Rick & Michelle's
The purpose of the First Dance
at a Wedding is to express a couple's love through dance. The dance
becomes a powerful symbol of the romance. It shows how
two lovers have learned to move as one.
Deep down in her heart, every
bride is a Cinderella.
Every groom automatically becomes
The First Dance captures the
beauty of the new marriage in a way that charms and delights the
people gathered as witness.
The problem is that
making the dream come true out on the dance
is a lot
easier said than done.
Rick Archer's Note:
story of Rick and Michelle's First Dance is full of
pictures showing this lovely couple dancing
beautifully together, it will be difficult
to make the eventual outcome a surprise.
I will just go ahead and reveal that Rick and
Michelle had a wonderful wedding and impressed
everyone with their exceptional First Dance.
can't possibly guess from these initial pictures is
that their success was very much in doubt right from
to dance was a huge uphill struggle for both of
them. The fact that Rick and Michelle did
ultimately succeed is what helps to make this a very
interesting story. Their persistence was
Is there any doubt that elements of
the Cinderella Mythology lurk in every bride's thoughts
as she thinks about
From the moment a little girl is old enough
to put on her first dress, her mother or her
grandmother tells her the story of how
Cinderella found her true love and lived
happily ever after.
That story will be
repeated time and again through the years. Soon the
little girl will grow old
enough to read the story for herself and certainly she will delight in
watching the Disney classic on video.
Every girl grows up thinking about how she
wants her own wedding to be just as perfect as the
Cinderella Story has to start with finding the
Prince. There is
no question that Michelle had definitely found her
fiancé Rick was about as handsome as they come.
element would have to be the dress. There
are many elements in the Cinderella fantasy, but
right up at the top of the list has to be the dress.
woman wants to be beautiful at her wedding.
Part of that beauty starts with the dress.
can see, Michelle looked stunning in her dress.
danced out on the floor, Michelle was absolutely
confident in the fact that she was a very beautiful
the fantasy would have never been complete without
one more important element.
missing element would be the First Dance.
I am not
sure if Michelle had any idea this would prove to be
such a hurdle, but she would soon discover to her
dismay that the "First Dance" part of the Cinderella
Fantasy was in big trouble
My wife Marla gave Rick
and Michelle their first private lesson. Marla was not
actually Rick and Michelle's first teacher. They had taken
private lessons at another dance studio for a very understandable
reason - it was closer to their home.
Sent: Tuesday, February 22, 2011 9:16 AM
Subject: Wedding Lessons
Marla, Congratulations on your new grandbaby! That is so
We live out in southeast Houston. We both work out here
and I'm in graduate school too. We have been taking lessons from
someone out here. But honestly, I'm very disappointed with them.
I wanted to take from you originally but I thought I would save
myself some time by not having to drive to Houston.
changed my mind. Now I'm convinced it's worth it!
I'd really like to show you what we have learned and then we are
open to changing that but then finishing it. We have only
learned about 5 phrases and I think there's 12. Our dance floor
is 18 x 24 feet.
We would like to start next week, March 4th if possible. Of
course I need to confirm all of this with Rick, but he's pretty
Thank you so much! Michelle
Driving into Houston
probably meant an extra hour of travel - 30 minutes in and 30
minutes back. Fortunately our house in the Heights is just a
few blocks from I-10, so it isn't hard to get to.
As most of you know, we
have a comfortable dance room in our home that is the perfect size
for teaching private lessons and small group classes. Their
wedding dance floor was 18x24. Our dance floor is 20x20.
Our floor was perfect to rehearse on.
I understand that it is
an odd arrangement going to someone's home for a dance lesson.
However, once people realize we know what we are doing and that we
aren't going to axe murder them, they relax and get down to
Eventually the students
come to enjoy having the lessons in our home. When I talk
about "private lessons", this is the closest thing to privacy
imaginable. With a room deeply recessed by a spacious yard and
hidden behind thick bushes and an eight foot wood fence, there are absolutely no
I first met Rick
and Michelle in March 2011 on a Friday night. They
were back for their second lesson.
As I shook the hand of this tall, handsome young man, I
noticed immediately he was
frowning deeply. Something was clearly bothering him.
I assumed he was
a little irritated because I don't think Marla had a chance
to warn them I would be taking her place. I didn't
blame him. It had been a last-minute switcheroo.
So where was
Marla? Marla was at a Friday night birthday party.
Marla was having dinner and drinks at a Mexican restaurant with
the girls. The time and date of the party had
been moved to tonight at the last minute.
Marla had made a commitment to
give Rick and Michelle their second lesson. Marla had every
intention of skipping the dinner party to honor her teaching commitment, but I could
see that she was bummed out. This party was
for one of her best friends and her entire circle of
girlfriends would be there. It was going to be a fun
event for sure.
