Put on your dancing shoes

“When you get out on that dance floor at a wedding, and all eyes are on you, the nerves go,” said Sally Skislak, the office manager at the Dance Factory in Arlington. Most couples do a “huggy-bear sway,” she said. But couples who have practiced dancing together are often the couples most obviously having fun.

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Many dance studios with a program catering specifically to engaged couples are equipped to offer suggestions for working with specific venues and sizes of dance floor and for adjusting to a band versus a DJ, as well as for picking a first-dance song. The Wedding Dance Specialists, which boasts eight locations in Virginia and Maryland specializing in lessons for engaged couples, offers a page of popular options on its website based around different types of dance. The Arthur Murray (Alexandria) and Fred Astaire (Fairfax) dance studios, along with the Dance Factory, all promise to work around a couple’s choice or help them find a song that suits their ideal first dance. It’s all part of the “visualization” process, according to Missy Nilson, studio director at Fred Astaire, who specifically advises couples to keep their song under three minutes.

“Sometimes people bring in a song and they find out it’s not as fun to dance to as they thought,” said Heather Robertson, new-student director at Arthur Murray Dance Studio. The more couples — especially couples with no dance experience — learn about dancing, the more they are able to choose a song based on the type of dancing they learn they enjoy the most.

“If they’ve already decided on a song, we will absolutely do a choreographed dance to that music, and we can do it to any music,” said Skislak. “If they haven’t already picked out a song, it’s better to have a few selections and bring that with them to their first lesson.” Nilson said that 90 percent of the couples who come to Fred Astaire already have a song chosen.

Although Robertson recommends starting early in order to avoid the crush of last-minute pre-wedding activities, many studios — including the Wedding Dance Specialists and the Dance Factory — offer a crash-course option for settling last-minute nerves. This can fall in the $100 range. At Fred Astaire, a two-lesson private “consultation” is $50. 

Some studios offer ways to get the whole wedding party involved. The Chevy Chase Ballroom (5207 Wisconsin Ave. NW) offers plenty of room for group lessons. The Dance Specialists also offer a gift registry where friends and family can contribute money toward lessons, and Dance Specialists and Arthur Murray both offer a rehearsal of the first dance performed at the studio for a sympathetic audience. Couples say it enhances their confidence, Robertson said.

The Dance Factory has specials geared toward the popular wedding seasons: typically spring and autumn. Reservations are often made weeks in advance, though most studios try to fit nervous betrothed duos into the schedule if possible.

Often, it is the grooms who are dragging their feet, Nilson said. “Many grooms realize they don’t know what to do, and presented with a situation where they have to dance, understand they need lessons,” she said. “Most men will be satisfied with just the basics.” 

For couples interested in treating the lessons as a premarital commitment, there are always longer-term packages available. Arthur Murray recommends a six- to 10-lesson package for engaged couples, which includes weekly dance activities that Robertson said build familiarity with the rest of the dancing at the reception, including the mother-son and father-daughter dances. Continuing dance lessons as a newlywed couple is always an option, too.

“It’s not competitive, so you get to have a reason to hold each other in each other’s arms,” said Robertson. “You could think of it as marriage insurance, when you can move your couch aside and be able to dance your favorite song for five minutes when the kids are in bed. It’s definitely a relationship builder and it’s an investment in each other.”