Sober Dancing With the Stars

By McCarton Ackerman 02/18/13

Ann Behringer went from being Tina Turner's back-up dancer and singer to being a leading addiction therapist. But she had to get sober first.

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Behringer and Turner back in the day

You can’t find sexy photos of most therapists dancing their hearts out behind Tina Turner in all their '80s glory. But Ann Behringer is not like most therapists.

The 61-year-old Santa Monica-based specialist may have more than 25 years of experience working with alcoholics and addicts, but she brings her own experience to her practice as well—experience that includes a wild childhood which led to numerous arrests, sobriety since 1979 and afterwards, a flourishing career as Turner’s back-up dancer and singer through the late ‘70s and much of the ‘80s.

When Behringer came off the road in 1984, she decided to earn her degree in Liberal Arts before training to become a licensed clinical social worker. After briefly going back on the road a few years later, she and her then-husband Richard Rogg founded Promises Residential Treatment Center in 1988. Behringer was a co-owner of the facility until 1992, when she sold her half to Rogg. She then began her private practice in 1994. 

Behringer has plenty to say about what motivated her to get sober, going on the road with Tina and how she managed to avoid the temptations of the rock star life.  

Everyone said it was a little late to be trying to make this happen. But we alcoholics are tenacious. I basically said, “Screw all of you. I’m making this happen.” 

When did you get sober?

December 10, 1979. I really was an out-of-control kid. By the time I turned 18, I had been kicked out of school and arrested numerous times. Alcohol was my primary drug of choice and I was a serious blackout drinker. I also used cocaine regularly and stuck needles in my arm. I was fun. [Laughs.] I should be so dead, honey. 

It was a trifecta of things that caused me to get sober, though. I was losing my career. My mother died of alcoholism and I knew exactly where I was headed. And no matter how much I drank or used, I didn’t get high anymore. When I finally did get sober, it was like a ball and chain had been taken off. 

Do you think that quitting drugs and alcohol led to the success you had as a dancer? 

There’s no question about it. Besides drugs and alcohol, the thing I loved more than anything was dancing. It really was a saving grace in my life. I was hyper and in perpetual motion all the time and literally couldn’t stop dancing. When I would go to concerts, I wouldn’t use until it was over because I loved the feeling of dancing so much.  

I decided to become a dancer when I was around 18 and everyone, including my teachers, told me it would never happen because I wasn’t that great technically. I went and started auditioning and everyone said it was a little late to be trying to make this happen. But we alcoholics are tenacious. I basically said, “Screw all of you. I’m making this happen.” 

Eventually, I started to get jobs because of my look and my style of performance. I started dancing with The Tubes and My Midnight Express in the ‘70s, and then I worked with Toni Basil, who recommended me to Tina Turner. I had four months of sobriety when I went in for the interview and she offered me the job. I told her the two things I wouldn’t do were cut my hair or use drugs and alcohol. She was thrilled with both.

How did you manage to avoid temptation while being in such a party atmosphere on the road? 

I had drugs and alcohol all around me. We weren’t playing big stadiums. In 1979, Tina was still in the red and getting her career back. It was lots of hotels and playing on the Vegas strip, two shows a night at bars. 

I knew that if I drank or used, I would lose the best job I ever had. I had a very clear program that I worked, I brought the Big Book with me and I went to meetings all over the world. It absolutely wasn’t easy and I had to periodically quarantine myself when people drank or used. But I really did grow up on the road. I went from a self-obsessed, self-loathing kid to someone who was all about trying to be of service. 

But these days, I can be around people when they drink and sometimes I’m relieved when they do. It’s like, “Have a cocktail for me and then I can relax.” [Laughs.] 

How did you make the transition from dancing to therapy?

In 1984, Tina decided not to have dancers anymore and I went back to school. I went back on the road a few years later and was still working towards completing my Masters, but realized that I wanted my own career and didn’t want to spend my life following someone else around. Eventually, I jumped through all the hoops to become a licensed clinical social worker. 

You kicked your addiction by working a program; do you find from your personal experience and your work as a therapist that having a support system is vital to getting sober?

In general, most people do better getting sober in a social context, whether that’s church or AA or whatever else. But it’s possible to get sober without that as well. Some go [to a program] for a few years and then go off on their own. Other people in my practice come from religious backgrounds and find the program to be stifling and triggering. I don’t have any judgment because whatever gets you sober is fine. Personally speaking, it was easier for me to work a program.  

Does your previous experience in entertainment lead to referrals from people in the entertainment industry? 

I do have clients that are in the entertainment industry, but they’re a population that tends to be pretty transient and always moving. I do Skype sessions [with them], but I also like to keep people coming in to see me, because that’s when the work we do can have a transformative effect.

What is there left that you’d like to accomplish in your career?

At times, I’d like to go back school and get a PhD, but I have to look at what I want to do with the rest of my life. So many people have suggested that I start a treatment center or write a book or conduct seminars. But in my sobriety, I don’t need to be the center of attention and I’m happy living a simple life. That said, I wouldn’t mind dancing with Tina again. [Laughs.] 

What advice would you give people who are looking to get sober or maintain their sobriety? 

Like the old timers say, don’t drink or use no matter what happens. It’s that simple. I also recommend not isolating and being of service because it gets you out of yourself. And therapy can be beneficial because there’s a higher percentage of mental illness among addicts, so sometimes we need that extra bit of help.

You just have to wait for a miracle because it does happen and happens all the time. I am who I am today because I’m sober. It’s not even a question in my mind. 

McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer currently residing in Brooklyn. His work has appeared in Time Out New YorkThe Huffington Post, abcnews.com and usopen.org, among others. He has also written about Carré Otis and Celebrity Rehab, among many other topics, for The Fix.

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