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Wedding Dance Headaches

Written by Rick Archer
January 2014

Rick Archer’s Note:  Shortly after I published my story about Zach and Sarah’s wedding dance, someone who liked the article asked if all my wedding lessons progressed as smoothly as Zach and Sarah’s did. So I gave it some thought.

To tell the truth, I have never had a couple "fail" for the simple reason that I tailored the material to their skill level.  And, in all these years, I have only had one woman cry.  She just broke into tears over the slightest mistake one day.  I think she was overwhelmed by it all thanks to her family pulling her in a million directions.

I would say nine out of ten couples do just fine, but there have been struggles. Invariably the issue has something to do with the bride’s expectations for the Wedding Dance.

People talk about 'Bridezillas' and how horrible they are. Oddly enough, I have never encountered someone like this. Quite the contrary, the people I work with are unfailingly appreciative and cooperative.

I consider myself to be remarkably fortunate to be in the presence of these wedding couples. They are invariably as happy as any people you would ever want to meet.

They are so much in love and excited about their wedding.  One of the happiest moments of their life is just around the corner. Their radiance shines all around them and I am lucky to bask in their glow of love.

But even in Paradise there can be problems.  Several times I have met ladies whose expectations clearly exceeded their fiancé’s dance ability.  Whenever I have encountered real problems, they have invariably been generated by the future bride overestimating her future husband's ability to learn.

The Sophisticated Wedding Dance Choreography

One development I find interesting is the increasing number of people who go to the Internet for wedding dance lessons. Dance instructors have begun to try selling “wedding dance videos” on the web.

I can definitely see the reason for the idea. If someone lives in Smalltown, USA, they may not have access to a dance studio. Then what do they do? 
I suppose I should admit I don’t feel particularly threatened by this development.  I have used enough dance videos to know that those videos give choreography.  There is always at least some valuable information about how the moves are created that is missing.  I have been fortunate to use my dance background to decipher the leads and fill in the blanks. 

However, if someone is a non-dancer, I can't imagine how they would overcome missing information. 

A video can explain a lead, but I have never seen a DVD explain how the lead is supposed to 'feel'.  The video has no way to tell the man how much strength to use.  In my opinion, the tricky process of teaching leads is best communicated face to face.

Furthermore a DVD usually forces a couple to use the song being played on the video.  What if the wedding couple prefers another song? A video fails to explain what dance fits what song.

A video cannot tailor the complexity of the material to the skill level of the dancer.  Nor can an Internet dance video explain to a couple what they are doing wrong. For example, a friend of mine recently wrote for help.

“Rick, my cousin’s fiancé needs help!  Apparently efforts to learn to dance at home via DVD are not working very well!  Fred just stands in one place and shuffles his feet!”

I suspect this couple purchased a wedding DVD on the Internet and the material demonstrated was over their head. If so, this wouldn’t be the first time the Internet has tripped someone up.  Here is an interesting experience to show my point.

Patrick and Tina

The use of the Internet led to one of my greatest challenges.  A couple named Patrick and Tina had discovered a wedding video on the Internet being danced to a Sinatra song. 

Patrick and Tina didn’t want to purchase the Wedding DVD since it was very expensive. What they did want to do was COPY the pattern seen on the Internet.  They wanted to dance for 30 seconds, be brilliant, and quit while they were ahead.

Hello from Tina and Patrick:
Our wedding is 12/12/12. We are an older couple with very little dance experience. We would like to learn the 30 second dance routine to the Sinatra song as shown on the video attached below.

Our plan is to dance only for 30 seconds to the exact dance routine as shown in the video. We would like to schedule for lessons. Friday November 9 after 6:30 pm is good for us. After our first hour of instructions we can decide how many additional hours are required. Your early response would be appreciated.

I had never had a request like this before.  At the time I never even knew these sorts of videos even existed. So I went to the Internet and had a look at the pattern for myself

I watched a professional dance couple demonstrate a 30 long dance routine full of highly choreographed Foxtrot material that was very flashy. 

I spotted two problems.  First, the typical wedding dance in my opinion should be 2 minutes for Beginners and 2 1/2 minutes for everyone else.  30 seconds was cutting it pretty short.  But I could see why it was only 30 seconds long - the dancers on the video didn't want anyone ripping off their pattern. 

The second problem was that the material was very tricky.  Patrick and Tina could never have figured out the routine on their own.  In fact, I think the pattern was deliberately made tricky so ordinary viewers could not rip off the pattern for free.

Well, that didn't stop Patrick and Tina.  They simply turned to me for help.  They asked me to teach them how to copy the pattern.  

I was impressed with the quality of the pattern displayed.  However, to my surprise, the routine was so tricky I had trouble learning it as well!  I was surprised to find it took me over an hour of my own time to decipher the timing and footwork of those patterns.  I could not believe 30 seconds could be so difficult!  I didn’t mind. I looked at it as a puzzle and enjoyed the challenge.

However, I was worried. My instincts said this advanced pattern was way over the head of most beginners.  If I found the material difficult, what about these people? 

I wrote back to warn them how hard this would be in my reply to them... but they asked me to try anyway.  So I said okay.  Now I had a bad feeling about this.  Based on their email, it sounded to me like they were walking into a trap. 

My hunch turned out to be painfully correct. Patrick was not only a weak dancer, Tina was a know-it-allShe clearly had the stronger personality.  The more she fussed at Patrick, the more he messed up.  Funny how that works.

I could see that every time Tina made a suggestion no matter how well-intended, Patrick would grow more tense and lose his concentration. He got worse, not better. 

Their interaction led to one of my firmest rules: the lady doesn’t get to fuss at the man (or vice versa for that matter).   

Seeing Patrick fall to pieces, I knew I had to intervene.  But I didn’t want to have my say in front of Patrick lest I embarrass either of them.  So I bided my time.

I think my chance came when Patrick went to the restroom.

So I took Tina aside and quietly explained the dynamics.  People who care about each other should be careful not to “coach” the other person unless asked.  The “coaching” no matter how well meant usually feels like “criticism” or superiority”.  In a sense, it feels like one person knows more than the other.  One person assumes they are a better dancer than the other and this gives them the right to coach. 

Invariably, whatever the woman says is usually right, but speaking from personal experience, it still stings and becomes counter-productive.  However, since I am theoretically the expert, I am given permission by the man to criticize. In fact, most men welcome any suggestion I have.  I understand that it doesn't make much sense, but I have learned that any suggestion coming from me feels completely different to the man... even if I am saying the exact same thing as the lady.

Based on that observation, I asked Tina to let me do the fussing instead and she could be in charge of smiling and laughing every time he got it right. I knew I was taking a chance of offending Tina.  After all, in a sense I was scolding her for scolding him.  However, thank goodness, Tina nodded in agreement.  Once we got that straight, we began to make progress.  From then on, when she had a concern, she expressed it to me and then I turned to Patrick and told him the same thing.  Of course it sounds goofy, but it works.

