Alumni spotlight: the dancing brothers from Hopkins High

Bersten brothers Gene (left) and Alan (right), both Hopkins Royals and professional dancers, pose together at CBS studios in Los Angeles where Alans films “Dancing with the Stars."

Brothers Gene and Alan Bersten of Minnetonka grew up around dance, and now, they’ve turned their passions into careers.

But back in the day, fellow students at Hopkins High School may not have suspected that one day the Bersten brothers would both become award-winning professional dancers. The brothers said they once tried to hide their hobby from peers, as they were embarrassed about being male dancers.

“We didn’t shout it out to the world,” Gene said. “Back then, it wasn’t so common for boys to dance.”

But their parents were adamant that their daughter and sons keep dancing, much to their chagrin, because ballroom dance is hugely popular in their Russian culture, Gene explained.

Eventually, the boys took a liking to it. Their first competition turned dance from a chore into a calling.

Now, 20 years later, both brothers are still dancing.

Younger brother Alan is a professional dancer on ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars,” partnering with and coaching celebrities throughout the competition. His big break came when he filled in for series regular Maksim Chmerkovskiy while he nursed an injury. During that month-long stint, he danced with actress Heather Morris, who is best known for her role as Brittany on “Glee.” Then, he was brought back next season to pair with singer Debbie Gibson.

When asked about the pros and cons of being in the spotlight, Alan said, “It’s all one big pro!”

Alan will return to show again for the upcoming all-athletes season, which premieres Sept. 24, to dance with figure skater Mirai Nagasu. The special season will also feature junior dancers.

“I loved dancing with Mirai Nagasu. She was super hardworking and really wanted to be there,” Alan said when asked who his favorite celebrity dance partner has been so far.

Meanwhile, older brother Gene holds down the fort in Minnesota. He owns Dance with Us America, an all-ages competitive and technical studio that has trained 12 national champions, at Southdale Mall in Edina.

“It’s not just a social studio that’s just for fun. You see results,” Gene said.

But before rising to success on the national dance scene, the Bersten brothers danced locally.

The brothers’ first studio was a room that their parents rented at the Sabes Jewish Community Center in St. Louis Park. The family later opened Magic Ballroom School of Dance in Hopkins, where Gene began teaching at age 16. Once the studio outgrew that space, Gene opened his current studio.

Despite disliking dance at first, both brothers are thankful that their parents insisted they stick with it as they reflect on their upbringing.

“Honestly, my family is one of the main reasons why I dance. I feel very blessed to have such a supportive family and I can’t wait to make them proud,” Alan said.

Besides, “if you ask kids what they want to do, they’ll say sit and watch TV,” Gene laughed.

Now, Gene is carrying on the tradition. His wife, Elena, is also a professional dancer and instructor at the studio. Their five-year-old daughter also dances.

People might say that the Berstens are natural dancers, but they don’t attribute their success to talent.

“Talent is nothing without hard work,” Gene said.

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