Recently we received a phone call from Paula and Vincent. They are getting married this summer and wanted to know if we could help them prepare for their first dance as Mr and Mrs Graham. The thing is, with the wedding in a couple of months, they were worried they had left it too late… Between picking out the location, working out a budget, agreeing on guest list, finding the perfect dress,…. they had had one of the busiest years of they life. So, naturally, they hadn’t even had the chance to discuss about their first dance… A lot of couples come to see us at this stage of their wedding preparations. They would like to prepare a unique performance for their big day, but feel that it might be too late…
Recently we received a phone call from Paula and Vincent. They are getting married this summer and wanted to know if we could help them prepare for their first dance as Mr and Mrs Graham. The thing is, with the wedding in a couple of months, they were worried they had left it too late…
Between picking out the location, working out a budget, agreeing on guest list, finding the perfect dress,…. they had had one of the busiest years of they life. So, naturally, they hadn’t even had the chance to discuss about their first dance…
A lot of couples come to see us at this stage of their wedding preparations. They would like to prepare a unique performance for their big day, but feel that it might be too late…
So, over the years, we’ve crafted a special skill: focusing on the fundamentals, and fast-tracking the process to a unique, gorgeous First Dance…
We’re sharing here the ‘principles’ that we use when working with couples like Paula and Vincent. We are not giving ‘dance technique explanations’, but rather tips that will help you go through the whole process of preparing a First Dance quickly and smoothly. We teach tango, so they apply mostly to ‘partner dancing’, but will also help for any type of choreography.
BEFORE YOU GET STARTED
Choose the music early on
Deciding on the music should be your first step if you are pressed with time. It will impact everything, from the dancing style to the choreography to the timing, so it should be the first thing you decide on…
Once you’ve found a song that both of you like, you’ll need to stick to it. Changing the music half-way into the rehearsal process is incredibly time-consuming. So if you are pressed with time, you need to first focus on selecting the right track – even if it takes you a few days to do so.
If you’d like to go for tango, here are 6 songs by Osvaldo Pugliese and his orchestra that work quite well for weddings. They are relatively easy to dance on, and we know that wedding guests (and bride and groom!) enjoy them.
(Click on the titles to listen in youtube)
1. Keep it beautifully simple
Absolute truth about dancing: a basic movement well performed looks much better than a lot of fancy movements badly executed.
How much better? way, waaaaaay better.
Keep in mind, as well, that you won’t be dressed in yoga pants and gym clothes. At least one of you will probably be wearing a long white dress with a lots of layers, which wasn’t designed with complicated dancing in mind. Add to that the jacket, the shoes, hair flowers, etc… and you probably want to avoid back flips and Dirty Dancing jumps.
So, your focus should be on ‘beautiful simple steps’.
If you’ve chosen a modern-jazz choreography, these might be the square and some simple arm movements. The great thing about tango is that our basic step (walking together), represents the connection between the couple, and can be mesmerising. When a couple comes onto the dance floor and simply walks musically…wow, it’s breathtaking. We, tango people, marvel at how well our heroes do simple steps.
See? It’s all about the basics!
2. Add 5 sophisticated steps maximum
When choreographing a 2-3 minutes dance, we advise to work off a base of beautiful simple steps and add a maximum of 5 ‘sophisticated’ steps.
Note that sophisticated doesn’t mean complicated: it can be breaking the embrace and turning to your audience. Or both of you going for your own very-personal-crazy-club-moves on 8 beats before getting back to the choreography. Or taking funny pauses on 4 rhythmic beats. Plenty of easy, fun ideas here.
If we were preparing you for a tango tema (we say tema for ‘song’), we’d probably work with the steps we teach our beginner/improver students: half-turns and turns, ochos, a sandwichito, a planeo (a bit more advanced), and leg decorations.
3. Choreograph the beginning and the end
Often in weddings we see the bride and groom rush to the dance floor when the music starts playing, then stand in front of the crowd for 8 or 16 beats until their sound cue.
With our students, we always make sure that the beginning and the end are perfectly prepared. We want them to arrive on the dance floor feeling and looking relaxed, beautiful, confident. Similarly, we always plan the finale and how they will ‘accept the applause’ (a nice smile and thanking their partner is usually enough).
4. Take the space into account
When choreographing, you need to take the space constraints into account. Often when we prepare couples we ask to see pictures of the wedding space: we’re trying to get an overall sense of the space, but also look for the space constraints that could make or break a choreography.
You need to know about the size and shape of the dance floor. Also think about the type of floor (it’s harder to pivot on concrete than on floorboards), and where the audience will be.
Finally, make sure that you use all the space that you have: couples tend to stay on one spot in the centre, yet playing with the space (using diagonals, changing directions, traveling across the dance floor…) adds instant visual flavour.
