From: Zach Duran
Sent: Sunday, August 25, 2013
Subject: Private Lessons
To whom it may concern,
My fiancée Sarah and I are
interested in taking private dance lessons for our upcoming
wedding on November 30th. We are having a jazz band play and
would like to further our knowledge of swing dancing. We
have taken 4 months of classes with the Houston Swing
Society and want to round out what we learned with some
one-on-four lessons (we would be taking them with Sarah's
parents). We would like to do this during the month of
September. Can you please send me some info on the times
that are available and any other info you think we might
Rick Archer wrote:
Hi Zach, I should be able to help. Four months of
previous lessons is very impressive.
You guys should be pretty good!
The big headache is to figure out a time slot for FIVE
different people. Tuesday evening
is open at the moment... pick your time. Saturday morning
and afternoon is another good possibility. Otherwise I also
do lessons 530-630 Monday, Thursday, and Friday.
Well, I wouldn't say we're great but we could be worse!
Luckily for us Sarah's parents have been taking the
classes with us. Let me send this message out to them and
see what times we can come up with. How late can we start a
class on Tuesday?
We can start as late as 8 pm if that will
Tuesday would be great, but Sarah doesn't get off from work
until 7:00pm. Where would we meet for lessons? If it's close
enough we could probably all be together by 7:30pm on
Tuesdays. And how about September
10th? Would that be something that could work?
Our song is A Kiss To Build A Dream
On by Louis Armstrong.
I hold classes here
at my house in the Heights. 730
Time and date are fine. Don't
forget to bring your music!
First Lesson: Tuesday, September 10
first lesson, I was really impressed with Zach and
as much ground in one lesson as most couples cover in
the three lessons. Their learning curve was
was worried that they were trying to force their Foxtrot
to a song that in my opinion was about 20-30 beats per
minute too slow!
comes to a Wedding First Dance, typically a couple picks
a song. Then I suggest which dance will work best
to that particular song.
I think Waltz is the prettiest dance, but it is also the
hardest to learn. Very few couples actually end up
using the Waltz for their first dance.
is extremely popular. It works well in small dance
floors, the music is typically very classy, and the
"formality" of the dance itself speaks well for the
occasion. There is also a romantic element to the
Foxtrot that is missing in some of the bouncier dances.
In addition, Foxtrot is much easier to learn than Waltz.
people chose Twostep or East Coast Swing,
but not that often.
dance that has become very popular for Weddings is Night Club. There are a lot of very pretty
Country-Western "slow dance ballads" that end up
working perfectly as First Dance songs.
with Zach and Sarah's song is that it was painfully slow
for a Foxtrot. A Foxtrot works best to a song
somewhere between 120 and 130 beats per minute.
Sarah's particular version of A Kiss To Build A Dream
On was somewhere around 98 BPM.
I can see
speeding the footwork up or slowing it down a little to adjust to a
favorite song ... 5% perhaps... but slowing down the footwork to reach a song 20% off the recommended speed
was a real reach.
Hoping to change their mind on their song
choice, I had them
practice to a Sinatra song with the correct speed that first night. Then
I gave them a complimentary Sinatra CD complete with 20
Sinatra songs that were the perfect tempo for Foxtrot.
My ploy was
simple... I hoped if they practiced to one of the
Sinatra songs, maybe they might find one they liked
Rick, We had a great time learning from you last week. I
think we're going to wait until you get back from your
cruise to continue lessons. What day would the first
available Tuesday be?
Also, could you tell me how many BPM
we were dancing to? I remember you saying it was a little
slower of a speed than the style usually is danced at but
felt good anyways.
I know you suggested using a CD of our
music, but Sarah has decided that even though it will be a
little more work and a little riskier, she is gonna go with
our band performing the first dance and the father bride/
mother groom dance.
Thanks for the help!
I frowned as I
read the email above. So much for my ploy. Not only
did Sarah want to stick with her song, she wanted the band to
Oh, no, not the
band!! Now I was
even more worried.
Rick wrote to
Don't worry about the two week gap due to
my Hawaii cruise. Since you covered at least twice the
material that most people get to, there is no hurry.
As for BPM (beats per minute), most
3-step Foxtrots work best in a range of 110-130 BPM.
