What can a 26-year-old dancer teach us about life? As it turns out, plenty. Two-time Dancing With the Stars champion Cheryl Burke shares a powerful and surprising story -- part memoir, part self-help -- in her new autobiography, Dancing Lessons (John Wiley & Sons, February). The book's chapters are cleverly divided into the various dances that the ballroom champion demonstrates each season on the hit TV show. Through those dances she weaves fitness tips, behind-the-scenes stories about her numerous celebrity partners and, most importantly, revealing details about her past, which are as inspiring as they are surprising.
The book makes public for the first time several stunning personal revelations, among them, her being molested by a trusted family friend when she was just five years old. Burke's testimony as a child helped prosecutors convict that predator who served 20 years behind bars for his crimes. She admits the emotional scars from that experience affected much of her young life and adolescence, particularly in her choice of men, some of whom she claims were psychologically and physically abusive. She recounts painful confrontations that left her battered but not broken. Some are stories that, unfortunately, sound all too common, but are no less shocking, especially coming from a young woman who seems to "have it all."
Burke shows plenty of smarts and lots of moxie in dealing with issues that confront many women ranging from body image to relationships. This non-traditional beauty, who is a fan favorite on the show, admits her struggles with self-confidence and even with her weight, an Achilles heel of virtually everyone I know. Burke dismisses her "party girl" image presented by the paparazzi whom she says stalked her and made her life miserable.
The revelations are often heartbreaking and empowering as Burke moves from victim to victor over her demons and blossoms into a star performer and savvy business woman. The striking young dancer told me that her parents never knew about some of the incidents she recounts until they read about them in her book. She says they continue to grapple with the guilt that all parents inevitably suffer when their children are hurting.
But this is not a pity party. Burke considers these challenges to be a valuable education in her journey toward becoming a strong, independent woman and a burgeoning brand and celebrity in her own right. It is a quick read but a moving one. It is definitely a book I will share with both of my daughters, who will no doubt find there is much to learn from Cheryl Burke's lessons on and off the dance floor.
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