Absolute Beginners and Wedding Dance

Advice for Planning Your Wedding Dance

Jeff Allen is a graduate of the University of Rhode Island

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Jeff Allen website

Virtually everyone goes to a wedding at least once a year and for the dance business nothing makes that phone ring more than this certainty! If you are a dance instructor or studio, it behooves you to position yourself, as part of your marketing scheme, to be responsive to this trade. Monday morning the phone will ring, I promise, with at least one of two types of callers. The first will be the couple that is engaged to be married with their date set and the second will be someone who attended a wedding during the previous weekend and found themselves stuck to their seat unable to dance along with fond memories of that “ONE COUPLE that danced all night!”

This article will provide an overview of how to successfully deal with the wedding trade while at the same time is a resource for those planning their wedding. PLEASE PASS THIS ARTICLE TO INTERESTED PARTIES!

What is the symbolic importance of the Bride & Groom’s first dance?
The “First Dance,” as husband and wife should be memorable and emotionally touching. Historically, the First Dance is symbolic of the consummation of the wedding vows. This Dance is the wedding couple’s first cooperative engagement and joint endeavor. The newlyweds are placed on the road of life together to fulfill their dreams and aspirations and more importantly, to complete each other as a human being. When the Bride accepts her dance with the Groom, she accepts it for the rest of her life. The frame and posture of the Groom when he proposes the dance to the Bride, speaks of the source of strength, love, companionship, and guidance he offers his Bride. It is no wonder that the tradition of the First Dance has continued through history as one of the most important facets of the Wedding Day. Preparation is needed to make these moments as meaningful and memorable as possible.

Many weddings do not have a good plan for the First Dance during the reception. Consequently, a very beautiful time can come off as being haphazard, silly, ineffective, and too lengthy, impeding fun and participation for the guests. This singular event becomes a missed opportunity that is regretted in the future, particularly with wedding day videos and still photography.

How can you avoid missing the highlight of the evening?
You MUST learn to dance. Take lessons, study a book or a video, but do not go out there unprepared. Many of you have donned the most expensive apparel that you have ever worn, decorated a reception hall with flowers, colors, and appointments to reflect the splendid atmosphere of your wedding and then proceed to be introduced to all present as the stars of the spectacle. Yes, the first dance is likening to a show! This is not a nightclub with distracting or dim lighting to afford lovers or “wannabes” moments of intimacy during a love ballad. I could be wrong but when we are talking lights, camera, and hopefully some action, it is show time! Not a professional show but a few minutes of simple concentrated rehearsed action that in and of itself demonstrates the affections of the newlyweds and the ability to cooperate with one another. This is not the time to just rock back and forth in a huddled mass like two monkeys seeking shelter from the rain! We have all been bored by this rocking style; I have seen guests even turn away from this monotony and begin chitchatting. After about one minute of being center staged the Bride & Groom start to get that pained, “I can’t wait for this to be over look,” not having realized they are in front of 200 people in a well lit environment. A forced grin, “We should have done something and now it’s too late.” Plan to do this several months in advance of your special day. Take the opportunity to dance out in public at a club, cruise, or perhaps someone else's wedding reception as often as possible before your big day.

If you do not have a special song, how do you go about picking one that is perfect?
Let me begin by presenting my ideas about what a first dance song should be. The song or lyrics of a song that really occur or define the moment when a couple KNOWS they have fallen deeply in love. Think of your song as a musical and emotional photograph that fulfills the time, place, and circumstance of the realization of your love. When you hear this song you can think of nothing else but spending the rest of your life’s dreams, hopes, and wishes with that special person.

Now that we have set the mood criteria for a couple’s song ('Our Song'), we must decide if it is danceable. The “danceability,” of any given piece of music is one of the main reasons I have created the Wedding Song Library, (www.Quickstartbooks.com) Couples may check several of their choices with the tempo, and the dance type or characteristic of any posting to the Wedding Song Library. Then they learn what type of dance they must perform the day of their wedding. The “danceability,” of a slow rhythm ballad becomes more difficult as the rhythm or tempo (Bars Per Minute) of a song is reduced. In other words, the slower the song the harder it is for dancing. If your selection falls under the categories of a generic dance like Waltz, Foxtrot, Rumba then you must know it. Every song has a characteristic and a specific dance type that requires some learning and a lot of practice. I would like to tell you that learning to dance with some competence and natural appearance is easy, but it isn’t! What is easy is learning the steps or choreography; what is difficult is learning to move together.

When I am asked as a dance instructor and educator, what would be my preference for a dance tempo I direct a couple toward the Waltz or Foxtrot. These two narrow the selections down for the couple but more importantly, when people learn a named dance, they have learned a life skill as opposed to learning something just for a milestone date. They have afforded themselves the opportunity to dance with a broader spectrum of people over a wider range of time and circumstances. In keeping with this line of thought at your wedding, both the Bride & Groom will dance with a parent or surrogate. This dance partner will be twenty or more years older than either the Bride or Groom. It is my observation they are more comfortable dancing a basic Waltz or Foxtrot with a standardized dance frame rather than in a romantic dance position.

