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Marla’s Wedding Story:  Houston Wedding Dance Lessons!
Written by Marla Archer, May 2006

A little over a year ago, Rick told me there was one area at the studio where I could make a huge contribution – that would be teaching Wedding Dance Lessons. 

I was skeptical at first. 

For one thing, why couldn’t Rick teach the lessons?  After all, Rick had 30 years of experience on me. Rick replied that in his opinion a woman was far more effective at teaching these lessons than a male instructor. 

Since men are largely responsible for the success of the Wedding Dance, the majority of the training revolves around them. Rick said the easiest way to teach rhythm and leads is to physically dance with the Groom.  Progress is far quicker this way because the instructor can “feel” the mistakes and make corrections right on the spot.  Rick added that the men were usually very nervous to begin with.  He pointed out that the few times he had attempted to dance the “follow” part in a wedding lesson, the men had given him looks that indicated they were deeply unhappy about this development.  The thought of dancing with him was about as pleasant as submitting to a root canal.  Rick was more than slightly certain the men would be far more cooperative if I was the instructor than him.

My second reservation was the time involved.  Why spend all that time learning to teach Waltz, Foxtrot and Slow Dancing for an occasional private lesson?  Rick assured me that I would be busier than I ever imagined.

I took Rick’s word for it and said I would do my best. Let me add that I was more than slightly surprised when it turned out he was right about everything he had told me!

 

Over the past year I have taught Wedding Dance Lessons to 120 couples. I never dreamed so many people needed help learning to Waltz, Foxtrot and Slow Dance!

What I discovered is that the majority of couples who are getting married don’t have a clue when it comes to the “Lost Art” of Formal Dance. It turns out there are certain practical skills in life like the ability to change a tire, do CPR, or treat a snake bite that some people take the time to learn, but most people don’t. The ability to Formal Dance is a skill most Americans can avoid if they try hard enough, but there is ONE certain time in most people’s lives where this skill becomes very important.  

That’s where I come in.   It helps that it wasn’t so long ago that I was the bride myself.  Rick and I got married in September 2004. 

With that experience fresh in my memory, I can still relate to the desire to be Cinderella for my Prince Charming.  Isn’t that every girl’s fantasy? 

Ladies, admit it . . .You have fantasized about your Wedding Day since you were a small child. One of the important parts of that “dream” is your First Dance.  You want to glide across the dance floor with your handsome husband holding you in his arms while all your friends and family smile with pride and happiness.  This is YOUR DAY!!!!  I simply can’t think of any more important day other than maybe the birth of your children.  The First Dance is where it all gets started.

I wanted to be graceful when I danced my Wedding Dance.  As a result, Rick and I practiced several times a week for almost a year preparing for the First Dance. I intended to be ready!  As a result, I wasn't even remotely scared when it came time to dance in front of my family and friends.

Now in my capacity as a Wedding Dance teacher, I work with Wedding couples and frequently I have the pleasure to work with parents, siblings, and friends as well.  Working with the Wedding “Families” has been a source of great reward to me.  It is fun to bask in the powerful positive energy that surrounds this happy event. I really enjoy this unusual yet very special teaching responsibility. It is a privilege to be able to contribute to the success of such an important event.  

I think my students realize that I really care that they do well.  It seems as I get more teaching experience, they turn around and send their friends to me as well for their Wedding Dance.  As a result, I have been getting busier and busier.  

 


Not long ago, my increased schedule resulted in a very odd coincidence.  On Saturday, April 22nd, I had the unusual experience of having 5 wedding couples get married on the same day!   In fact, I was so amazed that I decided to write this story. On Sunday, May 22nd, I was drinking coffee and reading the Chronicle when my eyes focused on the picture of someone who seemed familiar.  Sure enough, one of my brides, Heidi Matthews, was featured in the Houston Chronicle.  Isn’t Heidi beautiful! 

I let out a shriek which led Rick to look up and ask what all the fuss was about. I pointed to Heidi’s picture and told him I had helped prepare Heidi and her husband Kenny Ewing for their First Dance.  He smiled and said he was proud of me. 

