Following the Latest Fad for Your First Dance

wedding couple dancing

a couple dancing at their wedding

Youtube has changed the face of first dances for weddings. People post their dances for the world to see and it gives others ideas for their own dance. This can be a good thing, but not always.

The latest rage in wedding dances is to start with a traditional dance like waltz or foxtrot and then surprise everyone by suddenly changing into a fast paced choreographed wild and crazy routine. Here’s a great example of a mother son version:

Pretty fun, right? Should you do it for your own wedding? Well that depends. If it really expresses your personality, as it obviously does in this case, then by all means go for it.

But look also at your motivation for doing this. Is it because you think of it as the latest thing and you want to do the “in” thing? If this is the case, I urge you to think twice. First of all, if you’re looking for that big surprise, you may be disappointed. You’re not the only ones who watch YouTube videos. If you go out of your way to make your “traditional” dance at the beginning as boring as possible, everyone will be relieved that you are finally doing something interesting, but you could have achieved the same thing by making your waltz creative and beautiful.

Here’s my suggestion that I recommend for all of my students. There is nothing traditional about a first dance, really. It’s a modern concept, so you can do anything you want. The most important thing is that it reflects who you are and how you feel about each other. Maybe a wild and crazy nontraditional dance is who you are. Maybe a lovely waltz is the best reflection of who you want to be on that day. Maybe your song choice is particularly meaningful and the dance is whatever goes with your song.
Copying someone else’s idea is rarely a good idea. You Tube is great for getting ideas, but watch out for the trap of doing the popular trend of the day. If your dance speaks to your hearts and reflects your feelings for one another, you can’t go wrong!

by LaurieAnn Lepoff

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What Throws Dance Students Off Their Game?

wedding couple dancing

Don’t let your first time dancing in a big dress be your wedding!

In a perfect world, dance lessons would be ten minutes long.  You’d go home and practice and then come back to learn the next step after you’ve mastered what came first.  In the real world, you work on the first thing until you’re doing it right most of the time and understand it well enough to practice on your own.  Then you move on to the next part and promptly forget the first part.

Cover all bases!

That’s the learning process for most of my students but it’s not as bad as it sounds.  You keep shifting your concentration from one thing  to the next and eventually it all falls into place.  But because of this annoying phenomenon, I try to make sure all bases are covered with couples who are learning their first dance for their wedding.

Just being in a room in front of people is a new thing that can cause everything to disappear if you haven’t experienced it before.  Dancing in heels if you’ve been practicing in flats can throw you off, as can dancing in a giant gown, or dancing with a partner in a giant gown.  And don’t forget the possibility of alcohol!  (If you haven’t read my post about the effects of drinking before your dance, check out my earlier post on that subject.)

Use props!

For this reason I have a wedding dress petticoat in which all of my brides practice before their last lesson.  Both they and their fiancés get a chance to feel what it’s like to dance with a ton of material surrounding her.  One of my students found that he had been using his peripheral vision to guide him.  When he couldn’t see her legs, he was totally thrown off and couldn’t remember any of his steps.

I also recommend they practice at least once in front of other people. If this also throws them off, they know they have to do it more often.

An embarrassing example

Once when I was rehearsing for a performance many years ago, I neglected to have  a dress rehearsal.  The dress was not belted at the waist and when I was upside down in an air step, it dropped all the way down, covering my face and exposing me from neck to feet.  That was the last time I omitted a dress rehearsal, and I always wear tap pants under my skirts when I go dancing!

If you are learning to dance for a particular occasion where you will be doing a performance of some kind, think about what will be happening at the event that isn’t there when you are practicing. Enlist the help of friends to think of things you may forget.  And when you are visualizing yourself doing your dance, put yourself at the real scene, not just in your living room!

by LaurieAnn Lepoff

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Aerials in Dance: Exceptions to the Rule

couple doing first dance

A First Dance is the Exception to Many a Rule

After writing a blog about not using air steps before you are proficient in dance, I was reminded of an exception to that rule when I came across a video of a first dance by a couple who had the good fortune to learn their first dance from my ever delightful and talented colleague Meeshi Ravi in San Diego.  After a brief 8 weeks of lessons, they were doing air steps and other tricks in their joyful first dance.

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This is a great illustration of how the first dance breaks the rules in many ways.  For instance, in every other situation I warn my students not to film themselves unless they are practicing for a performance or contest.  People tend to notice only what doesn’t look good, ignore what does, and feel discouraged.  But there is something about the way they feel about each other on their wedding day that is so magical that the dance is magical too.

