Alex Pacheco’s instructions to his dancers are precise and full of life lessons.
On this afternoon he has two dozen teenagers on Simply Ballroom’s dance floor learning the foxtrot.
“Ladies, take two steps back, side, together,” he said. “By design, this pattern will have us move across the dance floor.”
The teen couples begin to glide across the brown hardwood, backs straight, heads up, bodies slightly to the left of their partners. They do not look at each other.
“Guys make a joke. Ladies laugh hysterically. And where do you look? To the left,” he said.
Pacheo’s teaching style is formal, yet fun. He often refers to students as “ladies” and “gentlemen,” a function of the classic dances he teaches and a reflection of the bygone era from which they come.
But for just a few hours each day in the summer, in this dance studio at 26th and Farnam Streets, politeness and respect are back.
“For a lot of them, this may be their first experience dancing or interacting this way with the opposite sex,” said Rachelle Pacheco, Alex’s wife and Simply Ballroom’s dance director. “We teach the boys to be gentlemen and the girls to be ladies. We make sure they use their manners always and carefully explain how to hold, talk to and treat the opposite sex in an appropriate way.”
For seven years Simply Ballroom has offered a summer camp, where up to 200 boys and girls ages 10 to 18 learn to waltz and tango or do the rumba, the swing, and more. Each dance style is taught in sessions by five instructors. Two sessions are offered each day over three days. Campers pay $20 to attend as many sessions as they like. It ends with a banquet showcase, where parents, siblings and friends watch as boys dressed in dress shirts and slacks twirl girls wearing dresses.
Many of the campers are already students of Simply Ballroom’s classes offered during the year. Others are newcomers. And because the cost of the camp is kept low, some teens are from low-income families who rarely have enough money to afford a summer camp.
Tom Scheibe, a 2018 graduate of Millard North, is a veteran of Simply Ballroom’s classes and camps. As a guitarist, he appreciates the varied music played with each dance style, and he has made friends. He also finds dancing a challenge.
“It’s kind of like a puzzle to get around the dance floor,” he said.
Scheibe, a native of Germany, was first exposed to ballroom dancing in Europe. It was offered to ninth-grade students so they would know how to dance when they attended prom. He took the class and was hooked.
Some European countries teach ballroom dancing to their children starting at age 5, Rachelle Pacheco said. In the United States, interest often doesn’t spark until age 20.
“In the U.S., we are a little behind,” she said.
People into their 90s have taken classes at Simply Ballroom because of the exercise and because it is “a social thing,” Pacheco said. And then some join because they want to compete.
Pacheo, who has competed across the country and traveled to Argentina, Germany and Italy, said, “If a student seems interested in competition, we will help them get there.”
But first, she hopes to change the perception of ballroom dancing by parents, who often look at only traditional sports camps for kids in the summer.
“They don’t see ballroom dancing as a sport,” she said.
Sophia Obermeyer does.
“She fell in love with ballroom dancing watching ‘Dancing With the Stars,’” said her mother, Beth.
The sixth-grader at St. Columbkille School in Papillion is an athlete, playing volleyball and basketball and working out at the gym. Dancing builds confidence, her mom said. And she works on her balance and posture taking classes and attending camp. It also helps with anxiety.
“She’ll tell me the music and dance are healing to her,” she said.
According to the nonprofit USA Dance, shows like “Dancing With the Stars” and “So You Think You Can Dance” keep ballroom dancing and competitive dancing in the public eye. The ballroom dance industry has experienced “explosive growth” in the past few years with colleges and universities holding their own competitions, and more high schools and elementary schools teaching dance as a way to combat childhood obesity, according to the Cape Coral, Florida, association.
The Simply Ballroom lessons begin with the boys in a line on one side of the dance floor facing a line of girls on the other side. The boys are told to walk across the room, “present yourself” to a girl with a proper introduction, offer your hand and walk the girl out onto the floor. The routine teaches boys to feel comfortable asking a girl to dance.
“I see a lot of missed opportunities because people are afraid to dance, afraid to act socially,” Pacheco said. “They will have to interact with the opposite sex at some point in their life.”
Boys often see dance lessons as something just for girls. Not so, Pacheco said. It’s a very masculine activity, noting her husband was a construction worker before becoming a dance instructor.
And then there is something different about the respectful and kind atmosphere on a ballroom dance floor, she said.
“People just treat each other better,” she said.
When the dancers leave the ballroom, they take those lessons home.
“I can’t think of anything more manly than a man being a gentleman to his wife, sister or daughter,” she said. “We all need a lesson in that.”