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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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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Should I video tape my first dance?

video camera

You’ll want to see your first dance!

I always tell my brides and grooms to make sure they get that dance on video. No matter how convinced you are that you’re still on the klutzy side, you’re going to want to see it. Here’s why: The first dance at weddings is the exception to a rule of mine.

Normally, I don’t recommend taping yourselves unless you are preparing for a performance or contest. You can tell how you’re doing by how you feel. If you feel stiff and awkward, you look stiff and awkward. If you feel relaxed and natural, that’s how you look. Everyone is stiff and awkward at the beginning and become increasingly relaxed and natural with time and practice. But that’s not what you see when you see yourselves on tape. You see everything you are doing wrong and feel terrible.

But all of that goes out the window on your wedding day if you’ve studied with me and heard the secret to a perfect first dance (see PDF). There is something magical about that particular day and the way you are feeling about each other in that moment. If you keep in mind that your dance is a metaphor for the way your feel about each other, be joyful, with a spirit of fun and laughter, your dance will reflect that, and it will be wonderful. Your guests will be impressed and they’ll applaud enthusiastically. You’ll want to see why.

If you can’t afford to hire a professional, ask more than one camera bug to do the honors. This is a big favor because if you’re filming it you really don’t get to watch it. So ask people you know would enjoy doing this for you. But if you can work it into your budget, I highly recommend hiring a professional videographer. A pro will record the dance without the audience getting in the way. He’ll mike the music so you’ll only hear the music and not whatever conversation is going on near your friend who is shooting it on his cell phone. Couples interviewed after their weddings overwhelmingly say the one thing they would do differently if they had it to do over again is hire a videographer. I therefore pass this on to you. Don’t lose the opportunity to watch this magical moment and have it done right.

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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