Now that we had that problem squared away, we still faced an uphill struggle.  This lady’s ambitious nature had paired a weak dancer with advanced material.  Once Tina saw that video demonstration on the Internet, Tina could not resist wanting to look the same way.  However, 'wishing' can only get you so far.  Since Patrick was such a slow learner, it took us four one-hour lessons to cover just 30 seconds of dancing.  In the end, they got the material, but not once did I ever see Patrick smile.  He wanted to please Tina, of course, but the entire experience was so stressful that Patrick had a miserable time.

I would have to say that experience was one of my toughest teaching adventures.  It was a perfect example of a time when a bride's unrealistic expectations put undue pressure on her future husband.


Dancing With the Stars

Erin and Maxsim, Tango

I have always been curious what the results would be if two beginning wedding dancers were paired with a hot shot professional instructor.  Could a pro teach beginners any better than I could?  

The closest thing to this scenario I have ever heard of was Chelsea Clinton's first dance. 

"No detail was left to chance for the wedding of Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky, including the couple's first dance as husband and wife.

Who needs pre-wedding dance lessons from that Arthur Murray guy when you can get choreography from DWTS pro Maksim Chmerkovskiy instead? 

Their romantic tango routine to the Michael Bublé song "Feeling Good" was choreographed by "Dancing With the Stars" pro Chmerkovskiy, who recently finished in third place in the 2010 finals with his partner, Erin Andrews of Fox Sports.

Erin and Maxsim, Salsa

The dance lessons were a wedding gift from an anonymous friend of the family.  Their routine was definitely 'on-trend' wedding-reception wise, and showed  the kind of sexy choreography the ballroom pro is known for.  It was danced as part of a little wedding celebration that went down Saturday in New York.

People Magazine reports that Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky's first dance as husband and wife was indeed "sultry".   

Indeed, Maxsim, the Dancing with the Stars hottie, did a wonderful job choreographing the pair’s first dance, which was "stunning and sensual by all accounts," a friend of the bride told the magazine. 

"It was an amazing, funny, unexpected dance.
 It was done as a complete surprise to the parents. Bill and Hillary seemed to love it."

Naturally I was curious to know how well they did.  Was this just the typical hype or was the wedding couple really good?  So I combed the Internet for a description of their dance or a picture.  I came up totally empty.  That surprised me.

Their dance was described "sultry and sensual", but there are no pictures on the Internet of the two dancing and no first-hand accounts with any real details.  Since everything else at the wedding was photographed and appeared on the Internet, why not a picture from the wedding dance?

Perhaps it is sour grapes on my part, but I admit I am totally skeptical. 

I found an interesting tidbit on the Internet to back up my suspicion. 

I met up Maksim Chmerkovskiy, 30, with during the Casio 'Shock The World 2010' event held this week in NYC.  He turned coy when I asked him about teaching Chelsea Clinton dance moves for her Saturday wedding.

“Their wedding was kept very personal and private, and I respect their privacy,” the reality star told me. 

Maksim seemed surprised I knew about the prized pop culture pairing of the celebrity couple with the celebrity dancer.  I assumed that means former President Clinton and his family must watch reality TV staples including Dancing With The Stars.

So, Maksim, what was the former first daughter like as a dancer?

“Next question,” he briskly said.  (OK Magazine)

I rest my case.  In my opinion, Maksim may be the greatest dancer in the world, but it is still the skill level of the groom which ultimately becomes the limiting factor.  A klutz does not automatically become a swan just because Fred Astaire is the teacher.

The only way to overcome the inexperience of two beginning dancers is to train them to become skilled dancers and that requires "TIME".  Since I imagine Chelsea and Marc were super busy with wedding commitments and their supernova careers, "TIME" was likely a precious commodity they could ill afford to waste on becoming advanced dancers.

My suspicion is that their wedding dance was short, sweet, and quite simple.


Shooting for the Stars and Missing

Only once in my career have I ever received a direct request for a "Dancing with the Stars"-style wedding routine.  I gathered it was a High Society Wedding and the bride desired to create a very involved exhibition complete with a grand entrance and much fanfare.  This woman also wanted every dance movement matched to the music, meaning she wanted to develop a highly technical routine.  

There was something in the way the request was worded that suggested this would be a very involved, quite stressful undertaking. 

Considering the request came right on the heels of the story I am about to tell, I was too burned out to show interest. I referred the lady to a friend who was a Ballroom choreographer.  He was thrilled beyond thrilled.  This was right up his alley.  He later told me he made $1,000 in the process.  Good for him; as for me, I kept my nerves intact.

Francis and Jeff were the couple who removed any temptation to bother with that woman's "Dancing with the Stars" routine.

Francis encouraged her future husband to shoot for the stars... and came up short.

Everyone appreciates ambition.  Without it, we wouldn't have Christopher Columbus or the Moon Landings.

However, as we all know, the loftier the goal, the greater the chance of failure.  There are consequences to aiming too high.

They say lighting doesn't strike twice in the same spot, but in my case, I have had two difficult situations that were eerily similar. 

Both times the problems started when an instructor at a franchise Ballroom studios taught material that was over the skill level of her students.  Both times the female instructor became overly critical of the fiancé and both times the male student became so frustrated that he wanted to quit.  Both times the bride decided her only hope was to find another instructor and pray for the best.

One couple I have already written about. Rick and Michelle had signed up for lessons with an instructor at a dance studio near their home.  However, the instructor was inexperienced at this process and taught moves that were much too difficult.  Frustrated with Rick's progress after two or three lessons, Michelle decided it was time to change ships.  Michelle heard that my wife Marla was very patient, so they switched to her before Rick, her fiancé, got even more discouraged than he already was.

Marla took Rick and Michelle for their first lesson, but then I entered the picture in Lesson Two.  I substituted for Marla in the second lesson after she got a "Girls Night Out" invitation.  Seeing how much Marla wanted to go, I offered to take the lesson with Rick and Michelle.  During the lesson, I developed a rapport with Rick and Michelle, so I ended up teaching them their final three lessons.

The situation with Jeff and Francis started the exact same way, but ended up with a situation far more malignant than Rick and Michelle. 

Michelle had disengaged from her instructor before Rick became completely defeated.  Not Francis. Francis picked a much tougher instructor and waited much longer to jump ship.  By the time Jeff got to me, he was seriously damaged goods.  Using medical terms, Jeff barely had a pulse.

Like Michelle, Francis was a lady who very much wanted a “Dancing with the Stars” Waltz at her wedding.  And not just any Waltz either; she wanted to look wonderful.  So she went out and hired the best instructor she could find.  Well, sad to say, Francis was on the verge of seeing her hopes dashed to pieces.  Jeff had threatened to completely quit. He was ready to skip the wedding dance entirely.   That's a good indication of how frustrated he was.  

It became my task to pick up the pieces.   This led to the most difficult teaching assignment of my career. 

The Russian Ballroom Dance Teacher

The story began with Francis calling around town.  She located a championship Russian Ballroom dancer who was affiliated with a franchise Ballroom studio here in HoustonLet's call her 'Olga'. 

