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How To Survive The First Dance

by Meredith Stead, Shall We Dance, New York, NY

Admit it: you are just a little worried about the first dance. Between the two of you youíve got four left feet. Or maybe youíre just haunted by memories of watching other peopleís bad wedding dances. Whatever the case, weíre here to help with some advice.

If you have never danced together and neither of you knows how to dance, you will need some form of instruction. This can be as formal as private lessons at a ballroom studio or as casual as asking a friend who dances to show you a few moves. Just donít assume that you will magically figure it out on the big day without ever having done it before. Sadly, achieving wedded bliss doesnít confer immediate Fred and Ginger status on you (if only it did!).

You should also be aware that dance styles (by which I mean waltz, foxtrot, salsa, swing, et cetera) are dictated by music. You may not need to learn waltz for your first dance; maybe your song choice is a Sinatra ballad to which you would actually dance foxtrot. This is the kind of information that a professional dance teacher or a good instructional videotape can give you. If you donít really have a song thatís ďour song,Ē you can check out the suggestions on this website.

To dance together comfortably and without stepping on each otherís toes, you will need to understand lead and follow. Typically the gentleman leads and the lady follows, although itís not absolutely necessary that you do that. But remember, leading involves steering. Itís like driving a car: even if both of you know how, only one of you can drive at a time!

Lead and follow requires that you line up your feet properly (parallel to and facing each other, lady slightly on the gentlemanís right side, right foot pointing between each otherís feet) and that you hold each other and use your arms in such a way that the gentleman can steer and the lady can feel the steering. Itís a little difficult to explain these concepts in print. Once again, an instructor, a dancing friend, or a good instructional tape can help you.

Once youíve picked a song and identified the dance style to do to it, donít feel obligated to dance the entire song. You may not realize it, but professional dance numbers usually run no more than 3 minutes, tops, and for good reason. Your DJ or your band can easily edit or condense your song, or can simply fade it at a pre-determined moment. Make sure that whoever is going to play the song knows what you expect, particularly in terms of tempo (how fast the song should be played) and duration (how long the song should be played).

To avoid unpleasant surprises on the big day, practice in advance. That means, try dancing together to the song in clothing that approximates your wedding attire. Ladies: wear your shoes and a skirt thatís like that of your gown. If you are concerned about smudging your shoes, put a pair of your fiancťís old athletic socks on over them.) This will not only make you more comfortable during the dance, but during the entire wedding, since itís a great way to break in your shoes. Gentlemen: wear dress shoes and a jacket, so that you become accustomed to the slight constraint through your arms. Also try to dance in a space comparable to the dance floor at your reception site. Dance at public events whenever possible Ė a friendís wedding, a bar mitzvah, the office Christmas party. Just get used to moving with each other and youíll automatically get better at it.

Finally, take all this advice Ė but not too seriously. After all, your first dance is NOT the most important thing that will happen on your wedding day. And who knows, it might even be fun!


© Meredith Stead, Shall We Dance

Meredith Stead is co-owner of Shall We Dance Studios in New York City. She and her husband and partner, John Knapp, released the instructional video "Preparing for Your Wedding Dance" in January 2002. They have been teaching wedding couples for over sixteen years. In addition to holding several competitive titles, they served as choreographic consultants for Broadwayís Original Swing and Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsenís Dance Party of the Century.


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