Ballroom phenomenon Lacey Schwimmer was born into a dance empire. Her parents, Buddy Schwimmer and Laurie Kauffman, are noted choreographers, dancers and teachers in the industry. (Laurie got her start as a classical dancer, Buddy got his in ballroom.) Together they opened a studio, choreographed for film and television, and did just about everything in between. So it’s no surprise Lacey and her older brother Benji (whose name you may recognize as the winner of “So You Think You Can Dance” Season 2) were destined for greatness. “My parents are total baddies in the industry,” Schwimmer says. “They have trained every professional from every kind of background.”
Schwimmer trained with her parents in all styles from the time she was a child. “It’s always been my biggest tool,” she says. By the time she was 13, she had her sights set on a professional career, and it wasn’t long before her parents were giving her opportunities most seasoned professionals only dream of. “When I was 15, my dad did a show in Vegas, and he brought me along to assist him,” she says. “Instead, he gave me an entire piece of the show to choreograph myself.” Around that time Schwimmer made the decision to take herself out of high school and finish her education through independent study. “I left because I wanted to make sure I was doing everything I possibly could to set myself up for a successful future,” she says.
A few years later, Schwimmer saw her older brother succeed on “SYTYCD” and decided she wanted to throw her own hat in the ring. “I saw the cameras and the people screaming, and thought it was really cool that dancers were being celebrated,” she says. Though producers told her they thought it was unwise to audition given her family ties to the show (Schwimmer’s cousin, Heidi Skletroz Groskreutz, also competed), Schwimmer followed her gut and made it all the way to fourth place.
Not long after the show’s 50-city tour ended, Schwimmer was offered a position as a pro on “Dancing with the Stars.” “Timing is everything in this industry,” Schwimmer says of landing the life-changing opportunity. “You can try to make connections with casting directors and choreographers, but for the most part, if you just put your authentic self out there, the right people will notice.” After six consecutive seasons Schwimmer left the show, and shortly thereafter met Frankie Marino, a headliner for a show she was choreographing in Las Vegas. The two fell in love, and they’ve been living and working in Nevada ever since. For the past four years, Schwimmer has been teaching at NRG convention, where she brought ballroom to young, commercially focused dancers across the country. Most recently, she has expanded on NRG’s mission and created her own convention that runs through the fall: The Ballroom Project.
Schwimmer’s goal for The Ballroom Project is to help young jazz dancers expand their training by learning proper technique. “I want to bridge the gap and show commercial dancers that ballroom doesn’t just have to be a specialty skill,” she says. “It should be an absolute necessity.” Schwimmer’s background has allowed her to be a uniquely effective conduit for this goal. “I can speak these kids’ language,” she says. “I know that they might not know the term ‘lock step,’ but they know what a sous-sus is. This makes ballroom feel familiar and attainable for these kids, and helps them feel less scared.”
Here, Schwimmer shares some of her tried-and-true teaching tools, including her go-to teaching attire and her must-have ballroom shoes.
Her teaching warm-up: “I shake my body really fast until I can’t do it anymore. It’s a weird trick that I have had since I was a kid. It gets rid of nervous energy. Even when I was on TV, I would do it vigorously until I couldn’t feel my limbs.”
Her go-to teaching attire: “I have my own line with Chelsea B Dancewear that I like to wear. It’s fringed and stretchy and comes in fun colors. Outside of that, I tend to wear obscure clothing lines. I don’t like to wear the typical Lululemon pants and crop top. As nice as those are, I don’t want to look like everyone else and get into a box that people think I should fit into.”
Must-have ballroom shoes: “When it comes to ballroom shoes, I love Capezio because they are flexible and comfortable. For practice shoes, I buy cheap ones on Amazon with rubber bottoms, because when you’re dancing a lot, you can wear down suede shoes and burn your toes easily.”
Her tried-and-true teaching tools: “I like to put washcloths under my students’ feet to help them push through the floor. Most jazz dancers like to pick their feet up, and this can really help them break that habit. Jazz dancers also have a tendency to dance with their ribs open—to stop that, I have them hold a stick or broom in front of them (think Frankenstein), and dance without falling or rolling. Finally, dancers often find partnering to be uncomfortable. To break the ice, I jokingly duct-tape the dancers together to show that we can dance closely without feeling any awkwardness.”
Her afternoon energy-booster snack: “When I was a kid, I would just have coffee or Red Bull or something else that was unsubstantial but got the job done. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that stuff has hurt my health. I’ve come to see that proper nutrition for my body type and blood type is very important, and can make all the difference for how I feel during the day. Food is personal, and you need to learn what is best for you. I like to have an Inno Supps protein shake with nut milk and half an avocado for an energy booster. It holds me over for hours!”
Her favorite nondance activity: “I work and travel a lot, so I like to stay at home with my boyfriend and dog and watch Netflix, go on walks to the park and cook. I am a low-key good chef.”
Must-watch YouTube content: “First, look up my parents, Buddy and Laurie Schwimmer. They are amazing. I also recommend watching Karina Smirnoff—she’s an icon. Riccardo Cocchi and Yulia Zagoruychenko are the current world champions you should know. Lastly, I recommend watching my uncle, Donnie Burns, who is one of the most famous ballroom dancers in the world.”
The items she never leaves home without: “My cell phone, a giant water bottle and ChapStick. I especially love the Laneige sleeping mask from Sephora.”
Her guilty pleasure: “I love trashy television like ‘The Bachelor’ and ‘Love Island.’ I want it really over-the-top, unnecessary and stupid. That way you don’t have to think or follow a storyline. Put it on and laugh and be merry.”