The best speed is somewhere in the 120's.
For example, I
had a request today to dance to Sinatra version of More. I clocked it at 126, a
favorite Sinatra tempo. This song was an ideal speed
for a Foxtrot.
Your song was
tricky to count, but I could
have sworn I kept getting 96. That's really a stretch
to slow down your Foxtrot to hit that beat.
As far I am concerned, you are such a
good dancer you could handle any change in speed just fine.
Other men whose dance confidence is more fragile I would
worry about, but not you, Zach.
I suppose you can always ask
the band to play the song up-tempo.
Tuesday, October 8, is fine. I don't have anything booked so
I will put you down for the same 730-830 slot that night.
Second Lesson: Tuesday, October 8
Looking forward to another lesson next Tuesday!
We told the band to do an arrangement
of it set to 99BPM. So why don't you use your computer
program to speed up our song to that tempo and let's see how
We've been practicing, can't wait to
show off our progress!
Archer's Side Note:
groaned when I saw that email. I had no idea
how much they could trust the band to play this song
at the speed they wanted.
I have any idea how they were going to get the band
to end their song at the same time that the dance
Third Lesson: Tuesday, October 15
Archer's Side Note:
their third lesson, Zach and Sarah spent the evening
dancing to their favorite song, "A Kiss to Build a Dream On".
again amazed at how beautifully Zach and Sarah
danced together, but the slowness of that song kept driving me
crazy throughout the night.
frowned a couple times. He could see the speed was a real
I was so
worried about the song that the next I wrote a long,
impassioned plea to get Zach and Sarah to
"reconsider" using that song. Here is what
Letter to Zach:
I have given this some thought. Just
so you understand, I like this song you have sent me. It's
gentle, it makes me smile to listen to it. I remember my
stepdaughter Marissa danced to Louis Armstrong's "It's a Wonderful
World" at her own wedding.
You picked a sweet song, but it is
going to take some effort to bend it to your will. I think we can make your song work for what you want to do,
but keep in mind there is Risk involved.
The version song you sent me is actually 78 beats per minute (BPM)
which is not even close to our desired speed of 100BPM.
At this speed
(78), a four-step foxtrot fits the music better
than the three-step Foxtrot I have been teaching you.
I would steer away from the 4-step if
possible. That is more of a "Traveling Dance". In my
opinion, the symmetrical 3-step Foxtrot works much better for small floor
So to keep the
3-step Foxtrot means finding a way to get that song played
at the right speed.
2. Trusting the band to
stop the song at the right time is Risk #2. … do they have a
stopwatch? Will they know when to "fade" the music?
When I danced my own wedding dance, I had a cue in the
music that told me when to begin my final descent (using
airplane terms). Your band might not play their music in a
way that makes it easy for you to find the same cue. Using
the CD for your wedding dance would preserve that cue.
My biggest concern is whether the band play your song at
the right speed? This is a huge problem because even the
slightest deviation from the speed you are used to could
result in a very awkward situation for the two of you on the
Personally… and this is just me… I want to eliminate
anything that involves uncertainty. You both are gifted
dancers; I mean that. You have the rare ability to actually
perform a true wedding dance rather than fake it like most
But the success of your dance is
heavily dependent on your music…. and your music is NOT the
right speed. The chance of this band finding the right speed
to play at without serious practice is small in my opinion.
Furthermore, if you practice for two months to that CD, you
will become very attached to that CD music. You might not
like the way the band plays the song.
So many variables! Why take any chances?
If this was my daughter's wedding, I would suggest she have
the band sit quietly in the background for three minutes and
watch while you dance to the CD I made for you… then do your
closing sequence and finish to the applause you will surely
garner for your excellent dancing.
Then you can signal them
to begin playing the same song in the background as
accompaniment while you and Sara go hug your family and
That said, I am not the kind of person to "insist" that you
do it my way. As your mentor, I am simply giving you my
advice and my reasons. Now you and Sarah can mull it over!
See you tonight.
Fourth Lesson: Tuesday, October 22
Archer's Side Note:
In our fourth
lesson, Zach and
Sarah stuck to their guns. They said their band promised them it could play
the song at any speed they asked. It was
obvious that Zach and Sarah had great faith in this
that my prodigies were fearless on this issue, I
surrendered. It was time to back off and trust
That said, I
understood why the song was important to them. When I
married Marla, our own wedding song was important to us.
