Growing up in the world of dance, Sharna Burgess has taken the love and passion she has for movement into a career filled with top-tier dance championships. At the age of 5, Burgess began training in ballet, jazz and gymnastics. By the age of 15 she was chosen to represent Australia at the World Championships in both the Standard and Latin styles, and performed in the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games closing ceremony. The Australian ballroom dancer is known for her role as a professional dancer on the hit ABC competition series, Dancing With The Stars. After 14 seasons on the show, she has taken a step back to pursue her role in motherhood. Her innate and welcoming personality has given her a persona in empowering women both on and off the dance floor.
LASM: Tell me a little bit about yourself—who are you and what has led you to where you are now?
Sharna: I’m an Australian ballroom dancer, born in a little country town. I could never have dreamt that my life was going to end up here. I feel like I’ve lived several lifetimes already. My dream as a kid was to be a world-champion ballroom dancer or own a dance studio in Australia. A lot of factors had to align to lead me to Hollywood and television, but nothing that I could have planned. I moved to London when I was 18 to further my dance career. I had just recovered from a long-lasting knee injury and a history of rebellious adolescence. I was in London for a couple of years on a visa, working three jobs just to afford to dance; they were hard times but offered the most valuable lessons of my life. Once my visa ran out, I wasn’t sure how I was going to afford to dance without work when I was offered a stage show called Burn the Floor. I told myself, “I’m just gonna do it for a couple of months and gather some money, and figure out my next move.” But that show let me fall in love with dance all over again; performing for enjoyment rather than critique, nor placement, just to make people feel—that’s what I loved about dance. I never left touring. “A couple of months” turned into six years, which led me to Broadway in 2009. Broadway in 2009 is where Dancing with the Stars found me, that was how I ended up in American television. A world I never expected to find myself in. This little country kid from Wagga Wagga, Australia somehow stumbled on Hollywood TV. I could not have planned it, and I couldn’t have written it, but I’m grateful for it every single day.
LASM: What were some specific challenges that you faced, and how did you overcome them?
Sharna: Some of the biggest challenges have been adjusting to a completely different environment. I’m very much a “heart on your sleeve,” “open book” kind of person. And suddenly I was in this industry where that can very quickly get you in trouble or land you somewhere that isn’t serving you. I had to learn, very quickly, how to be smart in the business. I wasn’t familiar with contracts, or the business side of the entertainment industry. You certainly learn those lessons the hard way; when you sign a contract you sign your soul away, and you are locked into that period of time or whatever percentage managers or publicists wanted of your profit. Eventually, I developed the voice to say, “I’m not okay with this.” I learned to comb through agreements, and gather receipts. You learn to trust your gut and advocate for yourself if something seems awry.
LASM: What advice would you have for someone that’s seeking to reconnect with themselves, as you did with your love of dance?
Sharna: When I was younger, dance was my only way of connecting with myself; I used it as my escape. I came from a broken home that was quite tumultuous and dance helped me work through my emotions. As I got older I still had dance, but it was also my job and so I needed to find some other outlet. That’s when I found journaling, gratitude practice, therapy, and meditation. In an industry as competitive as dance, you start comparing yourself to other people and can get derailed from your plans and belief systems. Comparison to others will take away your motivation, and your confidence, and it’ll plant insecurities. This self-care helps me refocus so I can say, “I love that for that person, but that doesn’t work for me and my needs.” Especially being a woman, we’ve grown up in this society where we’re pitted against each other, so it’s really important to actively unlearn those lessons and rather focus on ourselves. Find those tools that help you connect with yourself, and stay focused on your own goals and dreams.
LASM: What does your self-care routine look like?
Sharna: My self-care routine has changed so much over the years. One of the biggest game changers was practicing gratitude, which was my soft start to mastering your morning. I used to wake up and immediately grab my phone, look at social media or look at my emails and start my day with what everybody else needs from me or what everybody else is accomplishing. Now my mornings are about focusing on myself—let’s turn off the alarm, put my phone aside and do some gratitude practice. I found that just making that time for myself built a love for those self-love practices. I started getting into meditation and built a morning ritual. It completely changed my life; I noticed that the way I would react to things was nicer and more open-hearted, I saw more light and opportunity in the world. I opened the door to it and that flow of good energy just kept bringing things back to me. And then recently I started dating someone with kids and I realized how much change your morning routine experiences as a mum. I’ve been figuring out how to adjust my plan. It’s been a really beautiful learning curve for me. Now I focus on practicing gratitude at breakfast with the kids and focus on everything else while they’re at school. Each person’s self-care routine will be different based on their lifestyle and may adjust as these beautiful life changes occur. But allotting time for yourself in whatever routine you can create, is a game changer.
