While the rest of the world was buzzing about Tom DeLay's casting on Dancing with the Stars, Cheryl Burke was busy doing her homework on the former House Majority leader. "I didn't really know anything about him. I'm not kidding," Burke tells TVGuide.com. "But I totally think it is better not to know much about your partner beforehand. I'm not starstruck — ever — and I don't treat them any differently." And she's hoping Dancing fans won't treat DeLay any differently on the show. See what else the two-time champ has to say about her partner and find out why she's no rule-breaker.
TVGuide.com: What was your reaction when you found out you were paired with Tom?
Cheryl Burke: Honestly, just like with my past partners, I had to Google him actually. [Laughs] Except for Ian Ziering because when I grew up, I wasn't allowed to watch television and I was allowed to pick one show out of the week and that was [Beverly Hills] 90210. I've heard about Tom DeLay, but I didn't really know a lot about him, so since I had to dance with him, I thought, "Why not do some research?"
TVGuide.com: What did you think after you did your research?
Burke: I was surprised he was on the show. I really didn't know what to expect. I was just hoping — after he's gone through all that past stuff — that he's a really nice guy and he really is. He's a family man. He has a great family. They're so sweet. He's the grandpa you never had. He's not that grumpy old man that people might think he is. He's a really nice guy — just a normal, down-to-earth man.
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TVGuide.com: How's he doing?
Burke: He's doing really good. For a 62-year-old man, he's in really great shape and we rehearse six days a week about four to five hours every day. He totally keeps up. He's really strong. Obviously, he's probably not as flexible or agile as all the other young competitors. But for being his age, I think he's definitely pretty good.
TVGuide.com: Obviously Tom's participation has been controversial and some think he shouldn't be on. What do you have to say about that?
Burke: This is not a political show. This has nothing to do with politics. This is all about ballroom dancing and getting a celebrity to learn how to dance. Tom has practiced dance and used to dance 20 years ago. I think people need to get over the fact about what he's done in politics. It's dancing and people should treat him the way they treat every celebrity on the show. It's a fun show; it's a family show. Tom's very brave to do this and I just hope they give him a chance before judging him.
TVGuide.com: Your first dance is the cha-cha?
Burke: Yeah, it's going OK. He's got to get his hips going a little bit more. We're working on that. He's actually picking it up fast and he just learned the choreography yesterday for the first time. He's excited. There's going to be some funny stuff in the routine. We're dancing to [The Troggs'] "Wild Thing," and Tom remembers the song coming out when he was younger, so the routine is going to take everyone back to those days!
TVGuide.com: I can't even imagine what the costumes will be like then.
Burke: [Laughs] He'll be a little conservative. I'm the wild thing! We're doing the Viennese Waltz [for the relay dance], which I think is going to be his dance. It's definitely more conservative and more classy, but he likes the cha-cha so far the best.
TVGuide.com: Maks said some people are abusing the rehearsal limit. Are you one of them?
Burke: Really? I've been following it. I feel like it's important to do that because at the end of the day, your celebrity has never done this before. I think people should follow the rule. We do about four to five hours. In Tom's case, that's all he can really do. He had to get a cortisone shot around the toe area. But the cortisone shot didn't work and he felt pain the same day he got the shot. Guys especially aren't used to wearing those Latin heels, so it's just hard on the body. We take lots of breaks. Even if I were to dance with someone young, we're still asking celebrities to put their arms and limbs out in places they've never been before. The rule should've been there a long time ago, but we've learned our lesson.
TVGuide.com: How are your dance studios and clothing line doing?
Burke: They're great. I have three dance studios now [in California] and I hope to franchise it soon and have it become something big in the United States. I want to promote physical fitness through dance. There are so many obesity problems right now and it's just important for everyone to exercise. ... I have a new clothing line for the fall. It's a "go green" line. All of the material is going to be great for the environment and it's going to be a different style than what I have now. It's going to be about comfort — hoodies, fitted sweats. I'm going to see samples in the coming weeks and you'll see me wear it on the show.
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TVGuide.com: You were so close to winning last season with Gilles. Was that hard to take, or was it not since you've already won twice?
Burke: It's never about me on the show; it's about my celebrity. Whether I have two or none, I try to get as far for my celebrity's sake. Every season I treat it like I've never been on before. With Gilles, we tried our best. At the end of the day, it was up to America. It was so close, but it was great to make it that far. Plus, a lot of people doubted him because no one really knew who he was, so to have him go this far was like we had won already.
TVGuide.com: A lot of fans still think you should've won. Some say they won't watch anymore because you didn't win, which I don't think is going to happen.
Burke: Yeah, people are still talking about it. They're all going to watch. Is anyone not going to watch with Tom on the show? C'mon!