Sixteen Omahans walk into a bar.
On a boat. In the middle of the Caribbean.
They were there to dance on a trip that was the inspiration of an Omaha travel coordinator.
Richelle Hallgren, owner and travel planner at Personal Cruise Planners in Omaha, wasn't sure whether her idea would catch on.
“I had no idea what to expect ... if we'd even get anyone to go,” she said.
But she enlisted help in March from Omaha Ballroom owner and dance instructor Elizabeth Edwards.
And on Nov. 4, Hallgren, Edwards, one other dance instructor and more than a dozen students boarded a ship in Miami and set sail for six days of Caribbean sun, and of course, ballroom dancing.
“The coolest thing about it was that we had such an eclectic group of people and none of us really knew each other, but by the end of the week we all had this common thing,” Hallgren said.
Cruises for the instructors were paid for as part of the package for students, who got two hours of scheduled lessons a day, then got to show off their skills at the ship's clubs, bars and other dance floors at night.
“Omaha doesn't have a huge dance scene, so the cruise gave them that,” Edwards said.
Days consisted of lounging waterside, going on various excursions, taking dance lessons, eating dinner and, ultimately, dancing the night away.
The cruise stops determined which type of dance they learned. In Miami and Key West, it was salsa; in Jamaica, it was reggaeton; in the Cayman Islands, it was merengue; and at sea, it was either rumba, cha cha or tango. Other times it was more impromptu.
“One night, all the waiters sang 'That's Amore' and (one of my students) and I just waltzed through the whole dining room, and everyone was just watching,” said Edwards, who liked that the cruise gave her the opportunity to get to know her students on a more personal level.
“Elizabeth is a hoot. She's just so high-energy and keeps everyone going,” said Jen Ambrose, who went on the cruise with her fiance, Shawn Bossom.
The two had never had formal dance instruction before the trip but couldn't pass up the opportunity when Hallgren, their neighbor, approached them with the idea.
“We're getting married next year, so we figured dance lessons would come in handy,” Ambrose said.
Although she and Bossom enjoyed the dance aspect of the cruise, six days on a boat is a long time for someone prone to seasickness.
She said the second time around they'd be more likely to go on a dance-themed “destination trip” as opposed to another cruise.
The cruise was Hallgren's first trial run at a growing part of her travel business, which focuses on niche interests.
Hallgren estimated the cost, including lodging, air fare, food, lessons and some alcohol (but not including excursions once on the islands) to be around $1,100 a person.
“When planning, I wanted to keep it really affordable — something everyone could do.”
Next year, she and the dance instructors are hoping to double attendance and shake up the dance styles, sailing to Central and South America for a more Latin focus.
Until then, Edwards will continue teaching in Omaha and will start planting seeds in the minds of her students about next year's adventure.
Contact the writer: