Growing up in San Francisco, Burke begins ballet lessons at age 4, but eventually changes her focus. "[At first] I thought ballroom dancing was just for old people," Burke tells Los Angeles Magazine. "But at 11, I went to a competition and saw the costumes, heard the music, and loved that the dancers had partners. It was the complete opposite of ballet, but in a good way." By 13, Burke is competing professionally.
After becoming the World Cup Professional Rising Star Latin Champion, Burke joins the second season of ABC's Dancing with the Stars. Partnered with former 98 Degree boy-bander Drew Lachey, Burke wins her first DWTS title, beating wrestler Stacy Keibler and former NFL player Jerry Rice. "The show has completely changed my life," Burke tells USA Today.
In the third season of DWTS, Burke is partnered with NFL great Emmitt Smith. Although former Saved by the Bell star Mario Lopez puts up a good fight, Burke and Smith win the Dancing title. "I am so proud of this trophy and I am proud to share it with Cheryl," Smith tells PEOPLE. The back-to-back title winner will have less luck with season 4 partner Ian Ziering, with whom she is eliminated in the semi-finals round.
With the fifth season of DWTTS underway, Burke – who is partnered with Las Vegas performer Wayne Newton – and fellow pro dancers Julianne Hough and Maksim Chmerkovskiy appear on the cover of TV Guide. "I love the process of changing my look," she says. "I have been a little spoiled over the last couple of years since I started the show, but now it is nice to have new looks everyday." At this point, Dancing is pulling in more than 20 million viewers on Monday night's performance show.
A tabloid report claims Burke and Lachey had an affair during a Dancing tour last winter. "It's absolutely absurd," Burke tells PEOPLE. Adds Lachey, who has been married to his wife Lea for seven years and has a two-year-old daughter, "These rumors are very hurtful to my family and me." Despite the rumors, Burke finds love with model Maxwell Zagorski, who she dates until January 2010.
In her new memoir Dancing Lessons, Burke reveals that as a child she was repeatedly molested by a family friend – and testified against him in court, helping send him to prison for nearly two decades. "I'm telling my story. They're not secrets. There's no shame," the 26-year-old star says of opening up about the sexual abuse and other struggles, including physical abuse by two former boyfriends. "If I can help just one person for me that's all that matters."
After a dating record that left her considering a stint on The Bachelorette, Burke, 28, finds romance with hockey player Joffrey Lupul after the duo meet at the 2012 NHL Awards. They step out as a couple at the Jockey for a Cause event, where they're caught holding hands and sneaking kisses.
BIOGRAPHY (top to bottom): Courtesy or Cheryl Burke; Adam Larkey/ABC; Adam Larkey/ABC; Axelle Woussen/Bauer Griffin; Courtesy of TV Guide; John Sciulli/WireImage; Michael Bezjian/WireImage