Dance Moms airs Tuesdays (9 p.m. ET) on Lifetime

Joining Dance Moms did not happen as Cheryl Burke envisioned it would.

“I’d had a meeting with one of the executives, and I got a call a few days later from my manager saying, ‘Abby walked off set, and they’d love for you to take her place.’ I was just thrown into it,” the Dancing with the Stars pro says in the current issue of PEOPLE.

Burke joined the Lifetime reality show after original star Abby Lee Miller walked off set just weeks before being sentenced to a year in prison following her bankruptcy fraud trial.

Credit: Paul Archuleta/FilmMagic; JC Olivera/WireImage

But Burke — who will make her debut on Dance Moms on Oct. 17 — is grateful for the opportunity to work with the girls on the show and guide them in a different way than Miller had for the past six years.

  • For more from Burke — including all about falling back in love with ex-boyfriend Matthew Lawrence — pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday

“The girls told me they were traumatized by Abby,” says Burke, 33. “I’m strict, but I don’t yell. I want to make sure they don’t lose their love of dance.”

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“I understand how these kids feel pressure living in the spotlight,” she continues. “I hope I helped them get ready for the real world and gave them things to work on, rather than criticizing how they look or other things they can’t change.”

Dance Moms airs Tuesdays (9 p.m. ET) on Lifetime.