The pro dancer's Olympian partner proposed to his girlfriend Oct. 9

By Cheryl Burke
October 17, 2016 04:45 PM

Dancing with the StarsCheryl Burke has returned to the reality dance competition she first joined in 2006, and is blogging about season 23 exclusively for PEOPLE. Follow Burke and her partner Ryan Lochte, both 32, on Twitter!

I could not be more proud Ryan after last Monday!

I knew Most Memorable Year week was going to be emotional for everyone, but I think it was the first time Ryan was really able to show his true self.

When the video package about his journey was airing right before our performance, I told him, “Don’t watch it. You’ll start being emotional and lose your concentration.” But he wanted to watch it and I think it ultimately helped him tap into the emotion of the piece.

But, really, I think Ryan felt connected to the dance the entire week of rehearsal. He wanted to honor his mom and tell his story. He listened to the music and tapped into everything that he’s gone through, both the good and the bad.

And I’m glad he was picking up the dance so quickly because I knew Sunday his mind would be elsewhere as he had to leave early to go propose to his girlfriend, Kayla.

I knew he’d been wanting to propose to her for a long time and he had this whole plan. He was nervous she wouldn’t say yes, but I knew that wasn’t a possibility. She’s as crazy about him as he is about her. They are meant to be together. She’s his rock.

Having his fiancée and mom in the audience really helped Ryan on Monday, I think. After every other performance we’d done, he always say he’d blacked out and didn’t remember what happened. This time, he was completely present and was basking in the glory of a great routine.

But you really can never celebrate on Dancing with the Stars because it’s right into rehearsal for the next dance.

Craig Sjodin/ABC via Getty Images

Rehearsals have become increasingly intense because the routines just keep getting longer. It used to be a just a minute, but now our music is 45 seconds longer.

To make it harder, this is Latin Week, so there are more steps than ever.

Ryan and I are dancing a salsa to a song by Celia Cruz. I requested this song because it’s one I dance to when I go out with friends. That’s important because I want to constantly remind Ryan that he should be having fun.

Ryan’s confidence is up because we got three 8s from the judges last week and that’s great — our best scores yet — but that still left us at the bottom of the leader board. And our last Latin dance, a cha cha, didn’t go as well as it could of, so I need Ryan focused on the details now. I know he can do it if he just stays in the right mindset.

There are a lot of moving parts to our salsa. There’s tons of content, we’re using black light and there will be a lot of clothes being ripped off. We have to be perfect with those aspects of the routine because one minor malfunction could throw off the entire performance.

At the end of the day, this dance is going to come down to confidence. If Ryan feels awkward, then the routine is going to look awkward. I need him out there feeling cool and sexy and confident because then I know we’ll have a great night.

Dancing with the Stars airs Mondays (8 p.m. ET) on ABC.