Cheryl Burke on leaving 'DWTS': 'One of the hardest decisions of my life'

When Cheryl Burke decided to step away from "Dancing With the Stars" after appearing on 18 consecutive seasons as a pro, she knew she needed some time away from the "machine" of a show, despite how hard it was to leave.

Burke joined the ABC reality competition for its second season and quickly became the first female pro to win the show, following her title-run up with yet another win, making her the first pro to win back-to-back titles. Her up-and-down run continued through season 19 until Burke realized that her head wasn't in it anymore.

"You don't want to feel like a robot," she exclusively told AOL recently. "I felt like I was at a standstill before season 19, when I took my official break. At the end of the day, no one wants you there if you don't want to be there. If you're there because you think you have to be, it shows."

And, by then, she had uncovered a "formula" of sorts that had helped her to find success on the show, making it even more obvious to her that she hadn't done anything different in quite some time.

"I felt like I was on autopilot, and when I'm on autopilot, I don't bring out the best in my partner, which is not fair," she explained. "I also don't bring out the best in me, which isn't fair to me or any other dancer who wants to try [bring on the show]."

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'DWTS': Cheryl Burke and Juan Pablo Di Pace together
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'DWTS': Cheryl Burke and Juan Pablo Di Pace together
LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 15: Juan Pablo Di Pace (L) and Cheryl Burke pose at 'Dancing with the Stars' Season 27 at CBS Televison City on October 15, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by David Livingston/Getty Images)
DANCING WITH THE STARS - 'Las Vegas Night' - After taking in the music and culture of New York City on last night's show, the 12 remaining couples are set to celebrate the allure of Sin City and take a gamble on dancing to some of the city's most iconic songs as Las Vegas Night comes to 'Dancing with the Stars,' live TUESDAY, OCT. 2 (8:00-10:01 p.m. EDT), on The ABC Television Network. (Eric McCandless/ABC via Getty Images) CHERYL BURKE, JUAN PABLO DI PACE
DANCING WITH THE STARS - 'Las Vegas Night' - After taking in the music and culture of New York City on last night's show, the 12 remaining couples are set to celebrate the allure of Sin City and take a gamble on dancing to some of the city's most iconic songs as Las Vegas Night comes to 'Dancing with the Stars,' live TUESDAY, OCT. 2 (8:00-10:01 p.m. EDT), on The ABC Television Network. (Eric McCandless/ABC via Getty Images) JUAN PABLO DI PACE, CHERYL BURKE
LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 01: Juan Pablo Di Pace (L) and Cheryl Burke pose at 'Dancing with the Stars' Season 27 at CBS Televison City on October 1, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by David Livingston/Getty Images)
DANCING WITH THE STARS - 'New York City Night' - The 12 remaining couples take a bite out of the Big Apple and dance to iconic songs from the city that never sleeps, as New York City Night comes to 'Dancing with the Stars,' live, MONDAY, OCT. 1 (8:00-10:00 p.m. EDT), on The ABC Television Network. (Eric McCandless via Getty Images) CHERYL BURKE, JUAN PABLO DI PACE
DANCING WITH THE STARS - 'Episode 2701 - 'Dancing with the Stars' is back with a new, dynamic cast of 13 celebrities who are ready to move out of their comfort zones and hit the ballroom floor on a special two-night premiere. The competition begins with a two-hour season premiere, live, MONDAY, SEPT. 24 (8:00-10:00 p.m. EDT), on The ABC Television Network. (Eric McCandless/ABC via Getty Images) JUAN PABLO DI PACE, CHERYL BURKE
DANCING WITH THE STARS - 'Episode 2701 - 'Dancing with the Stars' is back with a new, dynamic cast of 13 celebrities who are ready to move out of their comfort zones and hit the ballroom floor on a special two-night premiere. The competition begins with a two-hour season premiere, live, MONDAY, SEPT. 24 (8:00-10:00 p.m. EDT), on The ABC Television Network. (Eric McCandless/ABC via Getty Images) JUAN PABLO DI PACE, CHERYL BURKE
DANCING WITH THE STARS - 'Episode 2701 - 'Dancing with the Stars' is back with a new, dynamic cast of 13 celebrities who are ready to move out of their comfort zones and hit the ballroom floor on a special two-night premiere. The competition begins with a two-hour season premiere, live, MONDAY, SEPT. 24 (8:00-10:00 p.m. EDT), on The ABC Television Network. (Eric McCandless/ABC via Getty Images) CHERYL BURKE, JUAN PABLO DI PACE
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Burke called the decision to step away from the show that made her a household name a "scary" one, because, not only was there no guaranteeing that she'd be able to return, but she also didn't want anyone to take her decision personally. It had everything to do with her personal growth and nothing to do with the show -- which she called "family."

