Is Tonight Cheryl Burke's Final Dance on 'Dancing With the Stars'?

Kristyn Burtt

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AJ McLean with Cheryl Burke. Photo credit: ABC/Eric McCandless.

"Dancing With the Stars" is wrapping up season 29 and crowning a Mirrorball Trophy winner on Monday, but one of the dancers might also be saying goodbye to the show. All season long, pro Cheryl Burke has been hinting that retirement might be in the cards. Is this her last season on the ballroom floor?

"My hips don't lie, and I'm starting to get tendonitis. For a woman, as far as ballroom dancing competitively goes, normally in their 30s [they retire]," Burke said on Barstool Sports' "Chicks in the Office" in early November. "I'm 36, so it's like, 'Okay, time to hang up those shoes.' "

If Burke does decide that season 29 is her swan song, there will be little fanfare from the TV show. There won't be highlights of her 22 seasons as a pro or even a bouquet of flowers to thank her for the incredible years she put into "Dancing With the Stars." It will be up to the fans to remember Burke's contributions and her memorable moments.

As viewers watch the anything-goes freestyle dances on Monday night, many won't even realize that it was Burke who was the game-changer for those final numbers. The season 1 finale was filled with traditional ballroom dances, but when she joined the show in Season 2, she came up with a piece with her partner Drew Lachey that will go down in 'Dancing With the Stars" history.

"I wanted to have more of a Latin influence in our music and our routine, something that would feel more traditional and comfortable for the kind of partner dancing I was used to," Burke reminisced in her memoir "Dancing Lessons" about their final piece. "But Drew was adamant that his country song ["Save A Horse (Ride A Cowboy)" by Big & Rich] would be great for our freestyle. He insisted that this was exactly what the producers meant when they said to let loose and do something original and completely unexpected."

The self-described "play-by-the-rules girl" stepped outside her comfort zone to create a freestyle that set the bar for every finale dance in future seasons — and gave the couple a mirrorball-trophy win. It was even a life-changing moment for her career, too. "When Drew and I threw out the rule book and just went freestyle, it kicked off a new life for me. It was a new beginning," she wrote.

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Cheryl Burke with Drew Lachey. Photo credit: ABC.

Burke was not only the first female pro to win a Mirrorball trophy, but she was also the first pro to win back-to-back trophies. She repeated her success in season 3 when her partner, former NFL player Emmitt Smith, took home the prize. Burke attributed their win to Smith's strong work ethic and the fact that "he just wanted to be the best possible dancer he [could] be."

Things weren't always rosy on "Dancing With the Stars," though. Burke admitted on the "Allegedly" podcast in 2016, that her season 4 partner, "Beverly Hills 90210" star Ian Ziering, wasn't that easy to get along with. She described him as "very intense" and even tried to get them voted off the show early.

"It made me want to slit my wrists," she shared. "I was like crying to executives. I was like is there any way to please to just eliminate us? They're like we can't. We can't do that and I swear, every time I asked, we just kept going. We would last till the end."

While Burke went on to regret being so frank about her experience with Ziering — and even issued an apology on Twitter — she's continued to be one of the most honestly candid pros on the show. Burke never shies away from controversies about judging or whether "Dancing With the Stars' is rigged.

"I can tell you that the show is not rigged, despite what people might think," wrote Burke in her Season 25 Us Weekly blog. "The votes are 50/50 from the judges and the fans. That’s how this process works; the fans want to feel involved with their actual journey." She also wisely warns that "you can never assume anyone is safe even if they get a perfect score" because that unexpected exit of a strong dance competitor happens every season.

The show also brought out her softer side in partners like season 13's Rob Kardashian and season 17's Jack Osbourne — viewers got to see the sweet, sisterly side to her personality. She nurtured the dancers to finale finishes and choreographed to their graceful strengths on the ballroom floor. Both celebs still rank high on Burke's list of her favorite partners.

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Cheryl Burke with Rob Kardashian. Photo credit: ABC.

“When I had Rob Kardashian, when I danced with him or Jack Osbourne, it was awesome because people were like: ‘Oh, these people are going to be gone by week two, week three.’ And then we take them all the way to the finals and you get more credit for actually doing that than winning another [Mirror]ball,” she reminisced on the "Allegedly" podcast in 2016.

Burke is also a part of one of the scariest moments in "Dancing With the Stars" history when her partner, Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte, was rushed by protestors by the judges' table just a moment after finishing his first dance. The moment stunned everyone in the ballroom that night, but Burke applauded Lochte for trying to move forward with a fresh start after lying about a vandalism incident at the Rio Olympics.

“I’m shocked and hurt for Ryan,” she explained to ABC News. “He’s an amazing guy. He’s great, he’s kind, and he’s just here working his butt off and trying to do what he’s supposed to be doing, which is dancing. So I hope people give him a chance.”

Never in her wildest dreams did Burke think ballroom training would lead her to work with athletes, actors, and politicians, but she will be remembered most for how she helped shape "Dancing With the Stars' during its formative years. She's delivered memorable moments on and off the ballroom floor that will shine brighter than any Mirrorball trophy — which is a legacy she should be proud of.

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Kristyn Burtt is a commercial dance journalist, TV host and producer. She was the West Coast correspondent and host of "To the Pointe" on Dance Network for five years. Her coverage of "So You Think You Can Dance," "Dancing With the Stars" and "World of Dance" is popular with dance fans across the globe. Kristyn's love of dance began early in her life. She trained at the Boston Ballet School, danced with Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre in "The Nutcracker" and won a dance scholarship to New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, where she graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts. She currently serves on the American Dance Movement’s Marketing & PR Committee and is a member of the Television Academy and SAG-AFTRA.

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