Apparently Olga was a highly credentialed dancer who regularly entered competitions.  Olga had a pedigree a mile long and an attitude to match.  Her teaching price was very expensive.  Olga from Volga believed if you want the best, you should be prepared to pay for it. 

Her asking price was $100 for a 50-minute lesson.  However, Francis bargained with her.  As a “favor” to the couple, Olga the Russian dance instructor discounted her lessons down to $80 an hour in return for the couple signing up for five lessons.  That’s $400 if you are counting.  They had to pay the entire amount up front before the first lesson even began.

Having paid for 5 lessons ahead of time turned out to be a curse.  It meant Francis stuck with Olga much longer than she should have due to the expensive financial investent.

From what I gather, Olga herself had been trained in Russia by highly critical, no-nonsense instructors who expected excellence and perfection.  Their teaching style had rubbed off on Olga.

I would imagine Olga would be the perfect instructor for someone who aspired to greatness themselves, but for ordinary dancers like Francis and Jeff, her cold, critical style was a complete mismatch. By the end of the five lessons, no one was happy.

Francis was appalled.  She had paid all this money and her fiancé Jeff could barely dance a lick!  He couldn’t keep the beat, he couldn’t remember the sequence of the patterns and he couldn’t lead anything As opposed to teaching 'lead-follow' social dancing, this woman had been teaching nothing but choreography to a beginner.  What was she thinking?  Every movement was memorized. Since Jeff couldn't 'lead', he had no way to recover from a mistake.  They were constantly starting over.

Francis was worried sick, Olga was impatient, and Jeff’s head was swimming.

Jeff did not get along well with Olga Not at all.  He was so frustrated that he had stopped speaking to the womanInstead Jeff just took orders and fumbled around.  Olga was losing patience fast.  These lessons had reached a total impasse. 

So now Olga and Francis began debating how to salvage the process.  I have to assume they completely ignored Jeff as they argued. Jeff was standing there the whole time, but he was invisible.  Olga suggested signing for another 5 lesson wedding package, but her body language was saying something else… these people were a total waste of her precious time.

As Francis later described, Jeff was shocked beyond belief. The sight of Francis negotiating with his nemesis for more lessons was the final straw.  That was it; Jeff had had enough.  Jeff put an end to it without saying a word.  Disgusted by the bargaining for more lessons, Jeff found a unique way to express his wishes.  With Olga’s back turned to him, Jeff made a dramatic slash across the throat gesture with his finger and shook his head 'no' emphatically.  There was no way he was ever coming back to this place.

In fact, on the way home, Jeff put his foot down.  He said he was done with the whole damn thing.  This was total bullshit.  If he had his way, there would be no Wedding Dance at all.

Putting Humpty-Dumpty Back Together Again

Well, as all men know, throughout history lots of men have put their foot down only to find out their wife had other ideas.  Francis knew there would be no more Olga, but maybe someone else could do better. 

So now Francis was forced to start over.  Someone suggested me.  I will never forget the phone call.  It went something like this:

“Hello, Mr. Archer, this is Francis soandso.  I was referred to you by my friend soandso.  My friend said you might be able to help.  Can you give me your credentials?  How long have you been teaching?  Do you have experience at performing?  Have you won any contests?”

I was seriously taken aback by all these questions.  This woman was a complete stranger to me; why was she coming on so strong? 

Most people initiate this sort of conversation by explaining what they want.  Not Francis.  She began by asking me to justify why she should even bother talking to me.  I was put off by her sharp approach, but curious enough to respond nevertheless. 

I explained as best I could that I was something of a renegade dance instructor.  And that is the truth.  If anything, I am the Anti-Olga.  If she is white, then I am black.  

For starters, I have little interest in dance competitions. As for qualifications, although I have had quite a bit of formal training, I have never been one to seek pieces of paper telling the world how good I am.  Unfortunately, this particular lady wanted to see those pieces of paper.

I did not know the background story at this point, so I was surprised at how aggressive Francis was.  Never before in my career had I been grilled like this.  I understood that she had a right to know if I was qualified, but these were dance lessons, not brain surgery or a major lawsuit.   Even if I turned out to be the wrong person, all they were risk was one hour of their time.  So why was she so intense?

Meanwhile Francis had eased up. Since she was still on the phone, I assumed I was "still in the running".  So I decided it was my turn to ask her some questions.

I started by asking Francis what she was so worried about

I almost fell out of my chair with her response. 

“Well, I am concerned because your price is so cheap.  You only charge half the price of your competitor.”  (Francis was referring to the original $100 a lesson quote).

Frankly speaking, I felt insulted.  I have a very thin skin when it comes to a slap like that.

Normally I would say something sarcastic like I would charge the same price if it would make her feel any better, but I could tell this lady was really worried about something.  I decided any smartass remark at this point would probably rub Francis the wrong way. 

So, despite my anger, I chose the soft touch instead.  I explained that I taught classes at my house.  This meant I did not need to pay rent or pay some studio a “floor fee”.  Although $80-$100 was indeed the going rate for many top-flight instructors, I told Francis I preferred to pass the savings onto the students and charge the more modest rate because it made me feel better.  Personally I think $50 an hour is a lot of money, but I suppose everything in life is relative.

They say soft words turneth away wrath.  Although typically it is not my nature to take the soft approach, I have to say it definitely worked like a charm this time.  Francis must have liked something in my explanation because her approach changed immediately.  She melted on the phone and began to explain her dilemma.  I can't be sure, but I think she was crying.  The poor lady actually choked up a couple times as she told me her wild story.

My eyes grew wide.  Thanks to Rick and Michelle, this was not the first time I had heard a story like this.  There are some instructors who are so gifted that they take their gift for granted. Some gifted dancers don’t necessarily have the patience for people who are slow learners.  They can't understand why normal people have so much trouble picking up dance steps when it comes so easily to them. I think that was Olga's problem. 

On the other hand, I struggled to learn to dance.  If you don't believe me, read my classic Learning to Dance tale.  You will soon believe I know full well what it feels like to have trouble learning a dance move.  My own difficulties explains why I have infinite sympathy for others starting on the path.

The Dilemma

The truth of the matter was that Francis was in quite a fix.  Francis had a deeply discouraged fiancé, she had wasted $400 with virtually nothing to show for it and, worst of all, they had wasted two precious months with the Olga monster.  Now the Wedding date was approaching fast.  They had only three weeks to go.  

I didn't have the heart to tell Francis this over the phone, but their reduced time frame could very well mean they did not have enough time to start over and get the kind of wedding dance Francis so cherished.  It would all depend on Jeff.  If his learning curve was as slow as Francis indicated and his attitude as bitter as she indicated, we were in for a rough first meeting. 

Consequently I was very tense as the first lesson loomed.  How was I supposed to salvage this situation?  Jeff had taken five lessons from one of the best dancers in the world.  According to Francis, Jeff had ended up a basket case.  Taking my cues from Francis and her tales of woe, I could only assume Jeff was a very slow learner.  How was I supposed to solve all their problems with just three weeks left?

