As any loyal fan of the show knows, “Dancing With the Stars” can be a risky proposition for the injury-prone.
Gold-medal Olympian Misty May-Treanor tore her Achilles tendon during rehearsal in Season 7. Bill Nye (“The Science Guy”) tore a tendon while performing during Season 17. “Property Brothers” star Drew Scott injured his hamstring while rehearsing just last season.
So it seems fair to ask Josh Norman — a guy who makes many millions playing cornerback for Washington but is taking time this spring to moonlight on the special “Athletes” edition of ABC’s hit reality competition — a question like this: Is he concerned about getting hurt out there on the dance floor, especially when he’s doing a running leap over 5-foot-4 dance partner Sharna Burgess?
(See said leap by skipping to the 1:59 mark of their cha-cha below.)
But how silly of me to forget that, over four seasons with the Carolina Panthers from 2012-2015, the colorful and quotable 30-year-old native of Greenwood, S.C., never backed down from anyone (including his team’s star quarterback).
“Hey man,” he says, chuckling when he hears the question. “How long you been there? How long you been with Charlotte?”
“Twelve years,” I reply.
“You interviewed me before, didn’t you?” he asks.
“I don’t think I have,” I say.
“Oh, OK. Well, ask Dave Newton (who’s covered the Panthers for ESPN since 2013), or ask anybody else that’s there at the Charlotte Observer, whoever met me, and ask that question to them, and they should tell you: No fear of anything,” Norman says, chuckling again. “Like, if you’re afraid to go into anything and do it, that’s what will happen to you. ... So in this dance, if you jump over somebody, and you say, ‘Oh, I’m gonna get hurt,’ you’re gonna get hurt. ... I don’t go in there with feelings of fear. I’m fearless.”
That fearlessness — not to mention his impressively fancy footwork in that Week 1 cha-cha and the Week 2 paso doble — has helped Norman and Burgess advance to Week 3 of the abbreviated four-week season, during which they’ve bounced between L.A. and D.C. (Norman is concurrently participating in Washington’s voluntary offseason program.)
The pair called me Wednesday afternoon from their rehearsal space in the Washington area to answer questions about balancing his his football workouts with his dance workouts; their recent visit to Norman’s farm in Greenwood; and (for all the “DWTS” fans who’ve been wondering, since Norman and Burgess are both single and since they clearly have chemistry) what their relationship status is.
Q. So how does it break down over the course of a week? How much time are you spending on football, and how much on dancing?
Sharna: Typically, we rehearse at minimum five hours a day, but that’s always subject to change (based) on how much we have to do. For example, last weekend we did — no joke — 12 hours a day of straight dance on Saturday and Sunday leading up to the live show, because we needed the extra rehearsal time. Throughout the beginning of the week, Josh is juggling football practice and dance practice. So he is with his team from 8 o’clock in the morning till 12 o’clock in the afternoon. He has a couple of hours to get some food and handle business, and then he’s with me from 4 o’clock until sometimes 10 or 11 o’clock at night. Then he gets a couple of hours sleep and does it all over again the next day. Every Thursday, he practices (with Washington) in the morning, we fly to L.A. straight after, and we go straight to the dance studio — which is what we’ll be doing tomorrow. We’ll be there from probably 5 to 10. It’s grueling, man. I’m lucky that I have someone like Josh. He’s just so able to push himself both physically and mentally. Because, you know what? It is exhausting. Even for me, and I do this for a living.
Q. Josh, you’re probably the only one of the star-athlete contestants who’s juggling actually training for their sport now with the show, right?
Josh: Yeah, I mean, the (figure) skaters (Tonya Harding, Mirai Nagasu and Adam Rippon), they have tours, but it’s nothing like they’re competing or getting themselves ready to go for competition.
Q. Has it been more than you bargained for?
Josh: Absolutely. I didn’t expect it to be this type of thing, with the time and everything, and being every day, on it, 24-7, 365. It’s like, I’m sleep-deprived, but keeping myself mentally strong just to push through the obstacles. It’s almost like training camp, man. Really, it truly is like training camp. I would probably say worse than training camp, ‘cause at least at training camp you get to sleep. This thing right here, man, you ain’t even sleeping right. It’s like, you’re up, you’re down, you get up early, you get on this plane, you fly here, you fly there, then you back, you workin’ out. Man, I’m telling you: It is a turmoil. Everything you can go through, you experience it. But all of that, I’m doing it because of Starz24 (Norman’s foundation, which provides enrichment to children through community events and youth programs). That’s what I really be thinking about in the back of my head, in the front of my head, and on the sides. Really, man, it’s Starz24, and how can I put light on my organization. It’s just a great spotlight for us. ... It’s all that matters, getting kids off the street, then getting them into a place where they can survive and do great things in life. That’s what it’s all about, you know?