This couple had only studied Swing for two months and their routine is full of fancy tricks.  But it’s their day and the dance represents their personalities and their relationship.  It’s fun, charming, and impressive.  They wanted the aerials, worked hard to make them work, and enjoyed the hell out of them.  They are loving their dance and reveling in each other.  It’s the way a first dance should be.

I still stand by what I said about air steps in my 7/11/13 post, unless it’s a first dance for your wedding.  I sometimes teach an air step to my wedding students if it fits their personality and natural skill.  A first dance is a performance, but a very unique one, because it’s not really about the dance.  That’s not why the audience is there.  This world’s most supportive audience is there to celebrate love and to support a couple in their commitment to that love.  The dance is a bonus, and if it’s a great metaphor for that love, it’s a success!

By LaurieAnn Lepoff

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Alcohol and Your First Dance

two wine glasses

before dancing or after?

 

 

My students rarely ask if they should wait until after their dance to start drinking at their wedding, but they should. Everyone reacts differently to alcohol but hardly anyone is a good judge of their own character when they are drinking. Whether they ask or not, I always give this advice. It’s for the first dance at your wedding, but goes for any other time when you want to look your best during a dance you are presenting.

After you have practiced enough to feel fairly confident, invite a trusted friend over. Show them your dance. Have a drink. Do it again (the dance, not the drink). Ask the friend if they noticed a difference. If not, have a second drink. Repeat question.

What I often hear (before offering the advice) is “I’ll just have a drink beforehand and I’ll be more relaxed.” The thing is, for some people this may be true. You might feel more relaxed and your dance may reflect that. However, you might also think you look relaxed when in fact you look sloppy. You won’t notice the difference, but your sober friend will, and I guarantee it, so will your partner.

If you don’t have a friend you trust this much, ask someone to video you before and after each drink. This may be a good idea anyway as you can judge for yourself, but there is a danger in this. It’s human nature to notice the things that need work and not the overall picture when we see ourselves on video and it can be deflating if you are still working on the dance. If you think there is any danger of feeling upset and worried when you see your flaws, I strongly advise against the video. I have seen many many dances turn a corner at the last minute and look great at the wedding even when they were still stiff a week before.

Treat yourselves gently. Give yourselves the best possible circumstances when you do your first dance and it will be fabulous!

By LaurieAnn Lepoff

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Where Can We Go to Practice our First Dance?

If you are a single person, you have to go out to the community and practice with whoever is at the dance, but if you’re an engaged couple, or any couple, you have an advantage.  You can practice at home until you feel confident enough to get out in the real world.  But what if your place is too small, has wall to wall carpets, or otherwise leaves you with no place to practice.

This is an idea that is particularly great for engaged couples, but can work for anyone.  I got this idea when I was learning advanced country western in a now defunct bar in Hayward called the West Forty.  I always dance lead when I’m learning a new dance so I can teach it, so I went with a girlfriend who is a great follow.  We soon found out that the West Forty, while offering great lessons, not only did not have people rotate partners but also did not allow women to lead, no matter how many extra women wanted to be in the lesson.

As it happened, The West Forty was right across the street from a lesbian bar.  We both danced follow in the lesson, I took copious notes during the intermission, and my friend memorized the follow part during the lesson.  I was doing my best to translate everything in my head to the lead.  After the lesson it was still early.  We went across the street where the dance floor was empty because it was early.  I figured out the lead with the help of my friend and finalized my notes.  That was the way I learned to lead modern two step, but the idea it gave me was that early evening dance floors in bars are usually empty and a great place to practice.

 

If you are an engaged couple, and there is an appropriate bar in your neighborhood, you can really milk this.  Tell the bartender that you are practicing your first dance and ask if it’s alright to use the floor.  You get to hook into the “Awww” factor.  This is the one chance in your life to really delight some strangers, make new friends, create a cheering section, AND have a regular place to practice.  Everyone likes to be part of something romantic, so once you take the leap and ask, you will feel welcome and spread some of your own joy while you’re at it.

If you’re not getting married, you can still just explain that you’re learning to dance and want to use the empty floor to practice.  It’s just sitting there, and your decision to learn a partner dance is a cool thing anyway that is likely to get a favorable response.

Just make sure it’s convenient.  If it’s too far away or parking is a hassle, you probably just won’t go.  Buy a drink for good will, and you’re off and running!