When I finally met Jeff and Francis, my first impression was terrible.  Just their demeanor was enough to make me give up on the spot.  I have never seen two more discouraged people in my life.  Francis was so nervous she was almost shaking. Jeff didn't shake my hand and had all the enthusiasm of a man appearing for sentencing at a trial.  With that ugly sinking feeling, I wondered what I had gotten myself into. 

Looking for an idea what I was up against, I asked them to dance to their song, the classic "Could I have this Dance?" by Anne Murray. 

I was shocked at what I saw. Jeff could dance little more than a Waltz Box Step.  After 30 seconds, he quit dancing. 

I wasn't just shocked, I was astonished.  How can any man take five hours of lessons and have nothing more to show for it than a damn Box Step?  Most people learn the Box Step in five minutes, not five hours.  This was hopeless.  The thought crossed my mind that maybe Olga wasn't as bad as Francis had claimed.

I was in for one more unpleasant surprise.  Francis pulled out a stack of notes.  I frowned.  What was this all about?   

Apparently Francis was a note taker.  While Jeff and the Russian instructor had engaged in hand to hand combat, Francis had been busy carefully writing down all the patterns they had been taught with lengthy descriptions.  Francis explained to me that they had covered 5 of the 12 phrases planned by Olga.  

Francis wanted me to pick up right where the woman had left off.  I frowned.  This note-taking sounded suspiciously like choreography.  At least that cleared up one mystery.  That would explain why Jeff could only dance the Box Step.  The only move he could lead was the Box Step.  Everything else had been memorized and Jeff had blocked it out of his memory.

If that was the case, this couple was in worse trouble than I thought. 

A choreographed dance routine is meant for experienced dancers, not beginners like Jeff and Francis.  On Dancing with the Stars, the dance pro leads the "star" through all sorts of complicated maneuvers that they have rehearsed in advance.  On the show, not only does the male professional dancer "Lead" the amateur through the material, the female professionals "Lead" as well through a process known as "Back Leading".  In this case, choreography has a chance to work. 

I believe that Olga was used to pro-am competitions where she could back-lead her male students.  I think she received a nasty surprise when she discovered this technique didn't work for two beginners dancing with one another.

When two beginners try to dance advanced material using choreography, it becomes the blind leading the blind. 

Out of curiosity, I took a look at those notes.  Francis had six pages!  I glanced at one page and frowned.  These notes could have been written in Greek for all I understood.  It is extremely difficult for a non-dancer to write down dance moves in any way that another human being can understand.  I didn't have a clue what these notes meant.

I looked at Francis and asked a question.  What was with all these notes?  Why didn't they simply videotape the routine?   That would make so much more sense.

Francis turned a whiter shade of pale while Jeff turned his back and stared out the window.  Uh oh.  I had just hit a nerve. 

Without making eye contact, Francis explained that their instructor had forbidden them to videotape anything. 

Now I was mad.  No videotape?  Okay, I had been ready to give Olga the benefit of the doubt, but now I decided Olga's old school rigidity was a bad mistake.  Why would Olga deprive this couple of the best chance they had to practice the material at home?  I doubt I could remember all those notes, much less a beginner like Jeff. 

This was the moment I quit being mad at them for the mess they had gotten themselves into.  I wasn't mad any longer at Francis for being rude on the phone.  I wasn't mad about these ridiculous notes.  I wasn't mad at Jeff for knowing nothing more than the Box Step. 

Instead I suddenly took pity on them.  Francis deserved better than this.  She had found a highly-trained individual to help them, but it wasn't her fault that Olga was not the right person for the job.  Now Francis was terrified she would pick another loser which was why she had grilled me so hard.  Jeff would not tolerate another mistake.

I was literally their last chance.

Finding a Way Out

I took a deep breath.  We had three weeks to go.  There was no way I could teach Jeff very much in this short a period of time.  I needed a short-cut.  That's when I had an idea.  I needed to see if there was any way to piggyback the material that Olga had given them.

I asked Francis to talk about her instructor and these notes.  I noticed her glance at her watch and I told her not to worry about time.  I said I fully intended to extend the lesson, but first I needed a better understanding.  So Francis relaxed a bit.  Francis said that Olga had taught them some very complicated patterns right from the start and seemed extremely impatient when they didn't pick up the material very fast.

Francis added that she really liked Olga's patterns.  If Jeff hadn't chafed under the constant criticism, she would have loved to keep learning from Olga. But then again, Francis added, Olga never picked on her.  Just Jeff.  Jeff was Olga's perpetual punching bag.

For his part, Jeff said nothing.  However I could see that Francis was correct.  Someone had definitely taken the fun out of the learning process for him.

Hmm.  So Francis really liked Olga's patterns.  Well, we better take a look.  Perhaps I could build on the material they already knew rather than start from scratch.  This was probably the only chance they had to beat their deadline.

I told Francis and Jeff that if they could show me some of the moves in those notes, then maybe I could recognize the move.  

Francis brightened considerably.  She went to her notes and picked out a pattern.  She told Jeff the name of the pattern and went through the motions herself to cue Jeff.  To my relief, Jeff responded to his wife's reminders.  Once Francis back-led him a little, he began to remember enough of what he was supposed to do to give me the rough idea. 

Jeff was terribly ragged, but he was close enough that I was able to recognize what they were doing.  Since Olga had taught them advanced "social" patterns that were lead-follow, I wondered for the umpteenth time why Olga had not bothered to teach Jeff how to lead them. 

We went through this process one move at a time.  Jeff would finish a pattern and Francis would pick out another pattern to demonstrate.  To his credit, Jeff remembered enough so that I could make out chassés and syncopations.  There was particular relevé move where Francis stopped and kicked her leg into the air while Jeff added sweeping theatrical arm motions.  I nearly choked to death suppressing a laugh.  They looked ridiculous.  These were the kind of moves one would see in a Ballroom competition, but with Jeff doing them they resembled a DWTS mockery skit on Saturday Night Live

Time for a Lecture

Given the amount of notes Francis kept, I estimated they would need three months to complete the routine.  We didn't have three months.   We needed to adjust the pattern to the time we had left.  If Jeff could learn half of the patterns he had demonstrated more thoroughly, we would have the makings of an impressive dance routine.   In other words, we needed to use less material and also to show Jeff how to actually lead the material we kept.  The Chassé could stay, but the Syncopations and the Relevé had to go.

I took a deep breath and smiled.  It was time to lay it on the line. 

"Well, guys, I don't like telling people what they should and shouldn't do, but since you have come to me for advice, I think you should simplify things a bit.  Fortunately, you know enough patterns already to make it through most of the song.  Let's take what you already have learned and work from there.  I suggest we group what you know into four basic patterns.  Then we can work on an ending."

When Rick heard that I wanted to simplify things, I detected the first hint of a smile. The idea of simplifying things worked for him just fine.

I still could not believe that Jeff and Francis had memorized most of their patterns.  What was that Russian woman thinking?  Jeff didn't know the first thing about "leading" these moves.  Nor did Francis have much of a clue how to follow.  Instead she did most of the footwork on her own while Jeff moved his feet and stared into space.

