Dancing with a Rising Star
Alan Bersten’s Journey
By Alexzandra Enger
Alan Bersten: some may know him as the charming goofball who was most likely to be found wherever free food was being offered on campus; others may know him as the brother of Gene Bersten, owner of Dance with Us America and sometimes-instructor of the University of Minnesota Ballroom Dance Club. For those who haven’t met the soon-to-be twenty-one-year-old in person, you probably know him as the dashingly handsome dancer who’s appeared in the popular TV shows Glee, Jane the Virgin, So You Think You Can Dance, and Dancing with the Stars, and has also been on Burn the Floor. No matter your familiarity with or perception of Alan, there’s no doubt that he’s an exceptionally talented dancer on the fast track to stardom.
Since I started college and discovered the magical world of ballroom, I haven’t had even a scrap of free time to watch TV, but a quick YouTube binge revealed that, yes, Alan is indeed an incredible dancer. What you don’t get from the YouTube videos is that he’s also an incredible person. On March 7th at Dance Fest, while Alan had a break from judging the competition, I sat down with him and got to know him a bit better.
Sheer Dance: So, Alan, can you start off by telling us a bit about yourself?
Alan Bersten: Okay, well, I’m twenty years old, and I’ll be twenty-one on May 26th. My brother, Gene, and sister-in-law, Elena Bersten, are my teachers at Dance with us America. I grew up in Minnesota and have been on the TV shows Glee and Jane the Virgin, and I made it into the top twelve on season ten of So You Think You Can Dance. I’ve also done a couple tours with Burn the Floor, and I’m currently performing as a troupe member on Dancing with the Stars.
SD: Can you tell us a little bit more about your initial decision to audition for So You Think You Can Dance?
AB: I did it on a whim, actually.
SD: Really? Okay.
AB: I bought my ticket last-minute. I went because [Gene and Elena] were going. Literally the day before, I decided to buy a ticket and go audition.
SD: So what are some things that you've learned since you've gone on TV and left Minnesota?
AB: I’ve learned that you have to dance for yourself, because it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. You have to continue working hard in every way.
SD: Can you tell us more about appearing on TV for the first time and what that was like?
AB: For So You Think You Can Dance, it was a live show, so it didn't really feel like TV. At the time, it just felt like performing in front of a few people. After we performed, when the show ran on TV, it felt awesome, because so many people watched and appreciated it.
SD: Would it be correct for me to say that dance is your passion?
AB: Yes, definitely.
SD: So what does that mean to you, it being a passion?
AB: When I dance—and the reason I dance is to make myself feel better—it really drives me to keep moving forward, especially now. A day I don’t dance is a bad day.
SD: So no breaks for you, then.
AB: No. Even if I'm not working, I'll still be dancing, because I enjoy it and it drives me forward.
SD: I'm also interested in the word purpose. Would you say that dance is your purpose?
AB: Everyone has a purpose, and I’d like to think that mine is to dance. Hopefully people see that in me.
SD: You’re only twenty years old, and it sounds like you’ve had an extraordinary amount of success and good fortune in a very short period of time. Would you say that your experiences thus far have changed you at all?
AB: Of course I’ve been very fortunate, but I hope it didn’t change me; I hope I’m still humble and easy to talk to. It’s definitely not a normal course of events to happen in the typical young college student’s life, but I’ve seized the opportunities presented to me, and I think that I’ve adjusted well to the rapid changes. I lived alone for a while and got used to not relying on others. Anyway, it’s definitely not a normal path, but if you’re lucky enough to do it right out of college, absolutely follow your dreams.
SD: I think it’s safe to say that you’re a rising star whose star is rising very rapidly. Where do you think you’ll be headed next?
AB: Minnesota! Alan chuckles. I actually don’t know, though. I don’t want to think too much on the future, and I don’t want to set expectations. I’m going to expect and plan for the worst but hope for the best. I’m not thinking too much on it.
SD: What's been the hardest thing about moving away and this entire process?
AB: I'm farther away from my family. Also, in LA, nothing's consistent. I could be working every day for a month and the next month have hardly any jobs. My agent can only do so much for me to get me auditions. Here, I can teach all the time. There, I can teach, but I don't want to always teach; I want to dance for myself. Inconsistency is easily the biggest struggle. It's not like a normal job. Nothing's for sure.
SD: How does that make you feel about the path of your chosen career?
AB: It makes me feel great right now, because I have a job. Like I said, I don't think too much on the future, because there's no point in guessing what will happen, because things change. I’m grateful to be dancing, no less getting paid for it.
SD: Have you had any situations of conflicting values?
AB: My mom didn't necessarily want me to move to Los Angeles. Dad told me not to audition at all because he wanted me to finish school. It was hard for them to have me move out; they want me to be close to them. They're thrilled and happy for me, but it’s still hard. I believe that I made the right decision for me, though.
SD: Career and dance over everything, then?
AB: No, family over everything. If my parents had told me they truly did not want me to move and had reasons enough to persuade me, I wouldn’t have gone. If they asked and had good reasons, I’d move back.
SD: What about regrets and sacrifices? Do you have any regrets about choices you’ve made so far or regret giving certain things up?
AB: Everyone makes sacrifices. I don’t really look back on them. I never look at a sacrifice I’ve made and say, “Oh, I wish I hadn’t done that,” because you learn from every experience, whether it’s good or bad. There have also been many times I’ve turned down jobs that pay better than one that I’d be scheduled to do, because I’d already given my word and made a commitment to the less profitable job. Keeping my word is important to me, even if I have to lose money.
SD: Who would you say are your biggest role models, either in Hollywood or your daily life?
AB: I don’t have many role models in the typical sense of the word. I don’t necessarily strive to be just like someone, because individuality and uniqueness are important in Hollywood. I do strive to be successful, respectful, and reputable. I look up to my brother, Gene, a lot, and if I were to pick a person from Dancing with the Stars, I’d choose Val [Chmerkovskiy]. In my opinion, he’s one of the best dancers on the show, and he does great things outside of the show as well. If I were to say that I look up to someone on the show, it’d be him.
SD: What's been your favorite and least favorite job so far?
AB: I don't know if I have a favorite job ... probably Dancing with the Stars just because it's a dream come true. I don't think I have a least favorite job. I'm grateful to do everything. I’ve been lucky with big jobs. I can't say that I've regretted or hated any job I've done. I can't even think of one. Every job is great; you learn from everything.
SD: Anything else you really want to tell us, tell Sheer, tell Minnesota? We really do cheer for you and root for you here.
AB: I want to say thank you. I appreciate the support. It means more to me when I get support from Minnesota, because that’s where I’m from. I hope I can continue to impress everyone and achieve my dreams and goals.