Viral videos of elaborate first dances, fun mother-son and father-daughter numbers and bridal party dances at weddings have taken the Internet by storm over the past year. But since everyone is not a professional dancer or choreographer, what does a couple do to prepare a beautiful first dance? They turn to the pros, of course.
Warwick’s Fred Astaire Dance Studio owners Rogelio and Juliet Garcia see couples coming in for private lessons all the time in the hopes of learning some steps to help them look good for the first dance.
Juliet explained having a choreographed or well-rehearsed first dance is not as new of a trend as many people would think. The popularity of sharing videos on social media sites has simply brought it to the forefront. She says the popularity of the reality show “Dancing With The Stars” has also led to couples taking the step to learn the right steps for their big day.
Of course, not every couple wants to perform a dance worthy of the mirror ball trophy. There are some couples who come in looking for an extensive routine, but according to Juliet, most are just looking for the confidence to walk out on the dance floor in front of their loved ones and not look silly.
“We just don’t want to do the penguin shuffle,” joked Juliet, referring to the typical slow dance of slowly moving side to side. “[Most say] we want to look like we know what we are doing.”
And she understands the stressful situation a first dance can be.
“The wedding should be the best day of their life,” said Juliet. “It can be stressful to get out there in front of all your friends and family.”
That is why comfort and confidence are key for students at Fred Astaire.
“We try to make sure they are comfortable with what they are doing,” said Garcia.
Comfort and confidence is what Christine DeSantins and Wayne Bessette got from taking dance lessons with Juliet at Fred Astaire for two months leading up to their May 3 wedding. Although they said that was not a lot of time, the North Providence couple learned several dances at the studio, including their first dance rumba, by attending classes twice a week, every week.
Bessette said the lessons were a valuable experience.
“I like to dance, and it’s nice to learn,” he said. “I could have never done it without this.”
When a couple’s goal is to look confident on the dance floor, Garcia points out timing is everything. If you begin your lessons with a year to go until your big day, a teacher can cover all of the basics and some flair; if you only have a month, Juliet says you will still learn the basic steps for a routine, but it may not be as elaborate or polished as it could be.
Juliet explained most couples come into lessons with a song, but she and the other instructors can also go over different options and figure out the perfect dance. Typically for first dances, couples will learn a variation of a foxtrot or rumba.
Many people may try to learn how to dance from instructional videos online, but Juliet says it is always better to take tips from the pros.
“The idea is to make it look easy,” said Juliet. “It’s a lot easier if you learn from people who know what they are doing.”
DeSantins said she wanted to take the lessons to prepare for her first dance because she felt that moment needed to be just as special as the rest of the wedding.
“I always think it’s so important for that first dance to look nice. I didn’t want it to look like an afterthought,” said DeSantins.
James San Giovanni and Gina Consolo are also taking lessons with Juliet to prepare for their first dance at their Aug. 10 wedding. Consolo had given a gift certificate for dance lessons at a different Fred Astaire studio (there are 20 in New England, with Warwick being the only Rhode Island location) to her sister when she got married, and her sister returned the favor.
“They really thought it was a good experience,” said Consolo. She and her fiancé have to agree, saying they were hooked after just one lesson.
“Of all the things you plan for, this is the thing that we enjoy the most,” said Consolo. “It keeps us de-stressed. I didn’t look forward to the florist. I look forward to this.”
“This is by far the most fun,” added San Giovanni.
At Fred Astaire, couples will be able to have private lessons to go over a specific routine, but are also able to take part in group classes to learn new steps or other technical aspects of dancing. Juliet says it is all part of the package at Fred Astaire so couples can show off their moves all night.
“Do you want to learn for a first dance or for the full reception?” she points out.
“We really enjoyed it,” said DeSantins during a weekly dance party for Fred Astaire students the week before her wedding. She said the couple plans to continue dancing with the studio in the fall for fun.
San Giovanni and Consolo have been going to lessons for about three months and still have a few months to go until the big day when they will show off their foxtrot-swing combo, but they are not ready for the experience to end.
“I’m better than I was when I entered in here every time,” said San Giovanni, adding that group lessons give them a chance to interact with other dancers and learn even more steps.
“This is something you both have to work on,” said Consolo. “We’re not looking forward to the end.”
While dance lessons will help a couple look good as they glide across the dance floor as husband and wife, Juliet says there is another advantage to the lessons.
“It’s a test run for marriage,” said Juliet, explaining the lessons test communication between the couple because they have to work together. “It’s a bit like having some couple’s therapy before they say ‘I do.’”
San Giovanni agreed that the lessons have been a great exercise in teamwork.
“There’s a trust bond to it. We have to work on this together,” he said, adding that he has recommended Fred Astaire to all of his co-workers. “It’s a really good teamwork lesson.”
Overall, Juliet has two pieces of advice for couples looking to plan a professional-style first dance.
First, she recommends couples plan for six months of dance lessons, at minimum if possible.
“You’re going to feel confidant the way you want,” said Juliet, pointing out six months is a good amount of time to learn the moves and gain the necessary confidence.
Secondly, Juliet says couples need to be patient.
“We’re going to get you dancing. You’re going to look good,” she said. “Don’t try to learn it all in one day.”
For more information about planning your first dance with Fred Astaire, call 427-2494.