Let’s Dance!

In preparation for our first dance and reception, the husband and I have been taking dance lessons at the fabulous Chicago Dance studio.  I highly recommend that all of our brides and grooms learn social dancing, especially foxtrot and swing, as these are the most common music choices for weddings and other events.

In case you don’t watch Dancing With The Stars, I’ve put together a listing of the common types of ballroom and latin dances, and some of the first dance or reception songs that lend itself to each style.

Image courtesy of the Fred Astaire encyclopedia

Foxtrot– The most universal choice for first dances.  Foxtrot is 4/4 time (the most common) and would be the most useful ballroom social dance to learn.  Think Frank Sinatra, Michael Buble, and Harry Connick Jr.  The foxtrot is box-based and the timing is slow-quick-quick (s-q-q).  It’s very important in this dance not to look mechanical (the s-q-q timing can make it difficult!) but to move continuously and sway to the music.  My favorite first dance song in this rhythm is “Fly Me To the Moon” by Frank Sinatra.

Waltz – The classic.  Waltz is 3/4 time, so not as many song choices here, but the dance is gorgeous.  It moves around the floor very freely and has beautiful turning action.  Also a box-based dance, but the timing is even, making it much easier to learn with some flow!  Fun fact: most waltz moves can also be translated into foxtrot moves and v.v. – making it easy to learn one or the other and be a very versatile dancer!  Waltz is danced with rise and fall in the steps, but the knees are never locked.  First dance song I love to waltz to (that’s not my own, because I don’t want to give it away!) – “I’ll Be” by Edwin McCain. 

East Coast Swing– Ah, the east coast swing.  Absolutely the latin dance to learn for social dancing (yes, it is a latin dance), it’s useful for beach music, oldies, and ragtime.  Much of east coast swing is based on 6-count steps, but as you learn more variations on moves, syncopations become a fun way to jazz it up!  East coast swing is what you’re probably used to seeing – lots of turns, interconnecting arm movements, and throwouts with triple-steps and rock-steps.  This variation of swing is typically danced in frame or simple two hand hold.  Song for an east coast swing – “Brown Eyed Girl” by Van Morrison.

West Coast Swing– My favorite latin dance by far!  Very different from east coast swing in that there is no rock step in the 6-count but instead two forward steps to begin most patterns.  Hold is typically a one-hand or cross-hand hold and this dance relies on a *lot* of counterbody movement and pushing/pulling action.  It’s my favorite because you can dance it to such a wide variety of music – everything from Maroon 5 to the Jackson 5 works.  Favorite song for this one?  “Ain’t No Sunshine When She’s Gone” by Bill Withers.  Bonus for WCS?  You can literally dance it to almost anything that isn’t a waltz – it can be danced as slow or as fast as you please.  Additionally, the leader’s footwork is almost identical for many different steps, making it an easy one to learn!

Rumba– Rumba and Foxtrot are typically paired because they are both 4/4 time and have similar basic steps.  But Rumba is far more sensual and should be danced slowly and with purpose, using *lots* of hip movement.  Rumba does not move around the floor like a foxtrot does, but it is also box-based.  Favorite first dance song – “Home” by Michael Buble.

Salsa– Fun, fun, fun!  Fast paced and not for the faint of heart or the rubber-shoed.  Lots of turning and interconnecting arms.  I adore this dance but you don’t see too many salsa songs played at receptions unless there is a specifically-latin band.  One fun one you might hear – “Hips Don’t Lie” by Shakira.

I recommend learning at least 5-10 foxtrot steps (ask your instructor which steps translate into waltz well – twinkle and weave and 3/8 turn are two handy ones) and quite a few east coast swing steps.  Dancers of the same level are rarely paired for social-dancing, so in swing especially learn some syncopations (variations on rhythm that do not affect your partner’s steps) so that you can have fun with fewer steps!  Keep in mind that leading is a difficult task for the men.  My hubby has had quite a few practice lessons on his own and it really helps to go one-on-one with an instructor.  The guys definitely need more practice than the girls when it comes to social dancing. 

Some practicalities:

  • No rubber soled shoes – preferably suede but leather will do.
  • If you are planning to swing or salsa be especially sure that your shoes have ankle straps.  And I wouldn’t advise double turns in a ballgown!
  • Work with your band or DJ before the reception to insure that your first dance song’s tempo is adequate for your choreography.  The best option?  Have the band record a version of the song so that you can learn the steps to their timing.

Put your dancing shoes on (and leave yourself lots of time to practice)!