I was angry.  This was ridiculous.  All those fancy patterns and no one had taught this young man how to actually dance. 

Now that I knew what I was up against, I added one more thing.  I said, “For tonight, let’s do it my way.  We need to teach Jeff to lead.  The two of you can use tonight to decide if you like my style and wish to continue with me.  If at the end of the night you don't think I can help, we can shake hands and no hard feelings.  You will owe me nothing.

I don’t enjoy confrontation, especially with total strangers.  But in this case, I had no other choice.  I might not be able to help, but I was willing to try.  However, I knew things wouldn't work doing it their way.  I had to insist they give me a chance to implement my own ideas.  In other words, I asked them to trust me.  And I absolutely had to teach Jeff how to lead.

I hoped they would see that they had nothing to lose by trying things my way.  However, since my approach to the lesson was literally 180 degrees different than Olga's, my radical approach might not be to their taste.  

Fortunately, my gamble worked. My first step was to take some of the more practical moves they already knew and teach Jeff how to lead them.  Jeff wasn't so sure, but that plus using some of Olga's moves won Francis over immediately.  Francis was deliriously happy to see all that work they had put in with Olga wasn’t completely lost.  She also liked this strange concept called ‘leads’. 

Francis did make me laugh. "Gee, these moves are so much easier when you lead them!"  Gee, what a discovery.

As for Jeff, he was nowhere near as bad a dancer as the picture Francis had painted for me.  Jeff's aptitude for learning to dance was average, but he was certainly not slow in any way.  Jeff's problem what that he was extremely analytical.  The only way to teach an analytical person is "methodically".  There are no short-cuts and they cannot be pushed to learn faster.  Typically the only way an analytical person can speed up the learning process is through massive doses of repetition.  I should know because I am very analytical myself.  Jeff began to make progress because I knew how to break things down in a way he could more easily comprehend. 

But it was still touch and go.  By the end of our first lesson, if I had been asked to predict, given the time we had left, I would have given this couple maybe a 33% chance to succeed.

Analysis of the Predicament

I suppose there is a place for “Dancing with the Stars” at a wedding, but maybe for one couple in two hundred.  A top of the line dance routine requires natural dance ability, plenty of lead time, and lots of money… none of which was present in this couple!

Francis had gotten them into this fix.  She was quite the gung-ho dynamo.  She obviously had very high hopes for her Wedding Dance.  I got the feeling that Francis was used to setting high standards.  For that matter, probably Jeff did too, but maybe not about dancing.  Jeff was a successful engineer, so he was clearly a bright guy.  However Jeff wasn't nearly as enthusiastic about this First Dance as his fiancée was.   In fact, he was completely disgusted with the whole thing. 

It is a credit to Francis and her will power that Jeff was willing to try one more time with a new instructor.  But this was clearly his last try.  If it didn't work with me, Jeff was prepared to stick to his guns and can the Wedding Dance completely.  

Given his attitude, I could see why Francis was so nervous.  Jeff had about one ounce of patience left for the wedding dance.  That meant I was treading on thin ice.  One wrong word and I would lose him completely.  Francis knew the success of her dreams hung in the balance.  Francis didn't realize it, but during our first lesson she had been chewing on her nails from the moment she walked in.  I could not believe the amount of tension in the room!

If I had to fuss at Francis, her anxiety about the perfect wedding and the best "First Dance" affected Jeff adversely.  There was no doubt that he loved her and wanted to please her, but he was very angry at her for the humiliation of the previous experience with Olga. Francis and her dream for an impressive First Dance had turned this process into a nightmare for him.  

Furthermore there was no happy end in sight.  Jeff resented being obligated to dance at their wedding when he was so clearly ill-prepared.  Like any man, Jeff had pride.  He didn't appreciate getting set up like this.  Francis' ambitions for the First Dance were way beyond his ability, especially given the limited amount of time they had.  Jeff completely expected to fall apart during the Wedding Dance and embarrass both of them.  What a rotten way to start a marriage. 



Compromise entails risk. 
Incorporating the prior dance material meant that even the toned-down routine that I recommended was still far more difficult than Jeff's skill level called forOur first lesson went two hours.  Our second lesson went two more hours.  These marathon lessons were the only way I could catch Jeff up. 

Despite running the lessons twice as long, I refused to accept more money.  Francis offered to pay more, but I shook my head.  I was still irritated at how "cheap" my services were.  Never in my life had I expected to lose respect for charging what I thought was a fair price.  I wanted to prove my point that I taught these lessons as a way to contribute to their lives, not as a way to keep the meter running thanks to Jeff's snail-like progress.

In the second lesson, I was proud of Jeff.  He hung in there.  His improved demeanor signaled that Jeff had decided to give me the chance to salvage this fiasco.  It wasn't easy for either of us.  Jeff was forced to continually work on some very difficult patterns that were frankly over his head. That ratcheted up the pressure in the days to come. Jeff tried as hard as he could, but the anxiety was killing him.  He was miserable the entire time at both the first and the second lesson.  Not once did I see a smile.  This was torture for him.

This led to a very tense moment in the third of our four lessons.  Jeff was tired and growing impatient. The wedding was ten days away.  I told my couple that was time to dance the five different patterns for the first time to music.  Previously it had been one large pattern at a time to music.  Now I wanted all five patterns danced in a row without any break.

Jeff nailed the first two patterns, but then he drew a blank.  For the life of him, Jeff could not remember how to start the third pattern.  He just stood there staring in confusion.

Francis let her disappointment show through a little too transparently and snapped at him the name of the next pattern. She immediately chewed him out for not being able to remember.  Jeff lost his temper and snapped back at her to get off his case.  The room grew very silentFrancis was discouraged because she had gotten her hopes up that this would be the breakthrough she so desperately wanted.  Jeff was discouraged at his continual failure.  I had no choice but to call a time-out.  I asked both of them to sit down and relax.

While they sat, I decided to do the talking.  It was time to bring up a touchy subject.  I asked Francis to let me do the fussing from now on I gave her the lecture about why it wasn't a good idea for her to correct Jeff or scold him either. 

To be honest, I wished I had given this lecture in the first lesson.  I knew Francis had a tendency to be hard on Jeff.  However, I was so worried about developing a rapport that I had put it off.  Now however I had no choice.  It was time to deliver the strong medicine or risk seeing things get even worse.  But I was on the verge of losing the patient anyway, so I had to say something.

I concluded by saying that Jeff was trying as hard as he possibly could.  Francis nodded.  She knew she had made a mistake.  I'm not sure if she knew this, but I was also fussing at Francis as a way to save face for Jeff. 

Fortunately, Francis handled my words with class.  She apologized to Jeff. 

Jeff never acknowledged that he liked what I said, but that apology worked wonders.  His demeanor improved by leaps and bounds after that.  When Jeff got back up, he was ready to try again.  Thank goodness this intervention did the trick.  We made such good progress for the rest of the night that in the end, Jeff was able to do all five patterns back to back.  Wonders never cease.

Francis was thrilled. She was all over Jeff with hugs and kisses.  I was astonished at the transformation.  This was the first time I had ever seen them happy together. 