LASM: Is there anyone that instilled this principle in you?
Sharna: Yes and no. The reason I started to reevaluate my own needs was that I got to 30 and realized that I had been in one toxic relationship after another. I was a serial monogamist from the age of 15 and I realized that I was continuously molding myself into whoever that other person needed, but had no idea who I am and what I wanted. That’s when I decided to take the time and figure out who I am. Telling myself I wouldn’t date for 18 months turned into five and a half years of being single. I attracted an entirely new group of people into my life and two of my very best friends, Ryan and Kennedy. They’re spiritual, powerful and wonderful humans—their lessons and language opened me to conversations about accountability and vulnerability, life and needs. Sometimes you hit a point in your life where you realize your options are to change or live the rest of your life stagnant.
LASM: Do these self-reflection practices ever directly help you to elevate your career?
Sharna: When you truly embody your own self-worth and begin to reflect that self-love and respect, you radiate an energy that people become very attracted to. You start bringing in wonderful, connections, relationships, and opportunities. When I solely focused on making things better at work, I suffered. But when I focused on making things better internally, everybody benefited. I choreographed the best thing when I feel whole and complete. The only way to move forward is to trust in your own talent, direction and decisions, trying to focus on what others want will stop you short of what you can accomplish. In Dancing with the Stars I choreographed some of my greatest pieces and built lifelong friendships and connections, which in turn introduced new opportunities. I attracted that energy, I attracted those people, I am someone people want to be around because of that internal trust.
LASM: What has been your favorite part of your career? And separately, your favorite part of Dancing with the Stars?
Sharna: It’s tough to separate those two because Dancing with the Stars has been such a huge piece of my career. I will say, though, being on Broadway was unbelievable. It was also some of the hardest, most physically excruciating, demanding work I’ve done. Eight shows a week with rehearsals and work because I was in my 20s and trying to make it. That was the space that allowed me to think, “If I got here, where else could I go? What’s next?” Dancing with the Stars came after that. And there was performing at the Olympics closing games in Sydney when I was 15. At that age, I could barely process how huge that was, but there were over 100,000 people screaming and cheering. It was a long time ago now but I still remember it so vividly. And in Dancing with the Stars, I got to meet some of the most incredible people. One of my dance partners, Noah Galloway, was an Army veteran and double amputee. It was a huge learning curve for me in learning to redefine dance, but this man is this incredibly strong, amazing guy who trusted me to tell his story through dance. I still watch back on some of those moments and cry. The greatest part about it was how family and loved ones around him attested to his newfound confidence, how he would walk better on his prosthetics and felt more agile— more comfortable in his body—than he was when he started. James Hinchcliffe was a racecar driver who flatlined after a huge crash and was revived, and our dance was focused around that time in between—we crafted a story of his fight back. He gave me his race suit at the end of the season and said, “You just finished my whole story. You finished the final chapter and gave me absolute closure.” I cried; that I got the gift of being able to create that for someone, through dance, is something I could never have imagined I was going to get to do.
LASM: What advice would you have for someone who is looking into the dance industry?
Sharna: I have all different versions of advice. Of course, and we hear this often, it is a really difficult industry to succeed in—but that doesn’t mean giving up. You have to know that you want it because you’re going to get a thousand “no’s” and you get a “yes.” You just have to survive all of that and continue working hard until you attract an opportunity for yourself. The universe will provide a way for you to succeed. And you have to be open to your dreams changing shape, you never know what’s gonna turn up. My other piece of advice is to keep educating yourself while you are continuing on the path of your dream. Being a dancer in this industry has an expiry date, so keep a plan for afterward and start building it while you’re still in your prime. There are tons of opportunities within your capacity as a creative being, so observe the best and learn how they’re finding their success. Educate yourself on how you can make a lifelong career out of being a creative person. Don’t neglect that potential.
LASM: Is there anything else you want to share? What do you have coming up next?
Sharna: I am currently so excited to become a mom, I have 12 weeks to go on my pregnancy. It seems like it’s going so unbelievably fast. I know that dance will always be a part of my life. Dancing with the Stars is having another season this year we’ll see how I feel, how my body and heart feel to determine if I participate. I might want to take a step back and focus on my son. But after 12 years of Dancing with the Stars, I may miss it and need to go back or work out a middle ground to stay involved. In the meantime, I’m still working on other things; the sky is the limit at this point. And what I do know is that there will always be a dance in my life.
Interview by Marianna Garcia
Presented by lastyleleaders.com