If there’s one consistent theme in our wedding planning advice it’s this: get started early. Find your venue early, start looking for photographer early, and take dance lessons early.
Most people don’t do that last one. Often relegated to the second half of the engagement, dance lessons should be something you start immediately. Not only will they prepare you to look great on the dance floor, but you may find that all that exercise makes the rest of the planning go easier. Don’t think of the dance lessons as another task to get out of the way. Think of it as a stress reliever to help you get through all the other things you need to organize.
Ann Rasmussen of Fred Astaire Franchise Studios, the dancing school founded by the legendary dancer and film star, points out that dance is the perfect activity to resolve stress and reinforce your bond with your fiancé. “Dance is a way of keeping your marriage hot,” she says. “It’s active, you’re looking into each other’s eyes, and touching each other. It’s also a good method for social contact, stress relief, even meditation.”
But first some wedding dance 101: the four big dances you are expected to take part in during the reception.
The First Dance (sometimes broken up into the Couple’s First Dance and the Wedding Party Dance)
The Last Dance
There will of course be a lot of dancing outside these four special moments, but these are the major ones.
Go Big or Go Home?
Once, everyone knew what to expect from the First Dance. The newlyweds would be alone on the dance floor, gently swaying to a slow, romantic song, until about two minutes in, when other couples would slowly start joining them. Everybody would clap at the end and move on to the next part of the reception.
That was before the rise of The Big Dance Routine, the kind of ultra-choreographed number inspired by music videos, TV shows like “Dancing With The Stars,” and hundreds of viral YouTube clips. “There’s a feeling of competition,” says Mandi Messina of Fred Astaire’s Midtown New York studio. “People go to a friends wedding, and see how they did a big routine, and come in determined to outdo it.”
So one of the first questions you have to ask yourself is: do you want to be the star of your own Bruno Mars video, or would you rather have a more traditional, intimate moment with your wife?
Timofey Shalnev, an instructor at Fred Astaire’s mid-town studio, recommends at least some degree of choreography, even if you’re not going for the big “24K Magic” routine.
“If a guy knows how to lead, and if he knows five steps, say, the couple can create their own routine on the floor, and every time it will be different. But most students realize, after a few lessons, ‘Ok, this works better if I have a plan. Not necessarily a big deal choreography, but a plan—a little bit of structure.’ ”
A good dance instructor will make sure you don’t start your marriage by stepping on your partner’s dress, or bumping into each other and embarrassing yourself in front of your nearest and dearest.
Find Your Guru
How do you find a good teacher? You can go on the internet and read Yelp reviews, but probably the best way is the most old-fashioned: word of mouth. “I get a lot of people coming in because friends told them ‘Here’s where we took our lessons, we had an amazing experience,’ “ says Messina. “ There’s so much on their plate already, it’s easier to say ‘Alright, I’m going to put this in the hands of someone who can take of this for me.’ “
Bring The Family
Ideally, dance lessons aren’t just for you and your fiancé. Your parents may want to bone up on their steps (indeed, Messina says that a lot of times the parents will seek out lessons even before the couple).
Of course, there’s always the danger that family members will get a little too into it. “Once, a mother and son came in to learn a mother son dance, and the she got so into it,” says Shalnev. “She started creating her own moves, and making it about herself. I had to have a conversation with her and explain that this isn’t the place for you to showcase your talent. It’s the place to congratulate your son and have a nice moment with him.”
Generally the Father-Daughter and Mother-Son dances will be a little bit more conservative, a little bit slower. It’s not just out of concern for the older people’s joints and backs. “We don’t want these dances to overshadow the bride and groom dance,” says Shalnev.
Not Strictly Ballroom
Traditionally, wedding dances fall under the umbrella of “ballroom,” which used to mean formal styles like the waltz, but has expanded over the last several decades to include everything from samba to the jitterbug. As the definition of ballroom has expanded, so have the wedding dance options. ““When people say ballroom,” says Messina, “’they probably associate it with waltz, foxtrot, tango. But it also does encompass things like salsa, cha-cha, and swing. So it’ not so pigeon-holed. It’s a much wider variety.”
“When people walk in and they have no experience at all,” says Shalnev, “we just try to take them by the hand and do a few steps–maybe try something slow, maybe try something fast, maybe try something social.” Your instructor may start you off with something that you won’t use in your showcase dance (though you can always pull it out during the general dancing, to the amazement of your groomsmen). “The Hustle is a very popular dance,” says Shalnev, “It teaches you how to communicate with each other, and how to follow, without overwhelming footwork or complicated techniques.”
Is It Worth It?
If you take lessons from a school like Fred Astaire Studios, does that mean you’ll end up dancing like Fred Astaire at your wedding? Is it really worth the investment?
The first answer is no, because no one can dance like Fred Astaire.
The second answer is absolutely yes, even if the two of you don’t become as smooth as Astaire and Ginger Rogers (his dance partner in 10 classic films from the 1930s). Dance lessons are one of the few wedding expenses that you can still make use of years into your marriage.
“It’s actually the best investment of the entire wedding, if you think about it,” says Shalnev. “You spend a couple thousand for the flower arrangement: the next day you throw it in the garbage. The food? People hardly remember. Dancing will always be in your body, and you can use it when you go to another wedding, or a fund-raiser. Dance is fun, it’s art, it’s fashion, it’s everything.”