Alan Bersten was just 11 years old when the long-running ABC phenomenon “Dancing with the Stars” debuted its first season in 2005.
He got sucked into watching the competition that pairs celebrities with pro dancers on television – and then sends some of them on a live stage tour. That live show is coming to Pittsburgh for a Jan. 3 performance in Heinz Hall.
A Minnesota native, Bersten had been dancing since he was 7, and as he grew up, he became proficient in contemporary, jazz, hip-hop, Bollywood and Broadway dancing, and won many awards.
He dreamed about what he could do with his dancing passion later in life.
Could it be that someday, he could join the cast of “Dancing with the Stars?” For a dancer, Bersten says, that would be the ultimate gig.
“Once I started watching the show, I was thinking, this is something I could possibly do if I were good enough,” he says. “Somehow, everything in life works out.”
Bersten joins a cast of about 10 pros from the ABC hit show, along with some surprise cast members including a celebrity or two, in Dancing with the Stars LIVE. Pros including Witney Carson, Sasha Farber, Jenna Johnson and Brandon Armstrong will recreate the magic of the DWTS television show with performances of ballroom and other dances such as waltz, tango, foxtrot, jazz and more.
On the television show, each pro choreographs his or her own dance numbers for the week quickly, after their live performances on Monday nights, Bersten says.
They practice their dances each week with their star partners, which in the 27th season this fall included radio personality Bobby Bones, who won the coveted Mirror Ball, along with actress Nancy McKeon, Olympic gymnast Mary Lou Retton, Disney Channel star Milo Manheim and many others.
Bersten partnered with model Alexis Ren, and recalls his favorite dance with her: the Viennese waltz they performed in the semifinals, backed by rain on a foggy stage.
“It was super elegant and flowing, and it was nice,” he says.
Bersten and Ren started dating while on the show, and briefly continued the romance when the season ended in late November; however, in early December, the couple split.
The two remain friends as they are “figuring things out,” Bersten says, and focusing on their careers. Ren is in Japan, and Bersten is touring, so it’s hard to coordinate their lives.
Falling for your dance partner is an easy thing to do, with the romance of the ballroom dances, Bersten says.
“You go on this special journey together, and it’s hard to kind of control your feelings at that point because you’re so focused on working together,” he says.
Bersten has been on DWTS for five seasons, and is also on his fifth DWTS tour. Doing the competition shows at the television studios is fun, but he loves meeting the everyday fans at the live shows, he says.
They often tell cast members that the show inspired them to take ballroom-dancing lessons. The fans talk about “how it looks so fun, because it is so fun,” Bersten says. “They are the people who keep us on TV, and the people who keep us on the tour. I can’t wait to see everyone there.
“I feel so lucky,” he says about being on the tour. “Every time, it feels new and special, just because it’s an amazing group of people and it’s a great show. It’s revitalizing.”
Making a connection
The live show – choreographed and creative-directed by
Emmy-winning actress Mandy Moore and DWTS Executive Producer Ashley Edens-Shaffer — provides such a special experience for the dancing pros, Bersten says, because they get to enjoy the fruits of the hard labor they put into the television season. And now, they don’t have to score points from judges and earn votes from viewers.
The pros also love connecting with the audience on the tour, he says.
“When we’re dancing on stage, we’re able to actually interact with the audience, and that’s one of the best parts about the tour,” he says. “Also on the show, it’s a competition, so there’s a stress factor — whereas on the tour, everyone is having fun on the stage.”
Kellie B. Gormly is a Tribune-Review