We danced to a waltz version of the song "A Time for Us"
from Romeo and Juliet.
Now ten years
later Marla and I still smile every time we hear that song.
That song has an powerful emotional impact on us. It has
become "our song".
So I can easily
see why Sarah embraced her own song even if it didn't make
my job easier. That said, it wasn't about me. It
was my job to offer advice, but I had to accept that Zach
and Sarah knew the band better than I did and quit worrying.
But I still
worried. For example, since no one had any idea how
long the song would last at a different tempo, how would
Zach and Sarah coordinate the end of their dance with the
During the lesson, we did come up with an interesting idea. Zach decided he
would ask the band to keep playing until he and Sarah
stopped dancing. That meant they had no worries about
synchronizing their dance to the length of the song. I
wondered why I hadn't thought of that before... why not just let the
band play on till the dance is over? How easy is that?
fourth lesson was used to master the Dip.
Naturally Zach and Sarah opted for the most
difficult, flashiest form of the Dip.
They found this pattern was a bit more of a challenge than the
other material had been. It actually took them
most of the lesson to perfect it.
Nevertheless, their talent won in the end.
They looked terrific.
assumed this would be our last lesson, but Zach
surprised me. Zach said that he wanted to
bring his mother in two weeks from now and Sarah
wanted to do the same with her father. They
wanted me to create a simple routine for "Waltz
smiled. A Waltz! I love to Waltz.
Too much fun for me! And to think I was getting paid
to do this. Now I felt guilty... but just a little.
Dance teachers have to pay taxes and for groceries just like
Fifth Lesson: Tuesday, November 12
Archer's Side Note:
father's name was Jerry and Zach's mother was
both parents enjoyed hearing me brag about the
amazing dance ability of their son and daughter.
And I don't think Zach and Sarah minded the flattery
at all. I think they both very much wanted
their parents to be proud of them.
Since I had
unofficially adopted Zach and Sarah myself, I took special
note of the warmth between the parents and their gifted
mentioned that the parents had been taking some
Lindy lessons with them earlier on. It became
readily apparent that Jerry, Sarah's Dad, was a
pretty good dancer in his own right. He caught
on pretty quickly.
But not that
quickly... it was
fun to see Sarah gently coaching her father the
whole evening. Meanwhile I just grinned. This
was so much fun that for the millionth time I reminded
myself how lucky I was to share in this experience.
was more tentative. Fortunately she was
blessed with a son who could lead at an
extraordinary level and who remembered the pattern
effortlessly. Once I explained to Melissa how
to get her feet closer together on the many Waltz
turns, she began to get some confidence.
Slowly but surely Melissa began to relax. By
the end of the evening, Melissa looked a lot
Sixth Lesson: Tuesday, November 19
our final lesson. Zach and Sarah returned with
Jerry and Melissa to help lock the routine
deeper into their memory.
only had two lessons, I was still able to teach
the two couples a fairly complicated Traveling
Waltz routine. Each couple would dance for one
and a half minutes. That gave us enough time to include the Travel step,
Twinkles and of course the Sweetheart series (you can't have a romantic Waltz without the
Sarah had given this Father-Daughter, Mother-Son
dance some real thought. Both couples would do
the same routine, but not at the same time.
Jerry and Sarah would go first. When they finished, like a Tag Team,
Zach and Melissa would
take the floor for their turn.
Taking a clue
for an earlier solution, the band
was instructed to keep playing till the second
couple stopped dancing. I liked that idea
a lot. Now the second couple didn't have to
worry about running out of time. In this
sense, using the band to play the Waltz was more
practical than using a CD. I nodded in
approval. Clever idea. I smiled.
Never too late for the old dog to learn a new trick.
would be the last time I would see Zach and Sarah.
I sometimes feel guilty accepting money to teach
these lessons. Maybe I should pay them!
I always felt so good after helping the couple. They
were so appreciative and concentrated so hard.
