Wedding season has never been crazier: between couples who have gotten engaged in the past year and those who had to reschedule multiple times due to the pandemic, couples are finally getting to tie the knot! Whether you are having a large, small, indoor or outdoor reception, odds are that you will be doing a first dance.

It is not uncommon for a person with a background in dance to have the desire to – let’s say – spice up their first dance with some choreography and perform for their guests! Your partner, however, may have zero dance experience, and therefore, could feel very hesitant to this proposal. How can a dancer get their non-dancing partner on-board, and keep the process fun and approachable?

This is about the two of you enjoying your time together on the dance floor.

Getting the Green (or Yellow) Light

During the wedding planning process, if you ask your partner about adding the element of first dance choreography to your special day and the answer is a relatively enthusiastic “yes”, then you are already one-step ahead. If they answer with a “maybe”, “I don’t know”, “I am scared because I have never danced”, “I don’t want to make a fool of myself”, or any response along those lines – try opening up the conversation and letting them know that this is just for the two of you to have fun and not about the end result of what the dance looks like. For yourself as a dancer, understand that if your expectations are too high, then this may be too much of a pressured environment for your partner. Ask about their fears and concerns, so that you can help to alleviate them. Let them know you have their back throughout this process, and you are not going to be judging them. It’s important to have an honest conversation, and also, to take into account that they may just not want an added stressor on an already stressful event.

If your partner is still hesitant, a good compromise would be to take some ballroom lessons and learn basic knowledge, so that they feel confident using a few moves freely at any time during your first dance. You can add a bit of flair to your moment without the limitation of strict start-to-finish choreography. 

When to Begin

Once you receive the thumbs up from your partner, you can really begin learning and practicing your couple’s first dance at any point during your wedding planning. The advantage to starting months before your wedding date is that you have a lot more time to practice so the steps become muscle memory. The disadvantage, however, is that your partner may become disinterested after too long of a time, or the choreography may not stay as fresh in the brain if you don’t practice enough between sessions.

The time-to-start also depends on the complexity of movement that you want in the routine, as well as how much choreography it will contain. If your song is three minutes long, you can perform a fully choreographed dance -or- you can learn about 90 seconds of choreography and then have the DJ or band invite your guests to join you on the dance floor to slow dance for the remainder of the song. You can also play it by ear and learn choreography up to what feels like enough movement to retain for your partner or at a natural stopping point for the dance, ending with guests joining you (as suggested above) or with a simple fade out of the music.

Two months in advance may be perfect for a dance containing mostly basic steps (a month to learn it and a month to practice it), but you know your partner’s personality and needs best.

Selecting Music

Your special day is ultimately about the life that you are about to live and share together. All the little details matter to create the overall aesthetic of the day, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s about celebrating the love between the two of you. So, while you can get caught up on picking the ‘perfect song’ to match the choreography you envision, it is more important to choose a song that means something to your relationship – in the same way you would if this dance did not have choreography. As dancers, we know that music has different layers and beats depending on how you count it, so even if the song is too fast, your moves can happen on the slower beats, and vice versa. If there are a few songs you have in mind that hold meaning to you, then selecting the best one for choreography could aid as a deciding factor. You could select the option that is straight forward, with changes in the music that make it easier to remember that a new section of choreography is coming. Keep this in mind for choreographing as well.

Who is Choreographing?

As the ‘dancing partner’, you can certainly choreograph the routine yourself. If you have ballroom dance experience – go for it! Maybe you don’t have ballroom experience, but you can learn and connect some basic steps together to create your dance. Maybe you are not even doing a ballroom style song or dance at all, which is totally fine and fun as well! You can hire a choreographer to both choreograph and privately teach you the dance to the song you have selected -or- you can simply attend a few open ballroom classes and then take what you learned home to create the dance yourself.

There are various combinations of factors to this decision: your desire to create, the time you have in your schedule to create, and lastly, your budget (hiring a teacher for private lessons is the more expensive route). Choose whatever is best for you and your partner.

This experience is more than simply learning a dance with the end goal to perform it - it’s a lesson and exercise in communication.

If you decide to hire a choreographer for first dance lessons or take group classes for inspiration, remember to sign up in advance. Even if your lessons do not start until closer to the wedding, dance studios and teachers get booked up – so plan as soon as you can for the dates that you need these to occur according to your own wedding date and timeline.

For example, say you decide to sign up for private lessons and your wedding is in the beginning of May. The instructor may structure the dance to be taught in four sessions, with three for learning it and one for practicing it in its entirety. You may want to have these four lessons occur from mid-March to mid-April. This way, it is done and out of the way before those two weeks of last minute craziness prior to the wedding. In that time, you and your partner can just run through it a few times in your own space.

Quick Tip: When creating movement, keep in mind the design and movement of your dress and/or suit as it may restrict you. If you hire someone, tell them from the beginning if your arms or legs do not have full range of motion due to the construction and tightness of your dress’ sleeves, bodice, or skirt.

Making Your Partner Comfortable

During the process, be empathetic to your partner. Put yourself in their shoes. Imagine if you had no experience, and how frightening that would be.

Have patience with them. Let’s repeat that one – have patience and be loving towards them. Notice the moments when you think you are trying to help, but you may just be acting bossy, and reel it back in.

Keep the choreography simple. If they are picking up quickly, keep it basic so it stays clean, or add an extra flair or two here and there if you wish. Having clear sections can help your partner remember the order of the moves. As dancers, we are driven by the beat and the counts, but for a non-dancer, pointing out which moments happen on which lyrics can be more beneficial. If you see your partner becoming discouraged or frustrated by a certain section or step, change it or adjust it. This is not a competition. This is about ensuring your partner feels confident, or at least somewhat confident, in what they are doing.

Understand that mistakes can happen during the performance. This is about the two of you enjoying your time together on the dance floor. The guests will enjoy it no matter what happens. More importantly, let your partner know that if a mistake happens, it is completely okay and you will not be mad. Pick up where you left off as best you can and say “it’s alright, keep going”. Couples who don’t perform a choreographed dance are usually exchanging words on the dance floor, so if you do as well, it’s normal. Don’t take it too seriously!

In the grand scheme of things, it’s about celebrating the love between the two of you.

If your partner misses a step, trips on your dress, etc., during the actual performance - they may be really hard on themselves afterwards, both at the wedding and days following. Keep reinforcing to them that it’s no big deal. As a performer, you will always think of what could have gone better, but just be happy and proud of your partner for performing their first ever choreographed dance.

Your partner could be open throughout the entire process, and in the moments before the dance, they could see all the people there, have last minute stage fright, get freaked out and not want to do it. Be prepared for this as a rare but potential possibility. If this happens, remember that this is your wedding day. The band or DJ will still be playing the same song. If you do a slow dance to it – it is okay. You may be disappointed, but there is nothing to be gained out of making your partner feel bad on your wedding day. Accept it and view the creating and learning of the choreography as a fun experience you were able to have together. This experience is more than simply learning a dance with the end goal to perform it - it’s a lesson and exercise in communication. It’s an effective way to connect. Maybe you could film it privately later to have for future viewing.

Remember throughout this process that having ‘the most perfect dance’ is not what is important. Your partner needs your patience, encouragement, and laughter. With that, you will not only have a loving routine for your guests, but a bonding experience that you will remember for years to come.

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