The Talented Mr. Sternberg
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The Talented Mr. Sternberg

Journalist Mike Sternberg reinvented himself by helping others and taking advantage of Atlanta’s movie scene.

After 35 years with the Atlanta newspapers, Marcia currently serves as Retail VP for the Buckhead Business Association, where she delivers news and trends (laced with a little gossip).

“Doctor” Sternberg in an episode of Dolly Parton’s “Heartstrings.”
“Doctor” Sternberg in an episode of Dolly Parton’s “Heartstrings.”

At 75, Mike Sternberg can dance circles around most of us. As an extra and character actor on local movie sets, he has performed alongside Dolly Parton, Jason Bateman, Sam Rockwell, Jennifer Lawrence, and Michelle Pfeiffer. Sternberg maintains that he is not starstruck. “I was hired as a background dancer on Steven Spielberg’s ‘Amazing Stories,’” he says, “and danced with one of the principal actresses in the episode. Spielberg came up to them between takes to compliment on the performance. Now that that was memorable!”

Sternberg, who acts as his own agent, spends long days on set, complying with constant COVID testing and costume changes and trials. He and girlfriend Jana Kantor Lane have appeared as dancing extras on Fox’s medical drama “The Resident” and Netflix’s “Sweet Magnolias.” He recently worked 13 hours as background actor on an upcoming Showtime series, “The First Lady,” featuring Gillian Anderson as Eleanor Roosevelt, Michelle Pfeiffer as Betty Ford and Viola Davis as Michelle Obama.

Sternberg’s first role as a background actor was in “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” where he appeared dancing the Viennese waltz. Since then, he’s been an extra in dozens of motion pictures, streaming service productions and television films. During the past four years, Sternberg has been a dance instructor and host at Lenbrook, a senior living community in Atlanta. “It’s been one of the most satisfying jobs I’ve ever had,” he said. “The residents enjoy brushing up on dance steps from days gone by and conversing with me about their lives. I also stay after the lessons to dance to live music with them.” Sternberg has even tangoed on the high seas as a dance host aboard the Crown Princess for a New Year’s Eve Caribbean cruise.

Mike Sternberg and Jana Kantor Lane were featured extras on an episode of Netflix’s “Sweet Magnolias.”

Dancing came easily to Sternberg during middle and high school. In Hendersonville, N.C., about 25 years ago, he began taking ballroom dance lessons. At the time, he was an advertising director for the local New York Times-owned daily newspaper. Before long, he was giving private dance lessons and choreographing routines for couples who wanted to show off in front of the guests at their upcoming weddings.

Retiring early from the newspaper industry, Sternberg returned to Atlanta in 2002 and began substitute teaching at Independence High School in Roswell. Advancing to paraprofessional — and later, to special education teacher — Sternberg found his passion at Haynes Bridge Middle School in Alpharetta. There he became the eighth grade reading teacher. He also got his teaching certification and taught language arts and social studies.

“The students were energetic and anxious about advancing on to high school. However, most devoured their daily lessons. Others not so much,” he recalled. Even in his reading classes he introduced students to dancing when it related to material they were covering. “Sometimes we were invited to demonstrate salsa to peers in the Spanish classrooms.”

Besides dance, Sternberg is into karaoke and poker. He has participated in the senior division of the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas, and regional Texas Hold ’Em tournaments in California, Mississippi and Florida. Though he’s never secured the brass ring, Sternberg has won enough to be considered a threat to other competitors. He can also be found at Harrah’s in Las Vegas, belting Rat Pack tunes or his favorite song from “Les Misérables,” “Master of the House.”

Claiming not to have a bucket list, Sternberg seizes opportunities to try new things that come his way. Recently, on the set of the Netflix show “Ozark,” he met a casino consultant who recognized that he understood the game of craps. Next, he found himself in a scene assisting other extras. A few weeks later, Sternberg was the featured craps dealer for a charity event in Marietta.

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