Jeff and Francis left arm in arm.  I heard them laughing on the sidewalk all the way to their car And why not?  For the first time, they had been given some real hope that they could pull this off.   


I am not quite sure how they did it, but in the end, Jeff and Francis did indeed pull off their Grand Waltz.  I know because I got a short, but highly ecstatic thank you email from Francis after the wedding:

"Rick, We did it!!!  thank you thank you thank you!  Love, Francis"

Based on the difficulty of their routine with what little time we had left, it is a testimony to their determination that they succeeded. 

I took some satisfaction in my successful patch job, but it was a grim satisfaction.  I am used to having fun with my wedding couples, but this wasn't fun at all.

I never developed a real bond with either person.  This was mainly because there was so much drama and so little laughter.  Jeff was a very moody young man.  Jeff and I had what I would call a "respectful relationship".  Jeff never said a single cross word to me, but at the same time I never saw him warm up to me either.  In other words, he tolerated me.  Jeff was always so serious and so tense.  To say he was 'sensitive' to criticism was an understatement. However, I had the same problem at his age, so I knew the antidote.  I refused to lose patience with him.  I gave him huge doses of encouragement and only the lightest of rebukes. 

Jeff even fought me much of the time.  I had to defend the reason behind many of my suggestions before he would cooperate.  I could easily see how an authoritarian person like Olga would resent his challenges to her authority. 

I also remember how reluctant Jeff was to dance with me.  Some men simply don't want to dance with another man.  I can respect that, but it makes my job that much tougher.

For fear of losing what rapport we had, I was afraid to insist.  Still, I kept 'suggesting' we dance together so I could show him how to create a dance move. 

The breakthrough did not come till late in the second lesson and only after Francis urged him to give it a try.  It was a move that failed over and over again.  Francis pleaded, "Jeff, please dance with Rick.  He can show you what you are doing wrong."  

Ultimately Jeff was so desperate to catch up, he finally gave in.  And it is a good thing because now I was better able to teach him how to lead.

I think one of the things that bothered me the most was deeply personal.  I was thrown out of graduate school mainly because I never learned how to deal with criticism. (Learning to Dance)  Jeff with his thin skin reminded me very much of myself at a similar age.  It hurt me to see how immature I must have been back at that age.  But since I was unable to reach him, I never developed the kind of rapport that would allow me to share my own experience and maybe clue him in a little.  Jeff would have to learn these lessons in life the hard way... just like I did.

As for Francis, I always got the feeling she was the sort of woman who would do whatever it took to help a man become successful in his career, but it would never be an easy marriage.  She was determined to light a fire under her husband whether he liked it or not.

Although Francis made a mistake getting Jeff into the fix they were in, I never felt she was a “Bridezilla”. There was never any hint of the screaming sort of theatrics that make the reality shows so painful to watch.  Instead Francis was always unfailingly polite and grateful for my help.  I gained her trust far more quickly than I did with Jeff.  Once she decided I was her best hope, she backed me all the way. Almost from the moment the first lesson started, she was always cooperative.

However, Francis was high-strung and ambitious.  I am not sure who she was trying so hard to impress, but she definitely wanted to be amazing.  I was constantly tiptoeing a fine line between curbing her high hopes yet keeping her confidence in me at the same time.  

I sometimes wondered how the lessons would have gone if they had come to me first.  As it stood, both of them came to me in a highly distrustful mood.  For sure, they were damaged goods.  Not only was I forced into the role of 'referee', the constant need to be so carefully diplomatic to both of these touchy people made these lessons my toughest assignment to date. 

Winning their trust after what they had already been through was quite an accomplishment. I was more therapist than I was dance teacher.

My parting memory of Jeff and Francis was that their routine was probably the second hardest routine I have ever taught.  Only my Cinderella couple had a tougher routine, but it wasn’t nearly as much of a challenge for Aubrey and Billye since they were already highly experienced dancers before they even started

In the end, I have to give Jeff a lot of credit.  Despite having at best an average learning curve plus the handicap of a serious chip on his shoulder and the pressure of the looming deadline, Jeff covered a remarkable amount of ground in a short period of time. 

Once he saw that this project had some hope, he committed strongly to seeing it through to the end.  And I have to say his future wife’s indomitable will played a huge part in his determination.  From what I gather, some marathon practice sessions at home turned the trick. 

Sometimes when you shoot for the stars and miss, you may still end up hitting the moon.


As one might gather, rarely do I know my students ahead of time.  They don't always come in willingly either, especially the men.  Many show up on my doorstep like Jeff with a silent resentment.  Most of these men typically have no idea how to dance or they would not have sought out my help in the first place.  

My biggest fear is always that the couple has waited too long to contact me. Seeing what the pressure of fighting a deadline did to Francis and Jeff, I always worry I might have another similar situation on my hands.   Learning the Wedding Dance typically requires three one-hour lessons. However, one couple in five struggles and one couple in ten struggles a lot.

A couple that really struggles may require up to six lessons.

Six lessons. Now let’s think about that number. Most couples do best with one lesson per week, but assuming two lessons a week, I would still need three weeks to get them up to speed.   When a student calls me up and says they don’t have much time, I always worry. There is a one in five chance that this couple won’t have enough time to pull it off. Since I know nothing about their background, I am flying blind when they show up on my doorstep.

The reader might assume that few people wait till the last minute.  Guess again. About four times a year, I get a last minute request. I am immediately on guard. I want to help these people, but at the same time, I don’t want to feel guilty when I am given a hopeless task.

Furthermore, when I do get an “emergency wedding lesson”, I usually expect the worst.  Why? 

Typically some of the worst dancers put it off till the last minute in much the same way that some people put off visiting the doctor over a troublesome pain.  It is called “Procrastination”.  The easiest way to avoid a fear is to delay facing it.

As for me, I always say I will try to help, but secretly I worry that these people expect me to perform a miracle.  This makes me grumpy right from the start.  

Michael and Stephanie: The Emergency Dance Lesson

I remember one couple that had me seething before I even met them.  I had such a terrible attitude about Stephanie and William’s wedding dance that I almost emailed to say don't even bother coming.  You will soon understand why.  

The Thursday Phone Call

On a Thursday morning in late June 2012, a lady named Stephanie called me on the phone to schedule a lesson.  Unfortunately, at the time she called the Internet was down.  Since I was unable to use the Internet to determine the speed of the music, I had no idea what dance I would be teaching.

So I asked Stephanie to email me some information on her music.  Here is what she said:

Stephanie to Rick:

Sent: Thursday, June 28, 2012 3:24 PM
Subject: Wedding Songs

Hi Rick, it’s Stephanie. Our songs are going to be "My Kinda Crazy" by Brantley Gilbert and "Honeybee" by Blake Shelton. Let me know if you need anything else.  See you Saturday!


Rick’s Reply to Stephanie:

Hi Stephanie,

Thank goodness the internet came back up an hour later!

My Kinda Crazy is 072 bpm (beats per minute).  Honeybee is 102 bpm.