I told Marla I
wouldn't mind subbing for her. "Are you sure?" she
"No, I don't
mind at all. I don't have anything going on other than
watching basketball and I can still do that after the
lesson. What kind of dance are they doing?"
Didn't you tell them that's the hardest dance to learn?"
"Yes, but Waltz
is what Michelle has her heart set on."
There is no
doubt that as Wedding Dances go, the Waltz is the prettiest
rhythm can be so soft that even experienced dancers have trouble hearing
the tempo. It is very easy to get off the beat.
frustrating is mastering the rise and fall of the Waltz.
The easiest way
to teach dance is to show how certain dance steps resemble
For example, a
"Slow" in Twostep resembles a person's natural stride.
A "Quick" is a small sliding step that carries all of a
person's weight. You would assume that covers every
kind of step... some of your weight or all of your weight.
the first step of the Waltz is different from both Quicks
and Slows. There is a third kind of step... one with
The first step
of the Waltz is a False Step... a step that carries no
weight. The Compression technique requires someone to
stand on one foot and bend at the knee while reaching the
other foot as far as possible without putting any weight on
Does that make
any sense? Unless you are a trained Waltz dancer,
probably not, but at least you get the idea that it sounds
complicated. The tricky
compression on the first step creates the gentle rise
and fall of the Waltz.
This maneuver has left more than one young man
convinced he has no chance of ever being a dancer. I
count myself as one of the victims. I had a lot of trouble
learning to Waltz properly.
As it turned
out, it wasn't having me as a substitute teacher that was bothering Rick,
but rather the dance itself.
wrapped up in knots because he didn't have a clue how to
dance gracefully to this strange dance. The rise and
fall was difficult, the
music was foreign to his ears, and the patterns made no
sense. As I said, Waltz
was awkward. Since I was substituting for Marla, I had no
idea what they knew or what to begin with.
So I told them
to put on their song and dance for a minute or so. I
recognized "Moon River" immediately and frowned. This
is a pretty song, but it is very slow and has a weak beat.
began to struggle. In addition to not dancing anywhere
near the beat, he was trying some very advanced Waltz
patterns. I could not believe Marla had taught a
beginning dancer such difficult patterns.
So my first
question was to ask the origin of the these tricky patterns.
As Rick stared
at the floor with his arms crossed and wearing his frown,
began to explain that they had taken lessons
elsewhere at a Ballroom dance studio near where they lived.
the whole experience had been a comedy of errors.
their instructor taught them some very complicated patterns
and seemed extremely impatient when they didn't pick the
material up very fast.
Michelle added that
she liked the patterns, but that Rick chafed under the
constant criticism. It seemed to her that the teacher
was irritated that they couldn't learn faster.
For his part,
Rick said nothing. However I could see that Michelle
was correct. Someone had definitely taken the fun out
of the learning process.
"When's the wedding,
I nodded. That's
what I figured. I smiled. "Well, I don't like telling
people what they should and shouldn't do, but since you have come to
me for advice, I think you should simplify things a bit.
Fortunately, you know
enough patterns already to make it through most of the song.
Let's take what you already have learned and work from there.
I suggest we group it into four
basic patterns. Then we can work on an ending."
When Rick heard that I
wanted to simplify things, I
think I could detect the first hint of a smile. The idea of
simplifying things worked for him just fine.
One of our first patterns was the
classic "Diva Walk" seen pictured. Marla had taught them
the previous week. As Michelle walked solo in a half-circle to
her right, Rick learned to slide in behind her back. They
would meet at an
arranged point down the floor.
With practice, this move actually began to
feel right. Rick finally began to smile a little now that we
were making progress.
You cannot ask for
perfection. There is so much to remember that to criticize
constantly just locks people up with anxiety and frustration.
For example, in the picture on the right you can see that Rick's left hand is too
high. And his right hand is too low.
But the overall
look is very graceful. Close enough!!
are too hard on themselves to begin with. They think their
guests expect "Dancing with the Stars". No, that is not
correct. All the guests want is to see is that the couple is happy
together out on the floor.
Having me chew Rick out for every
flaw and every mistake would discourage him even further. Why upset
the young man with more fussing?
I am pleased to say that
by the end of the lesson, Rick was actually smiling when I took his
picture. I think that knowing the routine was being simplified
was an incredible relief for him.
I think Rick
appreciated that I was patient to a fault. I had explained to
him that there was nothing wrong with his dancing ability. The
problem was that he had been pushed to do patterns that were way
above his skill level. No wonder he felt incompetent.
I think once his
self-esteem in regards to dance improved, he began to understand
there was a light at the end of the tunnel. Rick just might be
able to pull this off after all.
