Dancing with the Stars‘ Cheryl 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!
Following an incident on Monday night’s live premiere episode in which two men stormed the stage to protest Lochte‘s participation as a contestant on season 23, Burke reflects on the moments before, during and after the emotional ordeal.
Before everything happened last night, Ryan and I were on such a high from our foxtrot. He nailed it and I was proud of him. I could tell he was proud as well.
That confidence was something that definitely wasn’t there at camera blocking on Sunday. Ryan was so nervous that it felt like his heart was beating outside his chest. And since we went second-to-last on Monday, I could feel his hands beginning to sweat as we watched from backstage while everyone else performed.
He was particularly nervous about how the audience was going to receive him. But after the opening number last night, I told him, “Did you hear people cheering? All these people are here for you and cheering for you.”
Just before our dance I told him, “It’s just you and me out there. Let’s do this.” And we really did. I couldn’t have asked him to dance any better. I could tell Ryan was glad it was over but also that he felt good about what we’d done.
We were standing there listening to [judge Carrie Ann Inaba] give us her thoughts when I suddenly saw someone walking onto the ballroom floor in a t-shirt with a red line through Ryan’s last name. My first thought was, “Is this a joke? Is this scripted and no one told us? Too soon, guys.” But as soon as he started yelling “Boo! Lochte! Liar! Lochte!” I realized it was a serious situation.
My mind started racing. My initial concern was if the guy was armed or not. DWTS is a family show and I knew there were kids in the audience and I just didn’t want anyone to get hurt.
Then I saw Dave – one of our security guys who I’ve known for years – come in and tackle this guy.
I looked up to Ryan and I could tell he was on the verge of tears. I could feel his heart sinking into his stomach – and to be honest, mine was too. They cut to commercial break and I just had him lock eyes with me and I was telling him, “You’re amazing. Don’t forget why you’re here.”
I started getting teary eyed and apparently was shaking, but I didn’t even realize that until someone else pointed it out to me. I just wanted to be strong for Ryan. The first thing he did was turn to me and say, “I’m so sorry.” I just told him, “Never tell me you’re sorry again. These tears are just because I don’t want you to be hurt or for you to lose your spirit.”
Ryan really is such an amazing guy. I can’t say that enough. Anyone who has watched me on the show over the years has seen me with partners I haven’t connected to or had chemistry with and you can clearly see that we have a sibling bond. I almost feel like I’m a motherly figure to him right now.
Ryan’s actual mom was in the audience and I just saw her bawling. After the show, I went up to her and just held her as she cried. She was with some other members of Ryan’s family and they all started apologizing. I told them, “You all need to stop apologizing to me. Ryan is a great guy and I have his back 100 percent, so let’s all keep moving forward and our heads up.”
And we are definitely moving forward.
This morning, I got up and headed to rehearsal with the other pro dancers. Everyone is definitely a little shaken up about what happened, but it’s good to be dancing and focused on next week’s show.
I’m sure security will be increased for Monday’s show but, honestly, I still feel 100 percent safe in the ballroom. We have an amazing security team who have worked on the show for years and they are incredible.
This afternoon I’m headed to rehearse with Ryan. I know it will probably take us a few weeks to put this incident behind us, but I know Ryan wants to move forward and he’s not going to let this bring him down.
We have a quickstep this week and Ryan did injure his ankle a little when the protester got tackled, so we’ll have to see how our first rehearsal goes. But at the end of the day, we are all just so grateful that no one was more seriously injured.
This is a family-friendly show that should never be the source of any hate. It’s about celebrating dance and making people happy and I look forward to getting back to that next week.
Dancing with the Stars airs Mondays and Tuesdays on ABC.