Crazy is best danced to an unusual dance known as Night Club Twostep.  It is tricky, but not too tough to learn for experienced dancers. 

Honeybee is either an uptempo twostep or a relaxed polka… whichever dance you prefer will work.

As I said over the phone, you understand that you don't have a lot of time to experiment if the wedding is a week away.  Therefore you might want to rethink dancing to two different songs.  You and William should talk it over.  If he is a complete beginner, I recommend you stick to one song.

I recommend that wedding couples dance for 2 ½ minutes.  Even experienced dancers seem to agree the spotlight gets old if you push it much longer. 

That said, I could see dancing some romantic night club for a minute in one spot on the floor, then switching to an energetic twostep for the final 1 ½ minutes.  I will happy to splice your music together if you want me to.

See you Saturday.  Just come through the big wooden gate.  I will be waiting for you.

In my private thoughts, I was very skeptical. Over the phone, I had told Stephanie we didn’t have enough time to do two dances if William was a beginner.  That is when Stephanie had explained they were both dancers.  Based on that statement, I accepted the lesson, but my intuition suggested William wasn’t that good.  Otherwise why would he need this lesson?  I had a nagging feeling that Stephanie wasn’t being square with me.  There was something in her voice that made me suspicious.

And now Stephanie had just sent me a ridiculous email suggesting again that she wanted William to learn two dances in one hour.  Stephanie’s expectations were completely unrealistic.  Memories of Francis and Jeff came flooding back.  What if William turned out to be the dreaded slow learner? 

I felt myself bristle.  I didn’t like being set up for what seemed like a colossal failure.  However, I had accepted the lesson, so I would just have to see what happened.



On Friday a day later, Stephanie sent me a follow-up email.

Stephanie to Rick:

Hi Rick,

Thanks for the response. I understand we don't have a lot of time...we don't need a whole choreographed dance, but we would like some input as to how to maybe go about it and we'd like to learn some spins to throw in.

That would be awesome if you could splice the music.

We could do one minute of the slower song and the other minute and a half of Honeybee?  Let me know what you think.

Thanks again!  Stephanie

Rick’s Reply to Stephanie:

Stephanie, I hope you won't think I am being aggressive to say we will need to meet at least one more time next week. 

I have both songs on the computer, but it requires 10-15 minutes to do the edit.  Before I do the splice work, let me meet with you and let me get a better idea what you guys want. 

Once I see you both in action, I can make some accurate suggestions, Stephanie.   Then during the second visit we can dance to the edited music.

See you at 10 am tomorrow!

That afternoon, I received another email from Stephanie.

Stephanie to Rick:

Rick, I hate to say this, but we are so tied up with commitments and appointments next week, I think tomorrow’s lesson will be our only chance to see you.  Will you make that Wedding splice anyway and we will try to make it work?


I groaned.  The chances of this lesson working were slim to none.  This woman wanted me to teach her fiancé Nightclub, Polka, and how to lead double turns (what she called ‘spins’) in one hour.  She was asking for three different things all in one hour!

A woman might be able to pull the Trifecta off if she follows well, but to teach a man to lead all this in just one hour was impossible.

For a man who was the fastest learner on earth, I would estimate two hours for all that material.

For a man with an average learning curve, I would estimate four hours.

For a slow learner, six hours minimum.

I had a very bad feeling about this. I deeply resented being expected to do the impossible.  

This woman’s expectations were ridiculous.  By waiting till the last minute, Stephanie didn’t even have enough respect to give me the time I needed to do my job.  I was so irritated that out of spite I didn’t even bother doing the splice job I had promised. 

To heck with both of them. 


Saturday Morning

I do my wedding lessons here at my house in the Heights.  In 1994, I had the large dance room shown in the picture built onto the side on my house.  

Unfortunately, I have a weird address so I made sure Stephanie had access to a map I have posted on the Internet. 

On the morning of the lesson, I decided to go out to the street and keep an eye out for them.  We had no time to spare.

As I read the morning paper while sitting on the sidewalk curb, it was now 10:10 am.  Still no Stephanie and William.  Hmm.

I was just about to go back inside when a car drove up and turned into my neighbor's driveway across the street. 

I stared at the car as it idled in the driveway with a thick wooden fence blocking their path.  Was that them?  

I stood in front of my garage and watched.  No one got out of the car.   Four more minutes passed.  This was ridiculous.  I could feel my irritation rising by the moment.

Finally I decided to take a chance that my wedding students were in that carSo I crossed the street and knocked on the window.  Sure enough, it was my wedding couple.  They were thoroughly lost despite my map.   Good grief.

Now they pulled out of the driveway, turned around, and parked in front of my house.

Stephanie's first words out of the car were, "Look, William, there's ‘608’ (my address) right over the garage.  Why didn't we see that?"

Why not indeed?  How could they miss it?  This was a very bad omen.  I had felt premonitions of disaster before the day even started, but with this pathetic start had me more convinced than ever we were doomed.

I had warned this lady we had one lousy hour to get this done and now they were already 15 minutes late.  I was expected to show them spins and teach them two different dances in 45 minutes?  I certainly hoped their expectations could be dealt with.  I felt pessimistic.

I took a good look at the couple.  Stephanie, 27, turned out to be very attractive.  She was a highly-poised young lady who seemed unusually confident for her age.  On the other hand, William, 26, was anything but confident.  He looked like he had just arrived for his execution. 

After noting Stephanie’s good looks and strong presence, I concluded she was one of those rich and beautiful women who figure her money and her good looks will ensure she will always get her wayWell, we’ll see about that.  

Mind you, I was jumping at conclusions, but I was almost certain I was being taken advantage of.

Now I got a chance to watch William in action.  I put their Honey Bee song on.  Uh oh.  The young man had the correct Twostep rhythm, but no one had ever shown him how to pass his feet.  He barely moved.  Furthermore, he knew only one pattern... making Stephanie dance backwards.  I shook my head.  So this was my ‘experienced dancer’?  William showed no more understanding than someone with 10 minutes of practice in dance class.

I reminded myself again this lesson didn’t have a chance in hell of success.  No way.  However, it would be unprofessional to send them home.  So I decided to soldier on.  I strongly toyed with the idea of not charging them.  That's my way of keeping a clear conscience.

So now I played Stephanie's second song.  To my surprise, William did much better.  His Polka was far superior to his Twostep.  I felt a small glimmer of hope.

I smiled, "So where did you learn to dance, William?"

"Stephanie taught me, Mr. Archer."   I nodded.

Stephanie said, "I grew up in a dancing family.  I danced on my Daddy's boots from the moment I was old enough to walk."   I nodded again.  That made sense. 

Now I danced with Stephanie myself.  I realized Stephanie had spoken the truth about her own dancing.  She was pretty good.  In fact, she was so good I actually considered teaching her to be the ‘lead’.  I am completely serious… We were running out of time and desperate times call for desperate measures! 

We wasted another 10 minutes as I evaluated their dancing to their two different songs.  I demonstrated with Stephanie the different dance possibilities there were to the songs.  William looked on with dismay.  He was totally overwhelmed.  I actually began to feel sorry for him.  Stephanie had no business getting him into this fix. 