I carefully read the story below Heidi’s picture, which is how I noticed the April 22nd date. That date sure seemed familiar for some reason.  So I went in my office and picked up my day planner.  I scanned the information I keep about each couple and noticed the date “April 22” kept appearing.

After I finished counting, I realized I had the names of FIVE couples who all got married on the same day!  I could not have been more proud! 

It is fun to know that I made a significant contribution to each couple on one of the most important days of their lives.

I went and told Rick that five different couples of mine had gotten married on the same day.  He said he was impressed. Then he suggested I write a story about it.  I thought about it for a minute and decided to do just that! 


THE STORY OF MY FIVE APRIL 22ND WEDDING COUPLES

Heidi and her husband Kenny danced a Slow Dance to “At Last” by Etta James.  No surprise there - “At Last” is a song regularly selected by many couples.  It is a definite favorite "First Song" to be sure.

Heidi was originally referred to me by Jeff Gray.  Jeff had taken the SSQQ Alaska Cruise with his girlfriend Sally in July 2005.  Jeff and Sally grew so close on that trip they got married just four months later!  That cruise definitely sped up their time table... but that's another story.  After Jeff returned from the cruise and found out that his co-worker Heidi was looking for a dance instructor, Jeff was kind enough to refer Heidi and Kenny to me. 

When Kenny and Heidi first contacted me on January 24, they told me they were interested in learning how to Waltz. However when I met with them for the first time on February 17, after a brief discussion and demonstration, they found Waltz a bit too intimidating. That is when they decided to switch to a Slow Dance.  This wasn’t the first time I have seen this happen.  Many couples expect to Waltz at their Wedding only to find out how much time and preparation is involved in learning this beautiful, but difficult dance. Invariably they realize that at this late date they have no choice but to check off from their original plans and switch to an easier dance like Slow Dance or Foxtrot.

Kenny picked up the Slow Dance steps very well. I suspected he either had some natural ability or had taken lessons before. Maybe even both!  Kenny definitely looked like he would do just fine.

Most couples wait till the last minute to contact me. Kenny and Heidi were the exception – they actually contacted me three months ahead of time.  However since Kenny was so comfortable with the material, they didn't need any follow-up lessons.  Three months later I was definitely shocked when I saw Heidi's lovely picture in the Chronicle. I was so happy for her!

My other four couples that married on April 22nd were more representative of my usual experience because they waited until just two weeks ahead of time to get in touch. Sure enough, each couple waited until the week of April 10th to schedule a lesson.

My second couple was very talented. Pooja and Steve had danced previously. All they really needed was some refresher information. As a result, I gave them an hour of review on the basic steps to both Foxtrot and Waltz moves and then they were on their way.  They had not picked a song yet, so I am unsure what dance or song they eventually decided on.

My third couple, John and his fiancée Jai, Slow Danced to Dido’s beautiful song “Thank You”.  This couple had no previous dance experience when they arrived. Fortunately they had a natural aptitude for dance.  They were able to learn a memorized pattern and move gracefully about the dance floor after only an hour lesson.

My fourth couple was desperate!  Neelesh and Shalini waited till the very last minute. They were going to dance a fast-tempo Slow Dance to “How Sweet It Is” by James Taylor.  They did surprisingly well. It’s a good thing too, because there was no time for any follow-up lessons. Neelesh flew out of town the same evening on a business trip and was not scheduled to return until a couple days before the wedding.

The fifth April 22nd couple, Stephanie and Greg, booked a Slow Dance lesson for themselves on Tuesday.  The next evening Stephanie came back and learned how to Foxtrot to “Brown Eyed Girl” with her Dad. 

One thing that was a bit unusual about my five April 22 couples is that each couple came alone with the exception of Greg and Stephanie.  I would say about a third of the time I work with “Families”.  Usually one or more members of the family tag along for the lesson or they come separately like Stephanie's father for a lesson of their own.

