DWTS pro Cheryl Burke blogs exclusively for PEOPLE

By Cheryl Burke
October 24, 2016 03:02 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 felt bad for Ryan going into last week’s dance.

Going first is never easy, but because I had to do Pitbull‘s opening number and then a quick change, I wasn’t able to give my last-minute words of encouragement to Ryan before our dance like I normally do.

But I think all of that probably helped him get out of his head. He did great and I actually believe we were under-scored a little. I agree with [judge Carrie Ann Inaba]’s critique that his musicality was off, but I didn’t think he was that off.

This week is Era Week and we have the rumba. It’s definitely been harder for Ryan because it’s a very lyrical and slower dance and we really have to be synchronized with every hip move.

But, really, every week is a roller coaster. Every Tuesday or Wednesday, as we start rehearsals, you can feel defeated. I think everyone has a moment where they think, “I don’t know if I can do this.” But you sleep on it, go back in there the next day and things start to come together.

Because Ryan is an Olympian, he quickly jumps to being hard on himself. But I work with him on not getting frustrated. He gets it eventually — it just takes time.

Craig Sjodin/ABC via Getty Images

Adding to the difficulty this week is the fact that we have a second dance to perform.

We’ve been split into two teams — Team Future and Team Past. Ryan and I are on Team Past with Artem Chigvintsev and Maureen McCormick, Sharna Burgess and James Hinchcliffe and Lindsay Arnold and Calvin Johnson. Working as a team has been great. Having Artem in the rehearsal room has been a big help because Ryan can see a professional dancer do the moves — that makes a big difference.

But Team Future is going to be tough competition. They have Laurie Hernandez and Val Chmerkovskiy and Terra Jolé and Sasha Farber, who have all been doing great, Jana Kramer and Gleb Savchenko, who are coming off a perfect score last week, and Marilu Henner and Derek Hough. I think Derek has only lost, like, one team challenge ever! And to be honest, looking at social media, people are automatically thinking Team Future is going to win because they have an upbeat song.

I thought “Team Past” would mean getting to do an upbeat dance to an MC Hammer song or something, but our song is actually pretty slow, so we’re incorporating a Renaissance theme that I think fans — and judge Len Goodman — are really going to appreciate.

This is the first time in Team Dance history that we’ve been given a slow romantic song to compete with so I think the audience it going to be pleasantly surprised because our dance will remind people of the way it used to be, the loyal fans will love it and the new fans of the show will be in awe.

I feel good about our routines this week, but Ryan always starts to get nervous at Sunday camera blocking rehearsals where people are watching us for the first time.

He’ll get tense in his shoulders and I have to tell him, “We’ve been in the bottom so many weeks, so just go out there and have fun. What do you have to lose? Absolutely nothing.” He’s only competing against himself and he continues to improve, so I’m proud of him.

I’m also just so thankful that everyone is giving Ryan a second chance. I feel like there is no way we would be here based solely on the judges’ scores, so I am so thankful that the viewers are making my first season back so special. I hope they continue to feel we’re worthy of their votes.

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