Dancing with a Star

By Steven Libowitz   |   March 15, 2018
Shall we dance? Alan Bersten toes the line for live version of Dancing with the Stars at Arlington Theatre.

Alan Bersten was just 10 years old when the first season of Dancing with the Stars (DWTS) aired on television. He’d watch the athletes and movie stars partner with professional ballroom dancers, fantasizing about matching their grace and power as they glided across the floor. But when his grandmother told him, “One day, you’re going to be dancing on there,” he laughed it off as mere familial love, because actually performing on that particular reality show didn’t seem, well, real.

“Back then I sucked at dancing,” Bersten admitted with a laugh over the phone last week. “I had just started out, and I wasn’t good at all. There was no way to imagine I’d be doing this for a living. But I fell in love with it after watching the show and dancing became my life. And you know, after she said that, I started trying harder every day.”

Fast-forward barely more than a dozen years, and Bersten is now out on tour with the live version of the show, having marked his first season as a professional dancer on the long-running hit ABC reality series following five seasons in the troupe. The tour – which features Season 25 Mirrorball champion Jordan Fisher (Hamilton, Grease: Live!) and runner-up actor/race car driver Frankie Muniz (Agent Cody Banks, Malcolm in the Middle) reprising their performances alongside their professional partners Lindsay Arnold and Witney Carson, plus 10 other DWTS pros – stops at the Arlington Theatre on Saturday night, March 17, before wrapping up the three-month road trip in Los Angeles on Sunday.

Bersten, who returns to DWTS for the all-athletes Season 26 on April 30, stepped up to the task of talking about dancing.

Q. You were first on So You Think You Can Dance where you finished in the top 6 for men. How was that experience for you?

A. I was teaching before and really never though about competing. I did it on a whim only because my brother was auditioning. I just decided to get on the plane to Boston and joined him. Being on the show was the scariest thing I’d ever done in my life and not as much fun as I thought. There’s so much pressure. But it started my whole career because that’s when I realized that dancing was what really makes me happy.

Having been on both shows, which is more grueling?

To be honest, they’re both very hard. But on DWTS, you develop a relationship with everyone. When someone gets eliminated, we’re all sad for each other. It’s a big family. So, it’s hard for us to see someone go every week. Although if it’s your celebrity, at least you don’t have to come up with choreography anymore.

This past season was your first as a paired pro. Was it hard?

The first time is really hard. The producers help you, but you do all the choreographing and make all the decisions on your own. There’s tons of pressure. You want your celebrity to do well. They have all their trust in you!

Speaking of which, how did you feel about this past season with Debbie Gibson, when you were the second couple eliminated?

I was extremely happy, which may sound strange. But she was going through a lot, getting over Lyme disease, which takes a huge toll. Every time I looked at her she was happy, so I was too. (Gibson later told E! News that DWTS had “healed me more than any doctor, any supplement – anything.”)

What was the most fun or biggest challenge?

It’s meeting your partner for the first time. It is a surprise – you don’t know who you have until they walk in the door. It’s exhilarating, because you’re going to spend the next few months with them. You just have to become best friends, because you do spend nearly every minute together, and it absolutely affects your dancing. You’re going on an amazing journey together. It’s a challenge, because every person is different. It’s up to the celebrity. Some people can’t handle more than a few hours a day, while others want to do eight or more. You just have to cater to the individual. Nobody learns the same. You start fresh every season. There are no guidelines.

How does the live tour compare with the show?

It’s a jam-packed, 90-minute show. We have the two celebrities and 12 dancers from the show, and it’s the hardest one we’ve ever done, really high energy, and there are so many dances. Honestly, it’s the best dance experience we’ve ever created. My favorite part is the meet and greet, talking with the people who watch every week and are the ones who vote for us. We just happen to dance… somewhat better than them. I’m kidding, of course. I just love creating that feeling for them. It’s the longest show we’ve ever done, 70 shows, but the minute we step on stage, it doesn’t matter how tired we are. We give it our all.

Is it different without the competition?

On the show, the competition motivates all of us. No one wants to lose. But we’re not enemies. Everyone supports each other like a family. On tour, it’s just about the love of dancing. We have fun hyping each other up, boasting or bragging, but it’s purely about encouraging each other on stage. We want to do the best show possible. There’s no way to use words to explain how amazing it feels to be out on that stage.


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