Over the course of my first year of teaching Wedding Dance lessons, I have had several marvelous experiences working with Fathers of the Bride.  I have taught quite a few “Dads” who came in to learn how to dance because they discovered they were in the same boat as their future son-in-laws when it came to the "Lost Art of Formal Dance"

Here is a typical email from one of my students who is writing not only to schedule her own lesson, but her father’s lesson to:

Marla,

Thank you so much for our lesson last night.  We are going to practice!  I promise!  Luckily we have a very large and open kitchen. :)

With that said, we still need more practice with a “professional”.  Plus, I need to schedule sessions for me and my Dad.  Here are the dates that I have free.  Would it be possible to schedule 6-7pm sessions for the following:

02/21 (w/Dad)
02/28 (w/Eric)
03/02 (w/Dad)
03/14 (w/Eric)

Let me know if these work for you.  You have a great teaching style and were so patient with us!  Thanks again.  Amy

Sometimes I cry too. I had one Father of the Bride, Henry, who came in to learn Slow Dance.  He was an incredibly gracious man.  He had a very sad story.  His wife was ill with cancer and was too sick to accompany him. This meant he needed a dance partner to practice with.  That would be me. 

Here is part of a brief email he sent following the wedding:

Sent:    Monday, January 09, 2006 10:24 AM
To:        Marla
Subject: THANKS

I would like to thank you so much for the private lessons.  The step-by-step instruction and extreme patience was wonderful.  The father/daughter dance was very special and made even more special by your kindness and care in instruction.  My daughter made the comment “I wish she was here to see us” - your studio and flexibility is just great.

Thanks again – Henry


Not only did four of my five April 22nd couples wait till the last minute, they had something else in common as well– not one couple came back for a second lesson.  I estimate that half my couples take at least two private lessons. One couple even came five times!  

However since my April 22nd couples all waited till the last minute, time-wise a follow-up lesson was impractical.  I work pretty fast, but I can't work miracles.  It would be indelicate to name names, but I was pretty worried about one of my five couples. The Fiancé was just barely getting the hang of it by the end of the lesson.  I can only hope he practiced and practiced and practiced in the few days left leading up to their Wedding or they would be in big trouble out on the floor

If you wait till the last minute and you have no previous experience, your options are pretty limited.  Most couples prefer to avoid “The Clutch and Sway”.  The Clutch and Sway may be the dance of choice wearing togas at a Frat Party, but those will be the longest three minutes of your Life if all you do is stand there and rock back and forth at your Wedding Dance with every important person in the world watching on. 

Fortunately the footwork to Slow Dancing is simple enough to learn in one hour and it turns out to be a vast improvement over the Clutch and Sway.  Most people can pick up “Side Touch Side Touch Walk Walk, Side Touch Side Touch Turn Turn” with a modicum of ease.  Not everyone, mind you, but most of my students do okay.  Occasionally I am tempted to suggest we let the Bride lead, but to date I have been able to hold my tongue.

Foxtrot is a little trickier.  If a Sinatra Foxtrot like “The Way You Look Tonight” is the dance of choice, then two lessons are recommended (or even three lessons).    Foxtrot takes longer to learn than Slow Dancing because I have to spend quite a bit of time teaching "Frame" where the man and woman use their parallel shoulders to create matching footwork.  Lead/Follow in Slow Dancing is much easier to learn. Once they understand the concept of Frame I move on to footwork.  I teach a simple amalgamation of basic Foxtrot moves which includes several options off the Box Step. I tell the couples to repeat the pattern a couple times to fill out the time in their song, then conclude with a side lunge and dip. I make sure the groom kisses his bride as their Grand Finale.  The guys seem to enjoy practicing that part and the ladies don't seem to mind either.

Wedding Lessons are not always a picnic in the park.  Because so many people wait to the last minute, there is a definite air of tension at the start of many lessons.

The number of lessons needed to learn Foxtrot varies by experience.  Pooja and Steve (one of my April 22 couples) had taken lessons before. They only needed one lesson.  But they were the exception, not the norm.  Most couples with no previous dance experience require at least two lessons. In my experience, if time permits, 3 lessons guarantees the couple will feel comfortable on the dance floor.  