Having said this my research in creating the Wedding Song Library is based upon a survey QQS Publications conducted a few years ago where engaged couples by the thousands (past & present) submitted their personal dance selections to a group of more than a hundred DJ’s that were chosen and asked to participate nationwide. From this we narrowed the list to 400 – 500 selections listened to each notating the tempo and most suitable dance type. This arduous task would never be done again! The survey also yielded the top 50 all time first dance selections as of 1997. The Wedding Song Library has been maintained from that point. The revelation was that almost 90% of the songs categorized were NOT of the generic type but what we would call Slow Rhythm or Romantic Ballads.

This revelation could be perceived as a potential dilemma to the dance profession for several reasons.

1. The elegance, communication skills, and art of ballroom dance is lost to the no need for lessons swaying back and forth like teenagers at a Jr. High prom.

2. There was no real curriculum for Slow Dancing so they were told to change songs. Couples react unhappily to this and decide against lessons – a need not met - a loss to the dancing populace!

3. Engaged couples that selected a Romantic Ballad would go to a dance studio to learn “Waltzing,” for their 1st dance. They would be introduced to that studio’s curriculum for Waltz only to find later that it was not suitable for their music. Over the period of years the term “Waltzing,” has become an idiomatic expression to convey the idea of slow or smooth dancing and NOT the dance in ¾ time known as the Waltz, please be advised!

4. In the case of a Father / Daughter dance the dad would be made to feel awkward dancing at arms length to the music type generally reserved for a romantic nightclub style becoming more perplexed, uncomfortable, and more concerned than ever about this thing called ballroom dancing.

If we want to get dancing lessons before the wedding, when should we start going?
My advice here is no less than six months in advance and make sure that you have the actual song with you in a CD format. I recommend that any couple that is embarking on such a serious relationship take dance lessons well in advance of becoming engaged or tying the knot. Why? Besides the obvious, learning to dance successfully with another is very revealing. To be a successful dance couple requires; cooperation, commitment, patience, and forgiveness. These attributes must be found in yourself as well as your partner. I have been teaching dance couples for over 17 years and I have always been amazed at how revealing this process is about a student’s personality. So learning to dance together becomes a great life skill and a revelation!

I HAAAAAAAATE DANCING! Is there any hope for me? I am getting married and my fiancée loves to dance.
Many people feel they hate dancing. Two categories exist: The first is they do not know how. The second is that they have had a bad experience while dancing or attempting to in their past.

The left side of their brain tells them they need to know how and their ego may be telling them their going to look like a fool. This is particularly true in men who are generally left-brain dominant.

In all scenarios, knowledge is the key! Knowledge always replaces fear and you will be with someone you love. LEARN to dance and keep it simple. If you are beginners, restrict your wedding dance routine to half a dozen figures. The leader will have a slower learning curve, as this is the harder part. Pressure is generally relieved by simply knowing this and that the expectation of spending more time to accomplish the same choreographic level is to be expected and often desirable. It is incumbent upon the follower that they prepare well in the area of body flight otherwise known as the carriage of the torso so that they do not become a physical impediment to the leader while he is trying hard to learn. An inexperienced driver will always be safer and exhibit much better control in a Lincoln or a Cadillac than that of a jalopy – the suspension system is all-important!

All too often women have actually intimidated men with these statements, “I can follow anyone with a strong lead!” or “I already know how to dance he needs the lessons!” I personally feel that it is NOT a natural or innate experience to move well with someone attached to you and therefore everyone needs lessons to partner each other. A red flag always appears if a prospective student repeats some variation of these remarks. Unless someone has actually had training in the art of partner dancing what they have believed about themselves as a good partner may be subject to another evaluation, it is always best to assume nothing and begin as equals. May I also suggest a video or books to help you in the privacy of your home? They will help provide a good overview of just what the process of learning partner dancing is all about, faulty notions that may serve as intimidating thoughts will be eliminated, and your industrious actual lesson time may be greatly reduced by pre-preparation which becomes a time and money saver.

How long should you dance?
Many of the most popular first dance songs are over 3 to 4 minutes long. Although three minutes does not seem to be a long time, when you are the only couple on the dance floor it can seem an eternity! The optimum time for a first dance should be 2-2:30 minutes long. Due to the length of some of the songs popular among wedding couples, this will require some coordination between the wedding couple as well as your D.J. Listen to your song and find the verses that are most meaningful for you. Either you or the D.J. should prepare an audiotape of the exact time duration that pleases you with the verses you have selected. I often make these tapes for my students who are about to get married. In this way, the newlyweds can dance to exactly their preference including segueing more than one song. In addition, by keeping the songs shorter and more meaningful, all attention will remain focused on the dance floor.