In my opinion, the previous
dance teacher was definitely competent. I think her mistake
was overestimating this young couple's ability to absorb advanced
material in the limited amount of time. When the teacher saw
they were going to fall short, she lost her composure and pushed
them to learn faster. Rick and Michelle then froze under the
realized it was time to switch to a new coach. I think their
previous dance teacher had them on a path that would have imploded
with bitter frustration had they gone much further.
It was with a certain amount of sadness that I said goodbye
to Rick and Michelle after our first lesson. I was going to
I felt like I
had made a huge contribution. I had cheered Rick up,
calmed Michelle down and shown them that the time spent with
the other instructor had not been wasted. That
knowledge really cheered Michelle up because she liked the
moves a lot.
When Marla asked
me how the lesson had gone, she must have picked up on
something. She invited me to continue as their
Sent: Tuesday, March 22, 2011 12:42 PM
Subject: Michelle & Rick Dance Lesson
Hi Marla! Rick did a great job helping me and my
Rick with our wedding dance earlier this month. Will
either of you be available this Friday at 7pm?
Sent: Tuesday, March 22, 2011 12:49 PM
To: Rick Archer
Subject: Fw: Michelle & Rick Dance Lesson
Rick, I think you should continue with Michelle and Rick
since I don't know what you taught.
I was really pleased at
this turn of events. This was an assignment I relished.
At our next lesson, I spent time reviewing their material
and working with Rick on leads.
The importance of
leading cannot be underestimated. If something goes wrong in
a memorized routine, a man who doesn't know how to lead is in deep
trouble. I know this for a fact because the most traumatic
moment of my entire dance career was caused by this exact problem.
With this memory still
fresh in my mind after 25 years, I wasn't going to set this young
man up for a similar experience. I was going to teach him how
to lead these moves properly. Rick wasn't just going to learn
a dance routine, I wanted him to learn how to look good doing
it...and I succeeded. Rick looks poised in every single
wedding picture and his dance frame is perfect. That makes me
proud of him.
Next I had to teach
Michelle how to be more patient. I explained to her that if
she moved ahead of the leads, then she was in essence "leading"
herself. They would never be able to move as a team this way. They
need to learn lead/follow to coordinate their footwork and look
graceful together. Michelle was more than
willing to listen. She would do anything to make this project
I know she will kill me
for saying this, but Michelle's big turning point was the evening
she had a margarita shortly before coming to the lesson. She
was so relaxed that the feel of the Waltz actually snuck in. I put on the
music and Michelle giggled as I guided her through the patterns. As Michelle floated through one move after another, she
began to hum the tune. Then she actually
began to sing some of the lyrics.
It is a very good sign when a
lady starts singing while she is dancing. It means
she trusts her leader, it means she isn't "thinking", and it means
she is so relaxed that she is having fun. I think this was the
first time Michelle had realized that partner dancing could be this
much fun!! Meanwhile Rick looked on in stunned amazement.
He had never seen Michelle quite this cheerful out on the dance
During the second half of their third lesson, I introduced the
Sweetheart Pattern (as seen in the picture). The Sweetheart
Pattern is popular in Western Waltz. I doubt seriously their
Ballroom instructor had considered showing it to them.
Rick actually turned
white when I suggested he learn the Sweetheart pattern.
"No more material, please!" he said. "I can barely remember what we
have covered so far!!"
I explained they should
learn the Sweetheart pattern for a number of reasons. First,
because Rick was so tall, his beautiful fiancée was lost inside his
massive shoulders much of the time. How could a camera find Michelle?
Why not put his stunning beauty at his side where everyone could
see both of them?
Second, I explained,
this was not a difficult pattern to learn. I promised him I
wasn't fibbing. Third, this pattern
would be a good lead-in for their final routine.
When Rick heard
a certain phrase in the Moon River song, "my huckleberry friend", that would be
his cue to wrap up the Sweetheart and move into the final pattern.
Michelle liked the move
immediately, but it took Rick a while longer to come around. Rick reluctantly
agreed after I demonstrated the pattern to him several
I think Michelle's hopeful smile sold the move.
Whatever the reason, I am glad Rick relented. Some of the best
wedding dance pictures came from the Sweetheart position... as I
suspected they would.
Most people have no idea
how difficult it is to get a good dance picture. 90% of the
time you only get one face. Therefore, the Sweetheart move is
the perfect Wedding dance pattern. It allows everyone to get a
great dance shot.
The picture on the left
solved the mystery of the dance floor. I knew the date was on
the floor, but wasn't sure about the rest. Now I can make out
"R&M". Aha! Clever!