One problem I have no control over is the amount of practice the couple is willing to put in after the lesson.  Practice can make a world of difference, but from what I have observed only about half my couples actually take the time to really at it. 

Frequently the groom is more than a little hesitant about coming in for the lesson. I am not sure exactly what they are afraid of, but they seem relieved to discover I am not the Wicked Witch of the West. Judging by how worried they are, I see what Rick meant when he told me a lady instructor was far more effective at this particular assignment than a male instructor.   Sometimes they can barely work up the courage to dance with me!  I grin to myself as I imagine the panic they would experience if it was my husband who was suggesting they dance with him!  

Matias was an example of one young man (late 20s) who came in with a deeply worried look on his face.  He was very reluctant.  The first lesson went slowly.  I pulled his fiancée aside and suggested to Alma that she encourage him to practice. Fortunately she took me seriously and made Matias practice.

Here is an email from Alma from Friday, March 17th:

Hi Marla: I had a lot of fun yesterday!  Matias was a little embarrassed I guess.  We’ve danced only ONCE together and he’s never danced before.  But we want to practice, practice, practice what we learned and I will get back with you next month so we can do another private lesson.

The practice worked magic. A month and a half later Alma and Matias returned on April 29th for their second Slow Dance lesson. I was impressed by how much Matias had improved. 

The second lesson went much better.  This time Matias was much more confident. He was eager to get better.   This was a 180 degree turnaround from their first visit. I was impressed by how much Matias had improved and told him so. Both people left the lesson with big smiles on their faces.

As a side note, Alma and Matias danced to  as their first dance at their wedding on May 13th.  I rarely comment on a couple’s choice of music, but I will say I suppressed a couple giggles over that songTry listening to “A Groovy Kind of Love” ten times in an hour and see if you can keep a straight face! 

Teaching Wedding Lessons requires more than just a knowledge of footwork and frame - sometimes I have to be a serious politician and therapist too. 

Most of my early focus is developing a rapport with the gentlemen. 
We know that all eyes will be on the Bride during the First Dance, but the skill level of the groom ultimately determines how graceful she will actually look. 

The vast majority of the men are just as cooperative as they possibly can be.  However once in a while, I will get a man who comes in sullen because he feels he has been forced to take this lesson. Here is the time when the gentle approach is the only possible way to go. I move slowly at his pace and compliment him whenever I can.  In these situations, I have found I have the best luck if I dance with the man myself until he gets it right. Once his confidence appears, his bad attitude often seems to magically melt away.  Believe it or not, some of my favorite lessons started off very awkwardly like this. The man came in frowning, but after he found out it wasn't as hard as he thought it would be, he left beaming and talking about coming back for another lesson!  

I try to be as gentle and patient as possible with my men. They always respond better to a lighter touch as opposed to a drill sergeant approach.  However there are some guys I simply cannot reach.  Occasionally I run across a man who simply will not listen.  Sad to say, in these situations I find my hands are tied.  I do my best to gain their trust, but I won't lie and say I am always successful.

You might be surprised that my toughest situations are more often in dealing with the ladies.  For some reason, some women do not realize how difficult it is for non-dancers to suddenly learn to dance. Since dancing seems to come so naturally to most women, they can't seem to understand that "leading" is very tricky to learn.

Let's face it. Some guys don't get it right off the bat.  At this point, some women lose patience and decide to start telling them how to do it themselves.  In other words, they turn into the instructor. This is a very dark development, believe me. The moment Bridezilla appears, I know we are in serious trouble.  I see the men cringe with frustration!  Heck, I cringe too!

The most important thing for the couple to do is to keep smiling.  The moment the lady begins to tell the guy how to dance, that smile sinks down to Davy Jones locker.  Pressure is no way to get results.  Usually the guy forgets everything he has learned to this point.  He is so worried about making a mistake now that he can barely think straight.

One time I had a guy get so intimidated by his fiancée's constant criticism, I threw my hands up and said "It's time for a Break!".  I went to the drink room to get a coke for myself.  I intended to bring my couple soft drinks as well, but for some reason I decided to bring the man a beer instead. Amazingly, the beer made them both laugh. The tension was broken. 