Except that I started to like Stephanie.  In fact, she may have been pretty, but she wasn't rich and she certainly wasn't a diva either.  Instead, Stephanie was a top-notch lady. 

I felt so guilty for jumping to conclusions.  The two people were not even remotely arrogant.  They genuinely wanted my help and would do anything I asked them to.  Now I started to be depressed.  They were depending on me and it hurt to feel helpless to do anything about it.

Poor Stephanie took a deep breath.  She knew we were in trouble.  It was now 10:25 and I hadn't shown them a single move. 

Fortunately I had an idea.  Since Polka was William's best dance, I could show him how to dance an 8-count Polka (a trick I call the “Three Step”) to the slow song and a 4-count Polka to the faster song.  That way, whatever footwork and patterns I taught him could be used to both songs.  

This turned out to be an exceptionally good idea.  To my surprise, once William learned to pass his feet, he caught on very quickly.  Despite his woeful Twostep earlier in the lesson, I had to admit Stephanie was right - William did have some dancing ability.  He just needed someone to explain things to him correctly. 

I assumed William’s Polka was good because the girl’s footwork and the man’s footwork are identical.  Stephanie's instruction in the Polka was easy because all he had to do was copy her.  But Stephanie didn’t know the man’s footwork to Twostep, so that was his weakness.

What a shame they had waited till the last minute.  With just one more lesson, William would have done very well.   But now after teaching him a couple new Polka patterns, it was 10:50.  We only had 10 minutes left in the lesson.

Strangely enough, although I had been absolutely determined to not like this couple, I had completely changed my mind.  I didn't just like this couple, I liked them a lot.  They were great young adults!  They were polite, they concentrated as hard as they could, and I could see they had great chemistry together.  Stephanie was really pulling for William and William was giving it everything he had to please her.  I respected that a lot.

Gee whiz, I thought to myself, if they could have given me just one more lesson, we could have pulled this off.   So close, but so far.

I Ask the Question

Frustrated, I couldn't contain my curiosity any longer.  "Stephanie, why did you guys wait so long to come see me?"

I crossed my arms and waited for the inevitable lame excuse. 

"Oh, gosh, we would have loved to have started sooner," Stephanie exclaimed, "but we are both in the military.  We are stationed at Fort Benning in Georgia.  There are no dance instructors on our army base.  Atlanta, the nearest city, is a hundred miles away.  Besides, even if there was a city nearby, it would have done us no good.  When I called you on Thursday, that was the first chance we have had permission to leave the base in nearly six months.  We are here in Houston for this week only because they had to let us get married sooner or later!"

My jaw dropped to the floor.  A huge wave of shame shot through my body.  I had spent this entire morning silently criticizing this couple for waiting too long to call me and then for wasting part of their lesson sitting in the driveway across the street. 

Now that I realized the true reason for their last-minute lesson, I was crestfallen.  These two young people risking their lives in the military to allow people like me to lead my soft life as a dance instructor without a care in the world... and all I could do was think of how inconvenienced I was.  I felt unbelievably ashamed of myself. 

To think I had been mad at them for their last-minute lesson because it put pressure on me.  

How pathetic was my attitude?  I was so ashamed of myself.

Right on the spot, my bad attitude did a one-eighty.  I asked them if it would be possible to stay another hour. No charge. My treat. 

They both glanced at each other with immense relief.  Yes, they could stay another hour.

Given a second chance, William was amazing.  By the end of the second hour, he had mastered as much material as any man I have ever seen who is a complete beginner.  But he was also overwhelmed.  Based on my experience, I fully expected William to forget half of what he learned.  He needed one more lesson to lock in this material.  

So I asked them if they could come back one time the following week.  No charge.  It would be my wedding present. 

At first they said no.  Stephanie’s family had them committed to do something with relatives every night of the week. 

I said, “Who said the lesson had to be at night?  What about Monday morning?  What will you be doing on Monday morning?”

William and Stephanie looked at each other and began to smile. Yes, they could come back on a Monday morning.  Suddenly this desperate project of theirs had a fighting chance of working. 


Monday Morning

Over the weekend, I spliced their two songs together.  45 seconds of slow “Three Step” Polka and 2 minutes of fast Polka. 

They returned on Monday morning to learn Synchronized Polka.  I figured this pretty dance was perfect for their Wedding Dance.  The Sweetheart position would lend itself nicely to photographs.  Furthermore the moves were easy to learn, yet quite eye-catching nonetheless.

William got off to a very slow start.  As I expected, he had forgotten much of the fine details from Saturday.  The hour passed quickly, so I asked if they could stay longer.  Yes, they could.

The second hour... or fourth hour if you include Saturday... did the trick.  By the end of the second hour on Monday, William and Stephanie had mastered a very polished pattern.  Just as I had predicted, an "average student" would need four hours.

Just to be sure they didn’t forget something, I had them videotape me dancing with Stephanie for later reference. Now all they would have to do was practice.  I could not have been prouder of the two of them.  By this point I had adopted them like they were my own kids.  We had an incredible rapport.

There was only one problem.  No matter how hard he tried, William could not bring himself to start on his right foot in the Synchronized Polka.  He messed up so many times I began to wonder about it.  Finally I asked him what the problem was.

"Gosh, Rick (he had dropped the "Mr. Archer" some time ago), the Army has drilled me a million times to start with my left foot.  I just can't start with my right foot.  I am scared to death I will start with my right foot when I get back to the base and get latrine duty for a week!"

Talk about a footwork excuse I had never heard before!  This was definitely a new one.  I couldn't help but smile.  In 32 years of teaching dance, you would assume I had encountered every learning obstacle in the book.  The funny thing is that William was serious!

Oh, this poor, confused delightful wonderful young man.  William was trying so hard my heart went out to him.  I told William to explain to the drill sergeant that if he messed up, he could tell the sergeant he had to learn to start on his right foot in order to get married.  Maybe even the meanest drill sergeant might cut him some slack for an excuse as original as that.

William grinned. "Good idea!  If he still doesn't believe me, I will go get Stephanie and show him our dance routine!"  We all got a good laugh.

At that point, William's right foot began to work properly.  It had been 'psychological'.  Thank goodness my joke had created a breakthrough.

By the end of the lesson, William and Stephanie looked wonderful together.  They danced together just as smoothly as they possibly could.

As I hugged them both, I had tears in my eyes.  I didn’t want them to leave.  A certain thought just kept running through my mind – don’t ever jump to conclusions!  I can be such a chump sometimes.

Ever since my lesson with William and Stephanie, I have been a lot more willing to keep an open mind till I know the full story.  You never know what is going on in someone else’s life. 

The other thing I learned is that no matter how long the odds, people will do whatever it takes to make these wedding lessons work.  If I can just come up with a plan that makes sense, then they will try as hard as they possibly can.  That was the lesson that Stephanie and William taught me that day.

It is a pleasure to contribute.  For the rest of their lives, people like William and Stephanie will remember me whenever they think of their wedding day.  That gives me great satisfaction.

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