Ahh the first dance of husband and wife – what an elegant tradition. Having originated in the royal courts, the first dance was generally performed by the party’s guest of honor and was known to commence the festivities and open the dance floor. Imagine a prince and princess in extravagant attire spinning across a grand ballroom…the dance was waltz. Even the untrained eye will come to recognize it after watching Renaissance era blockbusters or admiring classic Disney princesses. Now, the honor of the first dance is passed on to modern day brides and grooms, should they choose to carry on the tradition.
In truth, the dance of the old kingdom was Viennese waltz having blossomed out of the 1400’s, however the dance of the same name is quite a different groove nowadays, fast and technically challenging; I wouldn’t recommend it to beginners unless they intend to start classes six to twelve months before their big day. But no worries, there are a great many dances that are much more accessible and likely more fitting to the modern era couple. Nonetheless I still recommend couples take no fewer than ten hours of private instruction to prepare, and those who commit to 20 or more hours will really feel the benefit of time well spent together. You might be thinking ‘why would I invest 20 hours and hundreds of dollars to learn a ballroom dance when we can just sway in each other’s arms for free?’ Well...
You’ll encounter many wedding expenses as you plan, but an investment in learning to dance is one of the few that begins before your wedding, thrills on the day of your wedding, and last for years to come after your wedding. The delicious catered dinner, the gorgeous venue, the great band, the decadent wedding cake, all of those are short lived, indeed they’ll find a sweet spot in your memory bank, but they’re over as quick as you can say ‘I do.’ Learning to dance is an investment in your relationship, not your reception. I’ve taught dozens of wedding couples over the years and it’s quite serendipitous to see them learn something about each other they didn’t already know, to see them develop a level of communication that is purely physical and sensual, to watch them laugh together, and even to watch them get frustrated and find resolution. Learning to dance has been a long time social fixture, and it’s not just about beautiful music and stylish dance steps, it’s about communication and love.
So you and your fiancé have agreed that taking the time to learn to dance together will be fun and fulfilling, now what? Begin by choosing a dance school. A simple Google search will get you there, smaller towns may only have one or two options, but larger cities will demand a more informed decision. Proximity to your home or place of work will be important as this is a new activity in your lives and making time for it can be a challenge at first, so make sure it’s convenient. Second, you’ll likely have a budget set, but have a realistic idea of what lessons cost before you nail down your budget. Private lessons will be the most efficient choice for this task, and I’ve seen them range from $40 per hour to $200 per hour, location being the primary factor, quality of the teacher being the second. You don’t need a world champion dance instructor to learn your wedding dance, their prices will be higher and they are often geared toward competitive students. Do consider your teachers knowledge, experience, and credentials. You may not know anything about dancing, but ask them a few questions and you’ll be able to tell if they know what they’re talking about. Most ballroom dance schools require their teachers to be certified by at least one dance institution such as Dance Vision, Arthur Murray, Fred Astaire, or ISTD; I highly recommend these teachers.
If you already have a song in mind be sure to mention it to your teacher right away as that should influence what you’re learning. It’s ok if you don’t know what dance would go well with the song, a knowledgeable teacher will guide you in the right direction. Find a teacher with whom you have a good rapport; this is important - your teacher needs to ‘get you’ so they help create a unique dance that suits both you and your fiancé.
Popular wedding dance styles include the Slow Waltz (not its quick cousin the Viennese Waltz), Rumba, and Swing. At our studio we also love to teach blues style swing, an oldie but goodie called the foxxy, and Argentine tango. Theses dances offer a cozy, intimate look maintaining the soft quality of slow dance while allowing students to expand their movement vocabulary beyond a simple sway from side to side. Most importantly, make a commitment to enjoy your lessons together, attend them with loving kindness, and practice at home with wine and intermittent kissing.
Now picture you and your future spouse on your 50th wedding anniversary, wearing your wrinkles with wisdom and your love filled years with pride. A song plays, maybe one that means something special, and your partner asks you to dance, not your first dance but your 500th. You’ll hold each other softly, and with no need for words, you’ll share a glimpse of a memory of your wedding day. You’ll recall how you learned to dance together as the commencement of your marriage. You’ll feel your lover’s heart beat through your chest and you’ll melt in their arms… Now that beats wedding cake, and I love wedding cake!