Fall/ Winter 2008: The Experts

The Groove Master

Two left feet? Worry not. A little prep can go a long way in making you and your partner smooth as silk on the dance floor.

By Terri Trespicio

In the 20 years that Liz Nania has been teaching dancing, she has helped many a knock-kneed, white-knuckled couple go from flustered to fearless on the dance floor. Here, the founder of West Roxbury’s Out to Dance studio shares her insights on how to make your first moments at the reception memorable and angst-free.

What are most couples’ biggest hang-ups about the first dance? For most people, the idea of having everyone they know and love stare at them for three-and-a-half minutes is hell. So they set the bar low—they tell me they just don’t want to look stupid. Often they assume, quite incorrectly, that they have no rhythm or ability. In fact, most people have never been taught the fundamentals in a mature, supportive environment. It’s not about complex steps—it’s about learning to lead or follow, shift your weight, and breathe.

Are there any hard-and-fast rules for the style of the first dance? Not really—the dance can be anything you want. It doesn’t have to be schmaltzy; it can be upbeat and fun. The only rule, really, is that the male partner must lead, otherwise it can end up looking awkward. Sometimes the bride is more comfortable leading, but I’ve never seen one make it work.

How does this work with same-sex couples? Actually, it’s a lot easier, because whoever is more comfortable can lead. Other than that, I don’t see much of a difference between how the dance works between heterosexual or gay and lesbian couples.

What about songs? Is there a hands-down favorite, or one that just won’t work, ever? The number-one wedding pick by a landslide is “At Last” by Etta James. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve worked with that song. In general, couples tend to lean toward the jazz standards, the great American songbooks, often updated by Harry Connick Jr. or Michael Bublé. “It Had To Be You” is really popular, for instance. But I’ll tell you this: I’ve never rejected someone’s song. Bottom line: If you love it, you can do it. It’s just a matter of finding the right footwork. One time a bride chose a classical piece, which was tricky. But we made it work.

What are the risks of not preparing, and just winging it?
For one, you may be more stressed because you won’t know what to do once the moment has arrived. The only other real risk is that the dance itself will be forgettable, and your guests will be bored. You have to decide who this dance is for. If you and your mate prefer to sway and talk, that’s fine. But if you want to put on a little show for your guests, it’s worth doing some preparation.

Time and cash can be tight during wedding planning. Why spend both on a three-minute tune?
Think of this as more than just practicing for that first dance or avoiding humiliation. This is about dancing through your whole reception—and let’s face it, the rest of your life. Beyond that, couples tell me they find they love this part of their planning above all others. It allows them to reconnect in a romantic way—to hold each other, look into one another’
s eyes. And that intimacy and focus can often get lost in all the frenzy of wedding preparation. If you can get over the hump and walk into that first lesson, you’ll walk out 100 percent relieved. In fact, the dance has the potential to be the most special moment of your wedding day.

Out to Dance, classes held at the West Roxbury School of Dance, 29 Corey St., West Roxbury, and Theodore Parker Church, 1859 Centre St., West Roxbury, 617-363-0029, outtodance.com.



Nania’s four-part plan for first-dance success.

Start Early

Don’t wait until right before the wedding to think about, or prepare for, your first dance—aim for 3 to 6 months before the big day. On average, couples only need 3 one-hour sessions to get it down.

Choose Wisely

Go with a song that you both love—not what your mother or sister thinks you should dance to, what your DJ recommends, or what you feel you should use. Because if you don’t love it from the start, you’ll definitely hate it by the end.

Take a Refresher Course

Save your last hour of dance instruction for a week or two before the wedding so that you feel confident and ready.

Get Past the Fear

This is about fun, romance, tradition—and stress reduction. Learning a dance should not be panic-inducing. The more prepared you are, the more enjoyable it will be for you and your guests. T.T.