Stepping up: A beginner’s guide to first dance lessons

Couples who step together (like writer Mary Shea and her fiancé, Nick), stay together. Photo: Eze Amos Couples who step together (like writer Mary Shea and her fiancé, Nick), stay together. Photo: Eze Amos

My fiancé and I met at a high school dance. I was dancing on a table with girlfriends (one of whom will be my maid of honor at our wedding this May), while he stood against a wall near the room’s front door. You could say it was love at first sight.

As a lover of dance-offs, late night karaoke, the Macarena and viral YouTube videos of father-daughter dances, I have big plans for our first dance. My fiancé would rather we not do one.

Together, we visited Terry Dean’s Blue Light Ballroom for an introductory lesson with instructor Connor Jennings, and spoke with Smooth Sailing Ballroom’s owner Adam Mehring. Whether you find the prospect of planning your first dance thrilling or nerve-racking, here are a few tips to make planning and performing your first dance a ball.

Give yourself time

Jennings says that couples sometimes begin lessons two weeks before their wedding and expect to learn a choreographed dance. Mehring has instructed couples with even less time. But this isn’t ideal.

“I had people come in a day before their wedding,” Mehring says. “I had them box step in a pattern. It was doable, but not great.”

Mehring and Jennings recommend that couples budget for at least 10 private lessons, and allow more than a month to plan, learn and practice their first dance.

Learn to lead, or be led

“I saw you try to lead a few times,” Jennings tells me, and quickly proceeds to rumba, foxtrot and twirl me around the room, in an effort to show my fiancé how I could be led without knowing the next step.

For everyone in the “follower” role, even though you may have dragged your partner to dance lessons in the first place, sit back—or rather, stand tall, place your hand on your partner’s arm and smile, Jennings tells me—and let your other half lead.

Lighten up

“This is dance. We don’t want to be too serious,” Jennings says, even praising us when we visibly stumbles on a foxtrot rock turn, but keeps moving despite our wrong steps.

“We teach how to dance so that it looks natural and a lot of fun,” Mehring says. He likes to learn the “vibe” of couples’ relationships before choreographing a dance for them.

“Be willing to be wrong,” Jennings advises, and my fiancé agrees.

“I was never really much of a dancer, but I had fun and learned a lot,” he says.

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