"It was one of the hardest decisions of my life," she told AOL. "We're a family, and here I am thinking, 'What if they don't want me back?' But I knew I needed to do this for me. Sometimes we get clouded: It's twice a year, a tour and spinoffs. It's such a long show; it's a machine."

At the end of the day, though, Burke was welcomed back with open arms after she says she found her true purpose through dance and, since returning for season 23, she also competed on season 25 and the current season 27.

"It made me step out of the ['DWTS'] circle and understand my purpose," she said of leaving the show. "I started to find my calling, which was to help people through what they're going through with dance. I'm kind of like a dancing Oprah!"

In addition to finding her professional calling, Burke also found love in her ex-boyfriend, actor Matthew Lawrence, who she is now engaged to. It was finding that constant in her life that understands her busy schedule and the importance of pursuing her dreams that has allowed her to fully return to "Dancing With the Stars" and willing to help her partners achieve what they want to achieve.

"I listened to my heart: I was single and not happy in my personal life," she said. "I wanted to settle down, but I couldn't because of the crazy hours. There's no balance. But now, that's okay because I have a supportive fiancé who is in the business and understands. I needed that time."

18 PHOTOS
Cheryl Burke and Matthew Lawrence together
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Cheryl Burke and Matthew Lawrence together
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BEVERLY HILLS, CA - APRIL 20: Cheryl Burke and Matthew Lawrence attend the 25th Annual Race To Erase MS Gala at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on April 20, 2018 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by JB Lacroix/WireImage)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - APRIL 20: Matthew Lawrence (L) and Cheryl Burke attend the 25th Annual Race To Erase MS Gala at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on April 20, 2018 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Race To Erase MS)
LOS ANGELES, CA - AUGUST 10: Matthew Lawrence and Cheryl Burke attend a private event at Hyde Staples Center hosted by Sandals Resorts for the Ed Sheeran concert at Hyde Lounge at The Staples Center on August 10, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for Sandals Resorts)
Actor Matthew Lawrence and Cheryl Burke front row at TART Spring 2008 collection during Mercedes Benz Fashion Week held at Smashbox Studios on October 17, 2007 in Culver City, California. (Photo by Michael Tran/FilmMagic)
UNIVERSAL CITY, CA - AUGUST 26: Actor Matthew Lawrence and dancer Cheryl Burke arrives to the 2007 Teen Choice Awards at the Gibson Amphitheater on August 26, 2007 in Universal City, California. (Photo by Jason Merritt/FilmMagic)
UNIVERSAL CITY, CA - AUGUST 26: Actor Matthew Lawrence and dancer Cheryl Burke arrive to the 2007 Teen Choice Awards at the Gibson Amphitheater on August 26, 2007 in Universal City, California. (Photo by Jason Merritt/FilmMagic)
HOLLYWOOD - AUGUST 04: Matthew Lawrence and Cheryl Burke sigthing in West Hollywood on August 4, 2007 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Jean Baptiste Lacroix/WireImage)
Matthew Lawrence and Cheryl Burke during Us Weekly Presents Us' Hot Hollywood 2007 - Red Carpet at Sugar in Hollywood, California, United States. (Photo by Jason Merritt/FilmMagic)
Matthew Lawrence and Cheryl Burke during 'Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End' World Premiere - Arrivals at Disneyland in Anaheim, California, United States. (Photo by Steve Granitz/WireImage)
Matthew Lawrence and Cheryl Burke during Us Weekly Presents Us' Hot Hollywood 2007 - Inside at Sugar in Hollywood, California, United States. ***Exclusive*** (Photo by M. Tran/FilmMagic)
Matthew Lawrence and Cheryl Burke during 14th Annual Race to Erase MS Themed 'Dance to Erase MS' - Red Carpet at Hyatt Regency Century Plaza in Century City, California, United States. (Photo by Lester Cohen/WireImage for PMK/HBH)
Cheryl Burke and Matthew Lawrence during 'Wild Hogs' Los Angeles Premiere - Arrivals at El Capitan Theater in Hollywood, California, United States. (Photo by Steve Granitz/WireImage)
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"Dancing With the Stars" airs on Mondays at 8 p.m. EST on ABC

 

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