QUICK PROMOTION: Connecting to music is a big challenge for new dancers. My new book on music will help: Hear the Beat, Feel the Music: Count, Clap and Tap Your Way to Remarkable Rhythm. The kindle is now on sale for $2.99 (down from $4.99).
* Barnes & Noble ($12.95)
If someone came up to me and said, “real men don’t dance,” I’m gonna tell him real men try to do things that they think they cannot do, and that’s the difference between another man and a real man.
— Emmitt Smith, three-time Superbowl champion, NFL’s all-time leading rusher, winner of ABC’s Dancing with the Stars
You’re getting married and you’ll have to dance. There will be a crowd and there will be cameras. A little planning and practice will make the video fun to watch for the rest of your life (as you know, people with cell phones will shoot video, whether you like it or not). Don’t think of it as work, think of it as . . . oh, I don’t know . . . foreplay.
Guys, buck up. Affirm the unwritten, male credo: I can do anything. Be James Bond. Learn an easy step or two, and it will get you through your wedding—and every other wedding, dinner dance, cruise, holiday celebration and covert spy operation you attend for the rest of your life. If you have the time and the inclination, you can put together a decent dance and, if you have a hint of talent and like to perform, you can put on a show and wow the crowd. Wedding choreographers are gaining popularity; you can search them on the web.
But that’s not our game. We’re not about show; we’re about survival. That means doing a survival dance (Chapter 13, “Survival Dancing”)—if anyone asks, tell them it’s a foxtrot—and focusing on the easiest step pattern known to man: the side step (page 103).
The side step makes a good foundation pattern—the pattern you do most of the time—for an easy-to-execute wedding dance. If you do this pattern as you smile and look into your partner’s eyes, maybe exchange a few words and laugh a little, you’ll get by. If you embellish the side step with a few extra moves, you’ll look pretty good. Then, for the rest of your life, you’ll always have a dance to pull out of your macho bag of tricks. People will look at you and think, socializes well, not afraid to dance, he’s cool, could be an alpha male.
If you want to add stuff to the side step, here are things to try: a slow rotation; underarm turns (page 102); add another easy pattern like the box step (page 101); know how to do a sway (page 119, plus check out my Freebie Video web page for a demo), which you can fall back on anytime you get lost or bored or distracted (like talking—it’s hard to talk and dance); add styling, even something as simple as pausing (use blank rhythm, pages 66 and 123) and gazing deeply into your partners eyes; throw in a dip (page 117) and I bet the crowd goes wild. But don’t freak out. Just start with a basic side step with a slow rotation, plus a couple of underarm turns, and see what develops.
If you work with a teacher, there will be a temptation to add a lot of choreography, perhaps more than you can handle. You have to find the balance between doing too much and too little choreography and the balance between doing hard and simple choreography. Some amount of choreography is good; just knowing when to start the dance will help you—this sounds dumb—to start the dance. If you’re rhythmically challenged, knowing when to start a dance isn’t easy (see my rant on page 37, at the end of Chapter 2). A little choreography will help you connect to the music and dance on time (on the beat). Dancing with no choreography might work for some, but it requires that you think on your feet; and, if you’re rhythmically challenged, there’s a greater chance you’ll end up off time (not on the beat).
If you’re not up to it, avoid stringing difficult moves one after another. Instead, work with your teacher on a bare bones choreography; ace that before getting too cute with the lifts, drops and triple-whammy-whatever kind of moves. What’s simple choreography? Keep repeating an easy step pattern over and over, like the side step or the box step, then change to a new step pattern when the music changes (for example, when the music goes from a verse to the chorus). Keep repeating the new step pattern until the music changes again. Catching four or five changes in the music will look sharp; less will be more. Learn an easy dip and use it—not only to end the dance but in the middle, too, at a spot when the melody winds down or resolves. Spend time with your teacher on the basics, like improving your dance connection (page 94) and timing (dancing on the beat), which will improve the look of every move you do for the rest of your lives together. By matching the routine to your ability, you’ll be more relaxed and you’ll flow better—you’ll be more in the moment, which will be reflected by the peaceful expression on your face.
