THE STORY OF MY FIVE APRIL 22ND WEDDING
Heidi and her husband Kenny
danced a Slow Dance to “At Last” by Etta James. No
surprise there - “At Last” is a song
by many couples.
It is a definite favorite "First
Song" to be sure.
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
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
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:
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
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
Sent: Monday, January 09, 2006
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
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 song!
Try 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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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 better. Once 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.
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.