Anya Brodech is a professional salsa, Latin, swing, and ballroom dance teacher in Oakland, CA.
I'm a professional ballroom dance teacher. I have worked with numerous wedding dance couples, choreographing customized wedding dances for them. Here is a list of things that I ask every couple to do before they come in for their first wedding dance lesson. If you don't already know, preparation and planning is the key to success. It is much easier if you tell your dance instructor in advance what you would like to do for your wedding dance, so this way your lesson time can be spent learning choreography and practicing and you can get the most out of your dance lessons.
Before Your First Wedding Dance Lesson
Getting ready for your first wedding dance lesson involves just a little bit of planning and preparation. If you want to get your money's worth, try and do all of these things before you come in for the first time, so you can get started learning right away.
The most critical things are going to be choosing a song and style of dance, and giving your instructor an idea of what you want to do, so he/she can better prepare for your first lesson.
1. Choose a Song
It's important to pick your wedding song before your first lesson, so this way the instructor can tell you if it's "danceable" or not and prepare a dance routine for you in advance.
Ideally, you want a song that is about 2:00 to 2:30 minutes long, or else has a section about that long in it that you can use for your dance. Unless you're a professional competitive dancer, you want to avoid doing anything that is over 3 minutes because your audience might get bored. Plus, it'll be harder to remember that many moves if you're a beginner.
If the song is very long, 4 - 5+ minutes, consider cutting off your dance around the 2 or 2 1/2 minute mark and asking your wedding guests to join in dancing for the rest of the song.
If you don't know which song to use, but know that you would like to do a slow dance such as a waltz, or fast one like salsa, tell your instructor and ask him/her for some songs that would be a good fit for that style of dance.
2. Choose a Dance
Once you have your song picked out, choosing a dance is a relatively easy because the song determines the type of dance you'll be doing.
If you are unsure of what dance you would like to do, pick a song (or songs) that is romantic and meaningful to both you and your partner, and ask the instructor what kinds of dances would go along with it well.
Keep in mind that some songs have more than one dance that would be a good fit for it, such as swing or foxtrot, because they both have the same timing (slow-slow-quick-quick), but have different "looks" (eg. foxtrot is more formal and swing is more casual). And with some songs, if there is a switch between tempos or speeds, you can do two different dances in the same song.
3. Decide on a Dance "Theme" or "Personality"
To help your instructor get a better sense of who you are as a couple and what kind of "flair," "personality," or "theme" you want to have in your wedding dance, do a YouTube search for wedding dances and find two or three that you really like. You don't have to like the whole dance, but at least some parts of it that you might like to use or otherwise incorporate into your wedding dance. Keep in mind that you might find dance moves that you like from other culture's wedding dances. For example, I had a couple that incorporated Indian/Bollywood style dancing, as well as traditional Thai dancing into their swing dance routine.
Providing visual examples what steps or dance moves you like will make the instructor's job of choreographing and preparing your dance easier and will help ensure that you get a final dance that is very "you."
For instance, some couples want a dance that is very flashy with lots of dramatic moves and spins, while others want something a little bit more playful and silly, and others want something very sentimental and romantic.
Your wedding dance shouldn't just be about dance steps, it should also be about who you are as a couple and how you express your love to each other.
4. Bring Your Wedding Shoes
Bring the shoes you are planning to wear at your wedding to your dance lessons so you can start practicing in them right away and see if they are good for you to dance in. This applies to both men and women.
If you are going to wear high-heeled shoes, now is a good time to see how well you can balance in them when you spin and twirl. This is a good opportunity to start breaking in your new, hardly worn fancy dress shoes, so this way you'll have a much more comfortable experience on your wedding day.
5. Bring Your Wedding Clothes
For women, if you're going to wear a dress, bring your bustle or petticoat to your lesson and put it on over your clothes. This will help gives the instructor an idea of how much space to leave for your dress during different times in the dance. In addition, the extra weight and material will help simulate what it will be like to dance in your dress on your wedding dance. If you don't have a removable bustle/petticoat because it's already sewn into your dress, consider buying a cheap one to practice in, especially if you're going to have a very puffy dress. This will help you and your partner gauge your steps and train you to avoid stepping on your dress, so this way you don't have any problems on your wedding day.
For men, bring the jacket you are going to wear, or something similar since it'll limit how much you can move your arms and restrict your movement a bit when you dance with your partner. This is especially helpful if you tend to dress more casually on a day-to-day basis and are not used to wearing jackets or sport coats.
Remember that your wedding dance is a public expression of your love, so do what you can to make it authentically "you" when you celebrate your big day!