Q. But, I mean, you want to win, too, right?
Josh: Absolutely, man. That competitive drive, it comes on. You have something that you want to do things for, and you keep that goal and that focus in mind, but when you’re going against other people, you want to be better than them, man. You don’t want to be second place or second fiddle to nobody. It doesn’t matter if you’re the dance person who’s been dancing all their life, you want to compete and battle them and be like, “Look, I can be better than you, too.” ... (You want) people to see and realize that “OK, this guy knowing what he’s doing.”
Q. And does Josh know what he’s doing, Sharna?
Sharna: He does. He’s a really fast learner as far as footwork and picking up patterns. He’s incredibly coordinated. But when it comes to certain habits that he has in his body from football, that can be harder to work out of him. He is so used to being explosive through his legs and having to move so quickly off the bat that sometimes slow and controlled movement is a little bit our nemesis, and that’s a lot of the stuff that we’ve been working on. Also using his arms in a different way, and really working on those lines. ... It’s something that all football players that I’ve danced with have struggled with — being explosive, and having to use and extend their arms in between the movements. A.B. (Antonio Brown) had the same issues, and I think a lot of athletes kind of have just the same deal. Arms are always something we have to work on, ‘cause in life, you don’t really move your arms that way. It’s a foreign thing, so it takes a lot to get used to.
Q. So on Monday night, before your performance, we got to see some footage of you two on Josh’s farm in Greenwood. How long did you guys get to hang out there?
Sharna: We were unfortunately only there for a day, and I would have loved to have been there for longer. It was so beautiful, and so many horses. I was in total heaven, and could have hung out there for an entire week. But duty called and there was a show to get to and rehearsal time that we had to make up. We had to fly back to L.A. that night.
Q. Josh, how many horses do you have?
Josh: I think 30. My pop told me 30 the other day.
Q. Which one were you riding in the clip we saw?
Q. Alright, let’s talk about chemistry. You guys obviously have it — on the dance floor, in the clips we’ve seen of you rehearsing or hanging out in the packages, in other interviews. What makes you two click so well together?
Sharna: Honestly, after seven years I probably still can’t tell you what it is. It’s just whether your personalities blend like that or not. Some people it takes longer to click with than others. Some people you absolutely just don’t click with. Josh and I, from our first rehearsal, were able to laugh with each other and have a great time. But we also argue like relatives. It’s insane. We poke fun at each other all the time. I punch him in the shoulder quite a bit.
Josh: Yeah, that happens.
Sharna: I don’t know, it’s just a really fun, amazing dynamic. We have a good laugh, we get along really well and we can work really hard together. And when times get stressful, you want to be able to have someone that you can work with, not someone that you just don’t mesh well with. That makes life much more difficult. Trust me.
Q. Meanwhile, fans of the show really seem to be rooting for you two as a couple — a romantic couple. I’m sure you’ve familiar with the term shipping ...
Sharna: Oh, my dear, I’m the only single girl on the show, so welcome to my life every season. You could pair me with a 75-year-old man, I’d probably still get shipped with him because I’m the only single girl on the show. You know, listen, I adore Josh. I think we have an amazing chemistry, there’s definitely a lot of love between us. You become friends, and you become very close, and sometimes to fans, on the outside, that gets seen as something else, because there is a closeness. But neither of us are trying to confuse the fact that we’re in a competition — and trying to do our best here, and his motive for being here — with what people are calling “showmance,” and shipping.
Q. Is there anything about Josh that gets on your nerves?
Sharna: Honestly? I haven’t really found anything that annoys me. He doesn’t waste any time, he always comes in here ready to work, he’s respectful of what we’re doing inside the room, and then we’re cool outside of it. So I don’t really have anything that annoys me.
Q. Does he ever come into rehearsal tired from football workouts?
Sharna: Totally. I mean, he’s a human being: Of course he’s tired. But him being tired is realistic. The fact that he turns up and pushes himself so unbelievably hard ... I have so much respect for that. I can’t be mad at anyone for being tired. But I would be mad at someone for giving up, and that’s just not in his nature.
See Josh Norman and Sharna Burgess perform on “Dancing With the Stars” again Monday at 8 p.m. on ABC. The show will crown its Season 26 champ on Monday, May 21.