As any avid dancer will tell you, whenever you have a spare moment, you feel the urge to practice or schedule a lesson, because you’re addicted; however, like any typical Saturday afternoon, today the parkway was jammed for no apparent reason, so here I was again, having to call my instructor to let him know I was running late.
He answered the phone, but didn’t talk to me straight away. I could hear him in the background telling someone, “Well, that tempo is a little fast for rumba. It would make an awesome foxtrot, though.”
“Uh-oh! Can’t wait to hear what that’s all about,” I thought.
Finally, he spoke to me. “Goodness, gracious! You have to see this. It’s criminal!”
“What?” I asked.
“There’s some instructor here trying to teach a wedding couple, and he doesn’t know what he’s doing. He was trying to teach them a rumba, and the song is just too fast. The poor groom couldn’t move his feet quickly enough, and the instructor didn’t know what to do.”
When I finally reached the studio, I could instantly see whom he meant. There was an unprofessional-looking “dance instructor,” who surely couldn’t even dance himself, who was trying to teach a couple a wedding dance routine to a foxtrot song. I don’t know what dance he thought he was teaching them, but it certainly wasn’t foxtrot. It might have started out as a rumba, though.
Anyway, we decided not to waste any more time and got down to business, running through our competition routines, smoothing out any trouble spots, and as we did our spins and leaps and jazz runs and developees and grands battements, I could see the groom eying us with awe. “Look, I whispered to my instructor. I think we have a fan.”
“I see,” he said. “I could help them.”
When our lesson was over, my instructor asked them, “So when is the big day?”
“Our wedding is June 27.”
“Congratulations! Yeah, you’ve got the right idea. You have to get some lessons in, so that first dance looks slick.”
When they had gone, I said, “I thought you were going to talk to them so that you could help them.”
“Well, they don’t have much time left, and they can see they’ve been had. If they wanted my help, all they had to do was ask.”
As I drove home afterward, my mind kept drifting back to that poor wedding couple, stuck with a lousy dance instructor who couldn’t even figure out what dance fit their song, as well as to a few other couples whom I have seen get ripped off, whether the instructor failed to finish the choreography before the lesson package was finished, or taught them a dip in such a way that could result in back injury, and so on. Consequently, I felt compelled to write this article to provide you couples out there with some suggestions for how to find the best dance instructors and for how to enjoy and make the most of your dance lessons, so that your first dance will be as magical as you have dreamed.
1. Make the dance instructor one of the earliest vendors you line up, so that you will have plenty of time to work on your routine.
I know these days, everyone’s lives are already crazy busy, and wedding planning complicates it that much more, with all of the vendors you have to meet and decisions you have to make, but, truly, the sooner you find a good instructor and start taking dance lessons, the more time you will have to really lock in your routine so that you are comfortable on the dance floor the day of your wedding. The main vendor that you may want to contract first is your reception venue, so that you can give your instructor an idea of the size of your dance floor. This way, he or she will know the area with which you have to work and can tailor your routine accordingly.
I would also suggest purchasing or knowing the style of dress you will have, before you get too far into the wedding dance process. Knowing the style and the length of your dress can help your instructor to create the most suitable choreography for you, as different styles allow different degrees of movement. You may also find it beneficial to have a practice skirt to use during your lessons.
2. Do your research on dance instructors and studios.
If you just walk into your neighborhood ballroom studio and tell them you are getting married and want to learn a routine for your first dance, chances are they will stick you with an inexperienced instructor. That is because wedding couples are often beginners and only there to learn a dance for their wedding, so they are viewed as good clients for new instructors to cut their teeth on, so to speak. Sometimes, inexperienced instructors are very talented and just new to teaching, and they do a good job, with maybe just a little coaching from someone more senior. All too often, though, I have seen new instructors end up way over their heads, and the clients could sense it.
The truth is, your wedding is one of the most important events of your life, so you want to make sure that you find, or that your studio gives you, the best dance instructor possible. Here are just a few tips to help you with that task:
a) Word of mouth. Talk to your friends and co-workers. Some of them may know or have taken with a good instructor that they can recommend.
b) Studio websites. Many studio websites will have an “about us” section, where they list staff or private coaches who are available for teaching at their location, along with bios. Sometimes the bios can be a good tool for gauging an instructor’s dance experience. Bear in mind, that the bios might be embellished a little and are not necessarily indicative of their ability to teach. Sometimes websites or instructor bios will also have video that you can watch to see if you like the instructor’s style and abilities.
c) Private instructor/coach websites. Many great instructors work independently of studios and instead travel from studio to studio to coach their private students. These instructors may have their own websites, in which case, you should read their bios and view any video they have available.
d) YouTube. Seriously, if you find an instructor who sounds like he or she has potential, see if you can find video of him or her dancing on YouTube. I don’t know about you, but I like to learn from people who can actually do.
e) Observation. Another idea for getting a feel for the best instructor for you, is just to pop into a studio and observe instructors in action. This way, you can observe how they relate to their students and see if they are confident or act inexperienced. Sometimes, too, you can find out if they will be performing in any shows or showcases (think of these as studio recitals) or local competitions and come watch.
f) Online reviews. Check for studio and instructor reviews online. If there are negative reviews, consider if they are reasonable or not. If a couple was counting on having a complete, polished routine at the end of three lessons, maybe they were expecting too much.
3. Have realistic expectations.
Shows like Dancing with the Stars, have led to a huge resurgence in the popularity of ballroom dancing; however, at the same time, they have also engendered unrealistic expectations, especially among wedding couples. The reality is, the stars on these shows are spending hours a day dancing, not just one or two hours a week for a few weeks; so unless you have a huge budget for dance lessons and lots of time, or you and your fiancé have both been taking dance since childhood, realistically, you are not going to be able to learn and carry off a Dancing-with-the-Stars-style routine. In other words, while a great instructor can get even the most awkward student moving on his/her feet, if you only purchase the 6-lesson package deal, don’t expect that at the end of your package, you will be able to dance an 8-minute medley of fast songs that will go viral on YouTube as “the greatest wedding dance ever”. It’s just not going to happen. To have that sort of expectation puts undo pressure on both you as a couple and on your instructor, and, at the end of the day, that is not what your wedding is about.
4. Bear in mind, once you have found your dance instructor, that he or she is a professional, and trust his or her judgment.
A true professional wedding dance instructor knows how to gauge your ability and whether you have time to learn something more complicated or should stick with something simpler. Their goal is to make you look as good as possible, and sometimes the best dances are the simplest. You want to get through your first dance looking as good as possible, not ending up injured.
5. Keep it classy.
I know we all want to have fun with our routines and surprise the audience, but remember that great grandpa might be in the audience. You wouldn’t want to embarrass him. Class and elegance always go a long ways.
6. Practice, and take video.
One of the best ways to make good use of your lesson time, is to practice what you have learned between lessons. Having someone shoot video of your routine on your smart phone at each lesson will give you a good tool for remembering what you have learned so far.
7. Be kind to one another.
Ladies, in particular, I know many of you may have taken ballet or tap and jazz as children, but this may be a first time for your guys to take any sort of dance lessons; so be patient with him. His part is actually harder, since he has to learn how to lead you, so try to make him comfortable and be supportive. As a general rule of thumb, just be patient with each other. Remember that you love each other, and that is really what it is all about.
8. Last, but not least, have fun.
Dance is a lot of fun, and if you just relax, you may discover that you have found a hobby that you can enjoy together for a lifetime.
Of course, I think I have the best instructor, but I realize that distance might not make it practical for everyone out there to take from him :), so I hope this advice has helped you. All the best, and I hope to see you on the dance floor!