By the fourth lesson
(one with Marla, three with me), their dance routine was taking
shape. We broke it down into five
segments. Rick and Michelle would start by dancing in the
center of the floor. There they used the Ballroom Waltz
patterns suggested by their first teacher.
Then they would move to
the edge of the floor to dance Western Waltz-style Twinkles and the
Then they would return
to the center for the lovely Shadows pattern.
From there they would
Chassez back to the perimeter to begin their Sweetheart pattern.
For the conclusion,
Michelle would hit the separation position shown in the picture.
She would do a complete turn and then wrap herself in
Rick's arms. It was a pretty conclusion to their impressive dance.
There was only one
problem. Rick knew each of the five sequences fairly well by
itself, but when I asked him to dance the five sequences back to back, he kept
forgetting leads and what came next.
Rick got very
frustrated. He was angry at himself. Michelle wasn't
sure what to do either. Seeing how despondent they both were,
the success of the lesson hung in the balance. I decided to take control. I
asked Michelle to sit down and chill for awhile.
I knew what was wrong.
Rick was simply overwhelmed.
He knew all his material.
It was stored in his brain in five separate compartments. When I put the
music on, he could handle one sequence at a time without freezing
up. However he did not know the material well enough to dance
all five sequences back to back without blanking out at certain
When he saw how
disappointed Michelle was, the frustration just got to him.
It was time for an
"intervention". So I asked Rick to dance with me. I told
him he didn't have to do it, but it was in his best interests. We
had danced together briefly a few times and I knew he was uncomfortable
I didn't blame Rick a bit.
Few men are
comfortable dancing with other men. I don't enjoy it,
but it doesn't bother me. I will dance with a man any time it
serves a purpose. I have discovered that dancing with
a man is the fastest way to get him over a stumbling block. I
have the ability to "back-lead" a man through patterns to allow him
to get the hang of a tricky pattern.
So I literally led Rick
through the entire pattern by calling out each pattern as it arose.
Plus I influenced his footwork by "back-leading".
Rick wasn't at all happy about
the bitter medicine. However he stopped resisting once he
saw how well my radical suggestion was working. Slowly but surely
the five separate sequences began to flow together.
After we finished, Rick nodded
to Michelle with a wan smile. He said he
was ready to try the patterns with her. Michelle eagerly hopped up out
of her chair and practically leaped into Rick's arms. I had to
suppress a smile.
Yes, the two of them were
ragged. However they got all the way through the routine without
stopping. Michelle had a couple small tears in her eyes and Rick looked
like the weight of the world had come off his shoulders.
That was the
breakthrough. From that point on, everything went much better.
As their nerves began to mend, their mood turned from depression to
elation. They were very pleased to see how nicely the five sequences flowed
Afterwards I encouraged Rick and
Michelle to come back for one more lesson. Their routine was
done, but it needed polish and more practice.
The final lesson was
marked by laughter and smiles.... and a few frowns. Rick was
extremely hard on himself whenever he made a mistake.
I cautioned him to
relax. Mistakes were inevitable in every dance routine. I said
that pros make mistakes too. For example, I
messed up during my Wedding Dance with Marla. After an
especially graceful pattern, someone in the crowd hollered out, "Good
When I looked up to see who had complimented me,
I lost track of where I was in my routine. I could have gotten
angry over the distraction, but I simply
rolled my eyes and started over on the next beat.
Marla smiled, I smiled,
someone giggled, everyone knew I had messed up... and no one cared.
I told Rick it isn't so
terrible to mess up just as long as the two of you smile and don't
let it bother you.
All the guests really want to see is that you are happy. One
or two dance mistakes should not be allowed to interfere with that
I think they got the
message. You can see the smiles and approval of all the guests
in every picture.
When Michelle sent me
her wedding pictures a couple weeks later, she added this short
It wasn't perfect, but it was definitely beautiful!
Thanks again for all your help! We really appreciate it!
The entire process of
working with Rick and Michelle was a real challenge. From the
moment I saw they had bitten off much more than they could chew, I
realized they were looking to me to somehow guide them through the
jungle of their confusion.
Rather than start all
over, I took each move they already knew and broke it down in a way
that Rick could understand better. Once he learned to lead, he
was pleased at how much easier it was to master this material than
to simply memorize it.
Neither Rick nor
Michelle were born dancers. However, they both possessed a
will to achieve. Once they put their mind to their task,
they had the ability to accomplish it through their
determination. Quite frankly, most people would have quit and
moved to an easier dance.
Not these two.
They set a goal and they learned to Waltz through sheer will power.
It wasn't easy. I saw steam rising on several occasions from
all the frustration. But they always got back to work.
That was impressive.
I took great pride in
their success. Seeing Rick and Michelle accomplish their goal
despite the hurdles was the reward that all teachers live for.