To get started, choose your music carefully (see box “The Wedding Music”), then spend time alone with that song, counting sets of 8 (Chapter 2, “Counting Music: Finding the Sets of 8”). Practice shadow dancing, on your own, as described in Exercise 17 (Chapter 13, “Survival Dancing”), which will help your connection to the music and your ability to improvise, which will prove handy if you forget your routine. If you want to do a specific dance, the music will dictate what dance you do. Don’t be set on a dance until you choose the music, and it’s best to discuss it all with a teacher. For example, slow romantic songs may or may not be a waltz; some are in sets of 6, some are in sets of 8, but waltz can only be danced to music that’s counted in sets of 6.
If you want to do choreography with a teacher, give yourself some months to get ready. Ideally, start group classes six months or so before the event. This will engage you in the process and give you time to gain comfort on the floor. Then take some private lessons a few months in advance so you can plan the dance, work on problem areas and make it all look good.
Some pointers, tips and reminders:
- Resist the temptation to bite off too much material. You’ll look much better performing a few things done extremely well than you will doing many things poorly. Overall you may still look great, but there’s no choreography that looks great if you’re off the beat.
- Consider the size of the dance floor and make sure your choreography fits.
- Practice the routine in your wedding clothes and shoes. Try to practice once on the actual wedding floor to get a feel for how your shoes glide, or don’t glide, across the floor.
- Go out dancing socially, so you can practice dancing spontaneously and dancing under the pressure of the spotlight.
- Videotape a practice session to see what needs work.
- Make sure your fiancée is learning to dance too. If she can’t follow—if she’s off the beat or doesn’t give you a good dance frame or tries to lead—it’s going to make it hard for you and hard for the partnership to look good.
- If the music is a digital file like a CD or an iPod, have a backup copy. Test it on the sound equipment prior to the wedding.
- Plan an entrance, which you’ll want to coordinate with your deejay or band. For example, you may want to walk onto the floor arm in arm and then have the music start, or you may want to have the music start first and meet in the middle. Plan if you want someone to announce the beginning of the first dance.
- Tell your photographer in advance how you will make an entrance and if there are highlights you want captured throughout the dance.
- If you forget your routine, go into a sway (STEP TOUCH—STEP TOUCH). If you’re desperate to kill time on the floor, whisper something in her ear and laugh.
- Plan the length of the first dance and tell the band or deejay. Plan the ending and the transition to the next activity. Plan if you want other family members to join you on the dance floor, for example, if you want the father of the bride to cut in. Plan if you want this to happen during your song or the next song; plan the next song. Plan if and when you want the deejay to invite all your guests to join you on the dance floor.
- If you plan, not only will it go smoother and will you be assured that key moments are captured on film, you’ll be more relaxed and confident going into the event.
- Mistakes are rarely noticed and everything, even a mistake, looks better if it’s done with a smile.
Finally: Give a man a wedding routine and he dances for a day, teach a man some rhythm and he dances for a lifetime. I just made that up. My point is this: You can robotically choreograph a routine with a teacher and you’ll do a decent job on your wedding day. I’m okay with that. But I also urge you to develop a foundation in music and rhythm. Learn to hear the beat in all music, not just your wedding song. Not only will your wife appreciate it every time you step on the floor, it’s a gift to yourself, as it’ll make listening to music more enjoyable.
The Wedding Music
There are many good choices for a wedding song; it’s a personal preference. There are plenty of websites that give recommendations for the first dance as well as all the other music you’ll need throughout the day: ceremony, cocktails, dinner, mother–son dance, father–daughter dance, cake cutting, garter toss, reception party, last dance, and so on. Search the web for “wedding dance music” and “first dance music.”
Not every song that’s recommended will be easy to dance to. So, even though this sounds like a no-brainer, choose music that’s danceable. Choose something that you can get into and tap your foot to, something with a beat you can hear, and something with a comfortable tempo. Sometimes something too slow can be difficult, because you tend to rush the dance. Also, slow music will expose mistakes more readily. Choose a song that’s enjoyable and meaningful, as it’ll be easier to dance to.
The wedding dance is generally two to three minutes in length, so cut yourself a break and edit it down to two minutes. If it’s a live band, don’t forget to tell them to keep it to two minutes. Also, listen to the live band play the song before the wedding, so you know their tempo—it may be a little different from what you’ve practiced. If you want to impress, study the phrasing (see box, “Intro to Phrasing,” at the end of Chapter 2) of the music so you know where to start patterns and when to dip. Know your music well.
Copyright © 2010 James Joseph. All rights reserved.