After a surprising elimination from Dancing With the Stars that shocked both audiences and cast members, Sailor Brinkley-Cook opened up about the stage freight that she struggled with — and conquered — during her time on the show.
The 21-year-old model, along with her dance pro partner Val Chmerkovskiy, tied for the highest score on Monday night's show, but the stellar performance — a high-energy jive — wasn't enough to save the duo, and they were sent home.
Brinkley-Cook, who took her mother Christie Brinkley's spot on the show just two days before the season premiere after Christie suffered an injury during rehearsal, appeared to come out of the gate as one of the season's front runners. She gave the audience six weeks of stellar performances, and even earned a standing ovation. But behind the scenes, Brinkley-Cook said there was an immense amount of pressure that came with Dancing With the Stars, and it heightened a feeling she's struggled with for years.
"I’ve had stage freight my entire life and it was something that definitely held me back," Brinkley-Cook told Woman's Day. "I would sign up for school plays, I would try to be in chorus class, and I would always back out last minute even though rehearsals were going great. I was just so scared of getting up there and baring myself to the world."
The fear, Brinkley-Cook said, partly stemmed from growing up with a mother who was in the public eye. She had a front-row seat to the harsh criticisms that can come from putting yourself out there for the world to see.
"When your mom is a famous model, and you’re a young girl trying to figure yourself out, you're so afraid of all the critiques," she said. "I was so afraid of putting myself out there in a performance, in a dance, in a song, in anything because I just knew that there was so much criticism that was going to come automatically. So I think that developed into this massive stage fright."
When Brinkley-Cook jumped into the ballroom competition show, she was left with only two days and a total of 10 hours of rehearsal time before the live taping. On the second (and final) day of rehearsals before the season premiere of DWTS, her nerves began to get to her.
"The day before the show, I had a full panic attack and I was hyperventilating and I did not feel like I could do it. I was really freaking out," Brinkley-Cook said.
She says it was her partner, Chmerkovskiy, who was able to help steady her nerves and show her the fun and joyous side of dancing in front of others.
"Val really calmed me down and he made it fun. That was our mentality through the whole experience - just to have fun with it," Brinley-Cook said. "One of the first things he said to me was 'Dance is a celebration.' There’s a 10% chance you’ll dance when you’re sad. You only really dance when you’re feeling good and you’re feeling happy, and it’s a beautiful thing to be able to share with the world on TV the joy of dancing."
Every week, Brinkley-Cook said, was a whirlwind combination of both excitement and nervousness. But by her sixth and final week of the show, she felt that she had conquered her stage fright for good.
"Before the jive I was feeling really confident, I was feeling really good. I was so excited to be doing this," she said. "It was such a positive rush of emotions and I felt like that performance kicked my stage fright because I was able to suppress it for the first time."
The young model says she plans to keep dance as part of her life, and has even begun looking up dance studios where she can practice. She hopes that others out there who are struggling with feeling confident enough to try something new allow themselves the same opportunity to find a passion.
"I think it’s important to try it once, and don’t look too far into it just say 'Hey this could be something that I really love and end up living for,'" Brinkley-Cook said. "I want to keep dancing for the rest of my life now and I would have never done that if I hadn’t just told myself 'Okay I’m just going to do it once and then we’ll see.' Just do it and see how you feel. That’s the best way to get over your fears. Just look at it straight on and own it."
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