I have wanted to be on Dancing with the Stars ever since the very first episode.
I recall vividly watching in amazement from my bed. I thought, “Wow! This is so CLASSIC and COOL!” I loved that one of my pop cohorts, New Kids on the Block’s Joey McIntyre, was appearing on the show. Seeing these pop culture icons in this ballroom setting was truly unique.
At that time, I was doing lots of theater, working out and doing yoga daily, walking my dogs up and down the hill an hour each day to go get my morning coffee … it would have been a no-brainer to be on this show.
But just under 5 years ago, I began experiencing some pretty crazy health issues: neurological symptoms, debilitating pain and structural issues in my spine, joint pain and weakness, weight loss. At my worst moment I couldn’t ride my Huffy bike around the neighborhood. Though I continued to perform, I cut my work down from five to eight shows a week to one show every six weeks or so.
I had to keep doing what I loved for my spirit and for my audience, who have been loyal to me for 30 years. I think I would have died without performing at all, literally. I came to learn one year into this maze that the culprit was Lyme disease. [Editor’s Note: Lyme disease is a potentially debilitating infection caused by bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi and transmitted through the bite of an infected blacklegged tick.]
That, along with adrenal fatigue from performing since the age of 6 and normal life stressors, led me into a chapter I am still finding my way out of.
I actually got offered the chance to do DWTS before, but at the time I was going through the fire again (this thing tends to cycle) and knew that I could not endure the rigorous training schedule. But little did I know I might have been better equipped to do the show then than now.
When the offer came again, I got even more focused on getting strong and vowed to rest and then rebuild in time for my DWTS journey. This latest part of the process had a definite upswing followed by some unexpected twists and turns that, yet again, prevented me from doing any consistent rigorous activity. I was the girl who was always over-prepared. The idea of my prep being purely about “resting” was very daunting.
I had gone to the DWTS Live Tour in Las Vegas after I signed on to do the show and so enjoyed meeting all the cast. In studying videos of the pros and reflecting on the live show, I had two potential partners on my wish list as well as one former pro I thought could be a good choice to bring back.
One of my choices was Alan [Bersten], and I even went on record on camera to say so before I knew!
The moment I found out my partner was Alan, I was thrilled, surprised and set at ease. Truth is, I kept requesting to be paired with someone older and more experienced as a pro to be properly taken care of, but as someone who preaches “agelessness,” I should have known better than to have any pre-conceived notions.
Alan is a fabulous teacher and wise and evolved beyond his years. He’s creative and strict in his attention to detail but also patient, has a nurturing quality and is so full of joy. Those are all healing and supportive qualities. He is hard-working and disciplined and is bringing out the best in me in rehearsals!
The start to this whole process has been a roller coaster. I cry nearly every day because I feel at risk of getting “stuck” in a moment. Instead, I have worked every day for a month, which is more than I have worked over the course of the whole last year.
I try not to focus on what I once could do, but instead, where I am now and what I will eventually be able to do.
Our first dance is the foxtrot, which is super cool. We’d touched on several dance styles the first few days of rehearsals, and this one quickly became a favorite. When the news came the producers had chosen “Lost in Your Eyes” as our first song, I was surprised! It took me a moment to process that I would be hearing my teenage self while taking my first steps on the DWTS ballroom floor! It’s totally surreal, but a profound way to start this journey.
Rehearsals have been bringing us something different every day. The frustrating part is having the desire to work every minute of the allotted time but needing to pace myself and to back off when I am having a day where nerve pain or muscles not firing becomes an issue. I have to be careful, because that could cause more intense permanent problems if I don’t take care of myself.
So we are navigating what each day brings. But I feel alive and joyful and am taking in each and every moment, because this is a once in a lifetime, unique experience that I am already so grateful for! This experience has re-ignited the part of me that grew up in rehearsal studios, and there’s no turning back!
The cast, crew, troupe, creative team, producers and everyone associated with this show are all amazing. DWTS attracts really inspirational people. [Paralympic swimmer] Victoria Arlen’s story astounds me, [YouTube violin sensation] Lindsey Stirling is someone I have always admired musically, [Grease Live and Hamilton star] Jordan Fisher is one to watch, [Shark Tank‘s] Barbara Corcoran has kept me laughing, and [Cocoran’s partner] Keo Motsepe has been so conscious of my sensitivities to fragrances — that floored me. Mark Ballas became a friend years ago and is magic on that dance floor, Nick and Vanessa [Lachey] are as cool and down home as they get, [Pretty Little Liars‘] Sasha Pieterse is such a sweetie … I could go on and on about how fantastic this cast is!
Apart from what happens in front of the cameras, I live for interaction with quality people and I already have encountered so many fantastic ones here at DWTS.
We shot the opening sequence a few nights ago at a soundstage in Santa Clarita with the amazing Mandy Moore choreographing a flash mob with all the cast and over 500 background players! It was FANTASTIC and the experience touched on every reason why I ever wanted to be in show biz. The atmosphere was electric, the costumes phenomenal, even [head judge] Len Goodman got into the act, and we all shared one big trailer! Every celeb was featured in a way that reflected their career and personality. They built me a glitzy round concert stage, and I performed as a drone camera shot the scene from above. I cannot wait to see the end result!
Going into premiere night tonight is nerve-wracking for sure. It is kind of like singing the National Anthem! You work and work for that minute or two of performance. The goal is to stay in the moment, block out the noise, focus on your partner and live the dance to its fullest extent.
I am an anxious, adrenaline-hyped, type-A person to begin with, so coming out in a gown and doing a slow, controlled number is a challenge, but I am so looking forward to it! There are so many crazy things going on in our world right now, and it’s easy to forget this is supposed to be FUN! So I am going to leave it all out there and bring my best!
As far as competition goes, it is anyone’s Mirrorball to win. I think the judges take into account which celebs have dance experience, where people are in their personal journeys and how they progress. My goal is to grow week to week! I think Mark and Lindsey and Jordan and Lindsay [Arnold] are going to be incredibly fun to watch! But so many of the other teams are new to my world, and I’m sure are full of surprises!
On behalf of #TeamSonBerst, thank you all in advance for tuning into this uplifting show!
Dancing with the Stars premieres Monday at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.