By LaurieAnn Lepoff

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Wedding Dances: Too Many Choices!

Your first dance, your father/daughter dance, a mother/son dance.  Which ones should we do?  In what order do we do them?

“What is the proper tradition?” is a question I often hear about all of this. Lucky for you, the answer is that none of this is really traditional at all. The original tradition (I know this because I read Miss Manners) is simply for the couple to open the dance floor because it’s rude to start dancing before they do.

 

A dance performance is a relatively new concept, so you really can put it together any way you like. If your parents love the idea of a father/daughter/mother/son dance, then by all means, do it. If they are mortified by the idea, either spare them or put their dance at the end, have them dance for a few merciful seconds, then have the DJ invite the crowd to join them.

 

The one thing I do suggest is unless you and your parents are dancers or are taking lessons, don’t subject your audience (and yourselves) to an interminable dance after dance after dance of rocking slowly back and forth until the song ends. The bridal couple can always make a dance shorter by telling the DJ (or band) to fade out the music when they see you dip. A dramatic dip, by the way, is a must for ending any first dance. If your materiel is small, the dip is what they remember and it gives the impression of a fabulous dance.

 

You have options for how you organize these dances too. If your parents are dancers, let them show off with as long a dance as they want and let them have the floor to themselves in each dance. If the opposite is true, you can have the father/daughter and mother/son at the same time. If you’ve picked special music, of course, then this option won’t work. The point is, it’s up to you. There is no tradition. Keep in mind that this is a day of joy and celebration. You are honoring your parents in your dances with them, so consider their feelings first.

 

It’s your wedding and your day. As long as you treat everyone involved with love and respect, remember why you’re there, and keep a spirit of fun in your hearts, you can’t go wrong!

By LaurieAnn Lepoff

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Choosing a First Dance Song

 

footprint pattern

Your “first dance” music will become “your song”!

Blogs by Djs and other wedding professionals often suggest first dance songs for couples who haven’t come up with their own and need ideas. As a dance teacher, I have a somewhat different perspective. A recent post in wine country wedding magazine lists five songs that are their top picks. Their first pick, At Last by Etta James, is also the first pick for many of my students. If they have a particular relationship with the song, if they picked it because of it’s special meaning for them, I can make it work. But if they picked it because they saw it on a blog like this one, or just thought it was a good choice because it’s slow and romantic, I’ll steer them away from it.

It’s part of my job to educate my students about what makes a good dance song. At Last, and in fact the number two song on wine country’s list, Elvis Presley’s Cant Help Falling In Love, are both ballads. Ballads are great if you don’t know how to dance and want to spend your first dance rocking back and forth in a clench like you did in high school.

When people come to me, however, they want to learn how to do a real dance and for that you need something with a beat. The beat in a ballad is so slow that by the time your get to the end of a measure you can’t remember when it started. For all intents and purposes, it has no beat. A perfect song for a real dance, a waltz, foxtrot, or nightclub two-step, say, has a clear easy to find beat.

A good dance song has clear measures and an easy beat. You can tell if it’s in 3/4 time (a waltz) or 4/4 time (practically everything else). The beginning of each measure is clear and didn’t happen so long ago that you’ve lost track by the time you get to the next one.

Many people who go to wedding blogs for song ideas are not dancers and are not taking lessons. A ballad is ideal for these people. A song with a beat is hard to dance to if you just want to sway to a romantic mood. The confusion is when they come to a dance lesson with song in hand, and it’s a ballad. If you are learning to dance for you wedding, get your ideas from your teacher, not your DJ.

I encourage my students to come with as many different songs as possible if they are considering more than one. That gives me an opportunity to help them select one with a good dance beat. If, however, they want “At Last” and only At Last will do, the way to work around it is to forget about the measures and dance to it as it it’s just a series of slow beats, like a techno song. Then I teach them waltz steps so they can step on every beat. It’s too slow for a combination of slow and quick steps, and no one will notice that it’s not a waltz because they don’t notice the measures anyway.

If they have time for a more challenging dance, Blues Dancing can be done to a ballad as well because it can be adapted to the mood, rather than the beat, of the music. It’s a much more challenging dance to learn to lead, however, so they can choose, dependent on their time and budget.  The bottom line is, any song can work, but if you’re a beginner, make it easy on yourself. Pick an easy song if you have a choice!

by LaurieAnn Lepoff

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