‘DWTS’: Alan Bersten on What He’s Learned Working With Skai Jackson

Alan Bersten Skai Jackson Dancing With the Stars Top 13 Season 29
ABC/Kelsey McNeal

Each week, the celebrities of Dancing With the Stars Season 29 get better and hit “firsts,” and it was Disney Channel star Skai Jackson who had that honor when it comes to earning a 10 from a judge in Week 4.

“Skai was able to be genuine and show how she truly felt and bring those emotions out into the dance, which then elevated the dance,” her pro dance partner Alan Bersten tells TV Insider.

And that came after a stumble in Week 2. “I think it’s a testament to her character, her determination, her perseverance, just never give up and to always keep fighting and a little stumble is not going to stop her,” he said of her bouncing back. “Everyone’s seen that now.”

Here, Bersten discusses his and Skai’s partnership and the Season 29 changes (Tyra Banks as host, replacing Tom Bergeron and Erin Andrews, and former pro and champ Derek Hough as a judge).

What makes you and Skai such a great pair? Is there something you felt from the beginning or that developed over the weeks?

Alan Bersten: It helps that when we first met each other, we had a lot of fun. It was a fun experience. Rehearsals are fun. Thankfully, we both trust each other, so if there is a little problem, it gets fixed so quickly because she knows I’m there to help her and I know she’s serious about this. The level of trust really helps us move forward and move along, and she’s having a good time, so the studio and rehearsals go by really quick. I’m able to teach her really quickly just because she wants to learn.

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The dance partners also reflected on receiving the season's first '9' score and opened up about their off-screen relationships.

Going into this season, did you feel any added pressure as the reigning champion?

It was a double-edged sword. Yeah, there were added pressures but also I know what to expect now. I think I know what to expect. I thought I knew what to expect. I have no idea what to expect, let’s be real. Every season’s different. The pressure of winning is off because I already wake up and I see my Mirrorball, “Oh, I won!” But I really do want that second Mirrorball. I want to keep winning. And I want Skai to just feel not only recognition but that achievement and to really feel good about herself.

You mentioned things are different each season, and this season there isn’t an audience. How has that affected you? Has it changed the way you and Skai are preparing each week?

No, it doesn’t change how we prepare. It’s different for show days. You just have to turn it on even more just because there is no live audience clapping. There’s usually 1000 people in the room or something like that, and you can really hear the difference. Luckily, Skai doesn’t know the difference. She has never performed in that ballroom with people.

Alan Bersten

(The Riker Brothers)

For all of the pros who have been here, you just really gotta hype it up yourself. It is a TV show for millions of people and the show’s doing such a great job adjusting with that. If you look at the ballroom, it doesn’t look like anything’s missing and I feel like the producers did a really good job with that.

That’s not all that’s different. Tyra’s host, Derek’s a judge, new protocols are in effect and rightfully so for everyone’s safety…

In life, there always needs to be some changes to keep it fresh. Derek’s an incredible addition. He knows exactly what to say because he’s been through it. He won six times, he’s been on the other side. I feel like he brings something not only to the table for himself but he brings something out of Bruno [Tonioli] and Carrie Ann [Inaba], so I feel like he’s a great addition to the show.

I feel like Tyra also is such a good addition to the show. Last week, there was a blunder, but it wasn’t even her fault. I feel like as the host she takes the rap for everything. If something goes wrong, she takes the blame. She’s doing an incredible job, and it’s not easy to come in after 28 seasons and be the new host, but I feel like she’s there, she’s killing it every single Monday, and I don’t know if I can say it’s a good change or a bad change, but I feel like she’s doing such a good job and we’re very lucky to have her.

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'Any show like this that has been on for many, many seasons needs to continue to evolve,' EP Andrew Llinares says.

And with the COVID protocols, I think it’s safe to say we’re just all happy we’re able to be on TV and do a show, so if we have to wear a mask and get tested every day, it’s not a big deal. I don’t mind going there and getting tested every single day and wearing a mask and staying six feet apart because at the end of the day, we’re back on TV, doing what we love.

You mentioned the blunder last week. Even though you weren’t part of it, is that something you spoke with Skai about?

Yeah, I think everyone’s on the same page. It was just a mistake and it is live TV, things like that happen. I think Skai knows firsthand just because from our Week 2 little slip-up, it’s a live show, you keep going, and that’s what Tyra did as well.

Tonight is ’80s Night and you’re dancing jazz to “The Power of Love.” Anything you can tease about what we’ll see?

Crazy outfits, big hair. I’m really excited just because we get to dance a little tribute to Back to the Future. Obviously that song is made popular with that movie as well, and we went to see a DeLorean [time machine]. We saw some cool packages this week. I’m really excited. And the dance is really fun. It’s high-intensity and a lot of lifts.

Alan Bersten Skai Jackson Dancing With the Stars Season 29 Gallery

(ABC/Laretta Houston)

Is there anything in particular you’re hoping to get out of this season?

Honestly, this season is not about me. I just want Skai to go out there and feel confident and really feel confident in herself that she can learn something. Every week she goes out there and not only surprises me but I’m sure surprises herself with how much she’s improved and I actually mentioned this to her a few days ago. The difference from her walking in and today is so vast. She’s become more mature and I see a difference in her dancing already. She learns quicker. She just tries harder. She has more fun with it, and I think that’s a beautiful thing I can be a part of.

Is there anything you’ve learned about yourself as a mentor working with her?

Yeah, I feel like this season more than ever, I’m more supportive and if something doesn’t go right, I don’t lose my cool right away. I just take a second just because I see how hard she’s trying and how much fun she’s having, I don’t want to ruin that for her. It’s more about staying positive and Skai keeps saying that, that the most important thing is to just stay positive.

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Plus, what is his future with Fox's 'World of Dance'? And will he hit the dance floor this season?

Dancing With the Stars, Mondays, 8/7c, ABC