Fortunately this problem doesn't happen very often any more.  When I first started, I had many a lesson with a demanding bride pushing her future husband to do betterOnce I figured out how destructive that behavior was, I learned to intercede instantly and diffuse the tension. 

Since then I have actually stopped more than one bride in her tracks because she was being overly critical of her fiancé.  I tell both of them you simply cannot “pressure” someone to learn to dance faster.  I point out that if the man freezes up, the whole thing will take longer.  Most ladies respect my advice and back off immediately. Again, sad to say, a few brides don’t listen to me. Those are very long hours.

Fortunately very few women brush me off. Most ladies realize I have her best interests at heart and respect my intervention.  Once I get the bride to ease up, from then on the majority of the time the couples have a good time.  That's when we see real progress begin.  I have noticed that many times lessons that started awkwardly turn out very well. 

Occasionally I get invited to the Weddings, but so far I have declined.  For one thing, I have yet to train a couple I knew on a social basis before the Wedding, so I have always felt it would be inappropriate to attend.  Besides, I work practically every Saturday afternoon. Once my lessons and registration duties are over, my mind turns to dinner and movie night with Rick. 

That said,
I will admit I have been sorely tempted to accept several times.  I grew very close to one of my first wedding couples Katharine and Justin.  We met on four different occasions.  They were a marvelous couple.  They were so eager to learn and so appreciative. I got such a kick out of their excitement.  We even had stupid jokes.  They were getting married in Justin's hometown in Australia.  Our favorite joke was they might have to dance counter-clockwise to keep their balance on the flip side of the Earth. I guess you would have to be there for that one to be funny. 

At their last lesson, all three of us were beaming because Justin had just passed a crucial test.  I had just finished watching them handle a little obstacle course of chairs I had built for them. Since it was our fourth lesson, I had time to create a replica of their dance floor using the chairs to serve as a perimeter. This way the man finds out if he has the skill to ad lib a pattern if he gets stuck near the edge of the imaginary dance floor.

Justin had just passed his test with flying colors!  In the middle of the song, Justin beautifully negotiated a tight corner with a surprise "unchoreographed move". Katharine was so impressed and gave him such a big hug!

We all started to laugh at Katharine's excitement. On the spur of the moment Justin invited me to come to their wedding.  I don't know what came over me, but for an irrational moment I was sorely tempted to accept. 

That's when we all remembered the wedding was Down Under!  Coming to my senses,
I quipped that if Justin bought me a ticket, I would start looking for a new dress! 

I have had other interesting experiences— one of my favorites was the time Rick’s daughter Samantha referred one of her teachers to me!  Well, actually, Samantha referred Lisa to her father, but Rick persuaded Lisa to accept me instead.  I have no doubt Ryan, her fiancé, had no idea what he was missing.

I had to smile at their first lesson. It turns out Lisa is an athletic coach. In order to make our early evening lesson, she had no time to change after practice. So there she was in gym clothes, hair pulled up, with dirty, grass-stained field hockey shoes and all.  Fortunately Lisa is a very beautiful woman and would look good wearing anything! 

Lisa and Ryan learned to Foxtrot to Sinatra’s “Just in Time”.  They were moving deftly across the dance floor after only three lessons. 

Soon after the wedding, one day Lisa pulled Samantha aside at school to tell her how proud I would have been to see them as they danced their first dance.  Always the perfectionist, Lisa told Sam they only made one mistake, but recovered quickly.  After Sam reported the story back to me, I smiled at the compliment.  And I laughed at the mention of the mistake. After all, even my own husband with 30 years of dance experience flubbed a move at our Wedding Dance, a fact I love to needle him about. 

The important thing is that you laugh about it together.

My thanks go to my five April 22nd couples for inspiring me to write this story and to all of my 120 couples who made my first year of teaching Wedding Dance lessons a memorable one. It is a blessing to be permitted the chance to contribute to the most important day of many people’s lives. 
 

Marla Archer

Please Note there are three other stories to review 

 Wedding Home Page  Marla's First Year of Wedding Lessons The Cinderella Wedding
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