicited many cheers from the audience during their two-minute dance. It was choreographed by Ballas' mother, internationally known professional dancer Shirley Ballas.

"My mom was backstage going, 'No, you're doing it wrong,' before we came out here," Ballas said during the audience question-and-answer session.

Burke and Ballas said they consider themselves lucky to be working on "Dancing With the Stars." Ballas was out of work and living in England when he received an offer to do the show. Unsure, he told the show's producers he would think about it.

However, seconds later, his close friend Derek Hough, another professional partner on the show, was also offered the opportunity to join the cast.

"We thought, OK, something is telling us to go," Ballas said. "It was a Friday night, and I think, Sunday, we were in L.A."

Burke, who spoke before the duo's performance, said she was so shy before she became a "Dancing" cast member, she could barely look into someone's eyes while shaking hands. She remembers her audition for the show as brutal.

"The only costume I had was this pink frilly little thing," she said. "They told me to put it on and stand in front of the camera. I was there for two hours, and I couldn't say a complete sentence."

When she was picked for the show, Burke packed her bags, rented a car and moved from New York City to Los Angeles. She credits her first partner on the show, former boy-band singer Drew Lachey, with helping her break out of her shell and adjust to performing on television.

"I was all by myself. He really took me in and showed me how to manage, how to live the L.A. lifestyle," she said. "Having him as my partner really helped me through my nerves."

Through her life story, Burke shared her keys to a successful life with the audience: having confidence and taking chances, finding a passion and facing challenges head-on.

"Every person here is fighting through something: a tough relationship, a job or something medical," Burke said. "I am a victim of child abuse, and I never thought I would put it behind me."

Though Burke struggled for many years with problems relating to the sexual abuse she endured as a child, she has pushed through because of her drive and passion.

"If you have your dream, you can really overcome anything," she said.

When asked if she would return to the Scenic City, Burke gave a definite yes.

"I feel like my story relates to women. I feel like that's one of the reasons I was drawn here," she said. "I would definitely come back."

about Rachel Bunn...

Rachel Bunn is originally from Ellijay, Ga., and graduated from the University of Georgia with degrees in magazines and history. While at UGA, she wrote for the student magazine UGAzine, served as news editor for the student newspaper, The Red & Black, and spent a semester studying British history at Oxford University in Oxford, England. She has previously worked at The Rockdale Citizen in Conyers, Ga., and The Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the ...

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