"I feel like a protective mother," Burke writes of her new partner, who became embroiled in scandal after he competed in the Rio Olympics

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

I can’t believe it’s time for the premiere!

It’s been a few seasons since I’ve experienced everything that goes into DWTS and let me tell you, there’s nothing like diving right back into the thick of it!

To give you an idea of what kind of hours we’ve been working, here’s a bit of my schedule from last week ….

On Tuesday, we flew from Los Angeles to New York City so we could appear on Good Morning America with the whole cast. We arrived in New York, checked into our hotel and then I went straight to rehearsal with the other pro dancers for a few hours. Our call time for GMA was 3 a.m., which was just midnight L.A. time, so I didn’t get any sleep. We did GMA Wednesday morning, then some press afterward and headed straight to the airport to head back to L.A. When we landed in L.A., we went straight to the studio to rehearse until midnight. Thursday, we rehearsed for about six hours in the morning and then went to The Ellen DeGeneres Show. Friday, we were back in the rehearsal studio at 8 a.m.

And this is just week 1! It gets way more intense the deeper into the season we get.

It is as exhausting as it sounds but truthfully, it’s exhilarating. The excitement and energy that goes into producing this show on a weekly basis is like nothing else in entertainment or on television.

I’ve seen a lot of improvement in Ryan since we started rehearsals two weeks ago. He has a lot going on in his life right now that is weighing on him, but he’s done a great job at keeping his head in the game and thinking positively. I actually think being distracted by rehearsal is helping him deal with it all.

Ryan is always focused and on time, if not early, to rehearsal. He’s working so hard, but he’s a perfectionist and he can get frustrated, which makes me frustrated, which means we don’t get anything done. But for the most part we are making sure each other is having a good time through the process.

Ryan has struggled at times in rehearsal, but he has moments where things come together and he looks like a dancer. He has a lot of potential and if we continue on this journey, I think I can really turn him into a really great dancer. I’m pushing him harder than other partners I’ve had since I see that potential in him.

For the premiere, we are dancing a foxtrot to Michael Bublé’s “Call Me Irresponsible.” Every dance has its challenges – especially for a newcomer – but the foxtrot is a really great dance to teach Ryan the basics of ballroom dance.

I want Ryan to just go out there and look classy tonight. Through the dance, we’re sort of telling the story of what’s happened with him recently. At the beginning of the dance, we are fighting and I don’t want anything to do with him. But the theme of the dance is forgiveness and giving people chances.

I feel like a protective mother because I just really want people to give Ryan a chance. I adore him and the last thing I want is for him to not have a great experience on DWTS. I hope people put themselves in his shoes for a second and realize he’s being really vulnerable by coming on this show and doing something he’s never done before.

I know Ryan has a lot of nerves and anxiety going into tonight’s premiere, but this is also my first DWTS live show in a few years and I have those feelings as well. It’s been comforting to know that we are both going through those emotions. We’ve just been reminding each other that dance makes people happy – and that’s really why we’re doing what we’re doing. I just hope that comes through in our dance tonight.

Season 23 of Dancing with the Stars premieres Monday at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.