There is a "Glow" that
surrounds most wedding couples. I think it is
a real blessing for me to be able to bask in their obvious affection
for each other and their excitement over their dance
"Glow" was magnified in Zach and Sarah's case
because they had the enthusiastic participation of
their parents in the special Mom-Son, Dad-Daughter
get to see this extra feature very often, but I love
it when I do. I can honestly say it really tickles
me to see the parents interact with their talented
sons and daughters.
Usually it is a
Daughter-Dad dance, not two sets of parents. More often than not, the
Dad can't dance a lick, but his daughter will always
cheer him up and get him to hang in there till he
gets it. It is so much fun to watch!
In general, I
think a lot of Wedding Dance couples are a little confused
about the First Dance. They know they are expected to
do it, but really wish they could skip it if it was left up
I always explain
that the First Dance is presented as a symbol of their love
to the people who care about them the most. I explain
that "Love" is better expressed through "Dance" than any
I say to each
couple that what their guests want to see more than anything
else is that the bride and groom are Happy Together out on
the stress this First Dance causes people, looking "happy
together" is a lot easier said than done. And that's
where I come in. I explain there is no such thing as a
mistake-free wedding dance. And I mean it!
Something always goes wrong
So I explain
that both people need to relax and smile. If something
goes wrong, don't frown but rather laugh about it.
People don't care about a dance mistake, but they do care if
someone looks upset or angry about it.
lecture puts things in perspective. Now a couple
realize they are not expected to put on a "Dancing with the
Stars" routine, but rather do a series of fairly basic moves
and simply show the world how happy they are together.
That takes off a lot of the pressure.
Where Zach and
Sarah exceeded my expectations is that they actually came
pretty close to matching a "Dancing with the Stars" routine.
later mentioned he got a lot of grumbling from the other
guys in his group, saying how their own girlfriends had
taken note of how good Zach and Sarah looked out there.
Zach and Sarah's Wedding
Saturday, November 30
AFTER THE WEDDING
A week or so
after the wedding, I was curious how things went. So I
emailed Zach and asked some questions.
Question: So how did your dance go, Zach?
dance went off without a
hitch! Our dance was perfect.
Not to mention we received plenty of praise. I even had
a few frustrated friends who thought I set the bar a
little too high. Once a video surfaces, you'll be the
first to get an email with the link. Thanks again for
all your help!
Your quip about raising the bar
made me laugh.
definitely say I see their point. I would hate to
be the next wedding couple to take the floor after you
Your news is absolutely awesome! I am so proud of you!
Give Sarah a big hug for me; you both deserve all the
praise in the world for your hard work. And I mean it
when I say you have a god-given talent for dancing.
Do you mind
if I ask a few more questions? How did your parents
handle their dance?
both did very well considering the amount of practice we
were able to squeeze in during the final, busy month. We
got a lot of complements on the shared song and how
smoothly the transition was from the father daughter
into the mother groom. And yes, my mom finally relaxed a
How did the
band handle that music speed dilemma?
Aunt Ruby's Sweet Jazz Babies,
were really what put the wedding over the top in our
opinion. They were a very entertaining, personal, and
unique wedding band. We did go with Kiss to Build a
Dream and they nailed the tempo and fade out perfectly.
I wish I could remember all the compliments we received
but there were too many to keep track of!
I am curious
about something. I never did remember to ask how you
stumbled across me as your teacher. Your original
letter was simply "to whom it may concern".
I think the
way we found you was just by googling dance lessons in
the heights. And are we ever glad we found you!
Rick's Side Note:
A couple weeks
after our email exchange, I got another email.
Here is our wedding video.
did have an amazing night. Not a lot of dancing footage
in the video but there is a nice shot of our final dip.
might want to see it. Couldn't have done it without you!
When I saw the
video, I was really impressed. I have never seen a
wedding video capture so much warmth before. Then it
crossed my mind that "warmth" came very easily to this
special couple. Here is what I wrote back.
That video was so wonderful! Someone had a keen
sense of style for cutting that video. My compliments!
I remember how quiet Sarah always was. It was
delight to see how animated she was on her wedding day.
That is one happy girl!!!
I will confess the video brought happy tears to my eyes.
Good for you.
PS - the Dip looked terrific!! Well done!
permission to share their wedding video. It is 3
minutes long... you will definitely find yourself smiling.