'DWTS' Cheryl Burke reveals sexual, mental abuse throughout dance career on 'Red Table Talk'

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"Dancing with the Star" pro Cheryl Burke is reflecting on her conflicting feelings about the world of dance, as well as her history of intimate partner violence.

During an appearance on Facebook Watch's "Red Table Talk" Wednesday, Burke looked back on her early years of ballroom dancing, which she says "saved my life." However, she also acknowledged the abusive and misogynistic behaviors that came with it.

"Ballroom was something fun but it was something where you have to grow up fast, because here I am wearing tiny skimpy dance costumes, eyelashes, fake tan and I'm 11," Burke says.

Within the industry of competitive ballroom, she says it's "very much a man's world."

"The man leads. The woman follows— off the dance floor and on the dance floor. And with that comes abusive partners and abusive coaches. And were there acts of sexual and mental abuse? 100%," she continued, adding that she is 'just coming to realize that now."

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Burke opens up about sexual abuse, abusive boyfriends

Burke also talked about her experiences with childhood and sexual abuse, including being molested by a family friend at age 5. She previously discussed the incident in TLC’s 2015 documentary "Breaking the Silence," revealing it occurred during the midst of her parents' "traumatic" divorce.

"It was more of a grooming experience," Burke said. "I never physically felt hurt. Like, there (were) moments it didn't feel bad. It was actually intimate. He was grooming me, and he was my definition of love."

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Cheryl Burke joins the newest episode of "Red Table Talk" to discuss her experiences with mental and sexual abuse.
Cheryl Burke joins the newest episode of "Red Table Talk" to discuss her experiences with mental and sexual abuse.

Burke also got candid about abusive relationships with former boyfriends, including a "controlling," on-again-off-again boyfriend who whipped her with a belt.

"I would see these welts and even that, I was like, ‘Oh, that's not really there,’ " Burke said. "For me, love equaled abuse. Love equaled infidelity. Love equaled manipulating, narcissistic behaviors.”

She previously detailed such experiences in a video uploaded onto her YouTube channel last year. She recalled "sneaking around with" a high school boyfriend and "him having sex with me after telling him I didn’t want to and it ended pretty forcefully.”

“I didn’t associate sex with intimacy or love," Burke said. "Honestly, it was something that I did because I felt like I had to, in a way, just to keep a boyfriend.”

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Burke talks Matthew Lawrence divorce: 'I need to put myself first'

Despite her history of tumultuous relationships, Burke married "Boy Meets World" star Matthew Lawrence in 2019. But Burke said her motivation for a marital relationship had more to do with her struggles with self-worth than true love.

"I wanted to see if I could get married, 'cause there was a lot of this internal ‘Am I good enough?’," Burke said.

The couple divorced in September and although divorce wasn't the ideal solution for Burke, she said it's important to commit to her well-being, including her four-year sobriety journey.

"My parents got divorced, and I would have loved to not have. That wasn't the plan going in," Burke said. "I'm not proud of it, that's for sure. But then there's also a point where I need to put myself first and my sobriety first.”

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If you are a survivor of sexual assault, RAINN offers support through the National Sexual Assault Hotline (800.656.HOPE & online.rainn.org). 

If you are a survivor of domestic violence, NDVH offers support through the National Domestic Violence Hotline (800.799.SAFE & thehotline.org).

Contributing: Edward Segarra, USA TODAY

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'DWTS' pro Cheryl Burke reveals sexual, mental abuse on 'RTT'