5. Don’t worry about the meaning behind the movements
It’s a ‘beginner’s common mistake’ and a trap I fell into countless times when I started working on shows: thinking too much about the ‘meaning’ of movements, and ‘telling a story’. That’s a tricky one. True, you can have a bit of fun with story-telling (boy meets girl, opens his arms, girl gets into a waltz embrace) but other than that, it’s best not to ‘intellectualise’ too much.
You don’t have the time, and, trust me, thinking about ’symbols’ can be a black hole that eats up the whole energy and focus of a rehearsal: all of a sudden, it’s time to wrap up and you realise you spent the whole time on one hand gesture. Frustrating when time is precious.
At that stage, choose movements that you like because they are fun, beautiful or easy to make.
That’s all – and more than enough.
1. Commit to it
This one is obvious, but I prefer to have it out there. If you don’t practice, it won’t work. It doesn’t have to be a lot of time, but it needs to be quality time. So, agree on a time of the week that will be your practice time (let’s call it a ‘dance date’), decide how long it will last and be 100% focused during that time. That means phones on airplane mode, no TV on, no computer around, etc…
2. Practice with heels from the start
It’s very different to practice a planeo in socks in your living-room than to dance it with heels and a long dress in front of 200 people. What we wear on the day of a show, especially heels, tight jackets and long frocks, impacts how we move and needs to be taken into account early on in the rehearsal process. The ideal would be that both partners practice dressed as they will be on the big day. Clearly, this is usually not possible, so try to practice at least with the shoes – both of you, yes, men too!
Heels definitely change the way we walk and move, but not always for the better. They only make us more sensual and sexy if we are comfortable enough to play with the new added height. So, you need to practice. The added bonus is that if you can dance comfortably in your heels, then you’ll look amazing walking down the aisle.
3. Make the music the responsibility of both the groom and the bride
Often in social dancing the man leads the woman (you don’t have to stick to that by the way).
Unfortunately, this means often means that the man becomes in charge of counting the beat and remembering the choreography. And that creates a strong visual imbalance: the man feels ‘present’ while his partner ‘disappears’. If you are going for partner dancing, make sure that both of you fully present to the music.
For example, when I dance tango, I listen to the music looking for opportunities to add ‘embellishments’, i.e. leg work that is not choreographed, does not impact the lead but reflects the way I feel the music.
4. Use your camera wisely
Recording a rehearsal on camera can be a powerful tool: you get to see how you improved, and spot the little things (a hand on the hips, a straight head…) that can make your show 100% more beautiful.
But we advise to use the camera on one condition only: that both of you decide that you will be truly objective. Otherwise, it can be incredibly toxic. Even for seasoned actors and dancers, seeing yourself on film can be difficult. It’s easy to fall into the trap of ‘I’m a disaster, I don’t know how to dance, etc…’. So, if you do record yourselves, you need to decide that you will look at the film absolutely objectively. This means that you can not find only negative things to say about your dancing.
You’re getting married! So you know each other, you love each other, you’ve probably been through a lot together already. Great: you’re ready to dance together, then…
Dancing with the love of your life is truly a wonderful experience (I should know, i do this every day!), but that it can be challenging at times. A bit of wisdom collected from many years of dancing socially: if something is going wrong with him/her, you’re probably not doing everything perfectly either.
1. Look relaxed and confident
In dance shows, the most important thing is that the dancers appear relaxed and confident. You are surrounded with the love of your life, your friends and family, and you know your steps, so everything should go well. If you tend to be anxious, don’t let the disturbing noise inside your head win.
If it’s suddenly going wrong and you have no idea what you are doing…. keep going and smile as if you are performing the most wonderful show that ever graced the stage of the Royal Opera House. It’s a trick from my acting training. Believe me, with that smile, no-one will notice it’s not going to plan.
2. Keep your head high
You’ll see, you’ll want to look at your shoes. Newsflash: they are not going anywhere… So, whatever movements you do, try staying straight and keeping your head high. Don’t look down.
It will change the whole visual appeal of your dance.
It’s your wedding, so you don’t really need me to tell you this but bear in mind that the first dance should be the same as for the rest of the day: pure happiness.
So if you are nervous about dancing in front of all your guest, I can give you the mantra that every actor/dancer remembers before getting on stage: you’ve done the work during the rehearsal process, and now you just need to enjoy and let go…
And, who knows…. maybe you’ll keep dancing?
We wish you the best of luck for your first dance! If you’d like to prepare a tango First Dance and would like to know how we can help you, contact Pablo here. We teach group and private classes in Paris and London.
Pablo & Anne
PS: any tips you can share on how to create a beautiful first dance? Let us know in the comments below!