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Rick & Michelle's First Dance

The purpose of the First Dance
at a Wedding is to express a couple's love through dance.  The dance becomes a powerful symbol of the romance.  It shows how two lovers have learned to move as one.

Deep down in her heart, every bride is a Cinderella. 

Every groom automatically becomes her Prince Charming.

The First Dance captures the beauty of the new marriage in a way that charms and delights the people gathered as witness.

The problem is that making the dream come true out on the dance
floor is a lot easier said than done.


Rick Archer's Note: 

Since my story of Rick and Michelle's First Dance is full of pictures showing this lovely couple dancing beautifully together, it will be difficult to make the eventual outcome a surprise.

So, yes, I will just go ahead and reveal that Rick and Michelle had a wonderful wedding and impressed everyone with their exceptional First Dance.

What you can't possibly guess from these initial pictures is that their success was very much in doubt right from the start.

Learning to dance was a huge uphill struggle for both of them.  The fact that Rick and Michelle did ultimately succeed is what helps to make this a very interesting story.  Their persistence was legendary. 

Rick Archer
March 2012


The Cinderella Mythology

Is there any doubt that elements of the Cinderella Mythology lurk in every bride's thoughts as she thinks about her wedding? 

From the moment a little girl is old enough to put on her first dress, her mother or her grandmother tells her the story of how Cinderella found her true love and lived happily ever after. 

That story will be repeated time and again through the years.   Soon the little girl will grow old enough to read the story for herself and certainly she will delight in watching the Disney classic on video. 

Every girl grows up thinking about how she wants her own wedding to be just as perfect as the Cinderella Story.

The Cinderella Story has to start with finding the Prince.  There is no question that Michelle had definitely found her handsome prince! 

Her fiancé Rick was about as handsome as they come. 


The next element would have to be the dress.  There are many elements in the Cinderella fantasy, but right up at the top of the list has to be the dress.

Every woman wants to be beautiful at her wedding.  Part of that beauty starts with the dress. 

As you can see, Michelle looked stunning in her dress. 

As she danced out on the floor, Michelle was absolutely confident in the fact that she was a very beautiful woman.

However, the fantasy would have never been complete without one more important element.

That missing element would be the First Dance.

I am not sure if Michelle had any idea this would prove to be such a hurdle, but she would soon discover to her dismay that the "First Dance" part of the Cinderella Fantasy was in big trouble


The First Lesson

My wife Marla gave Rick and Michelle their first private lesson.  Marla was not actually Rick and Michelle's first teacher.  They had taken private lessons at another dance studio for a very understandable reason - it was closer to their home. 

From: Michelle
Sent: Tuesday, February 22, 2011 9:16 AM
Subject: Wedding Lessons

Marla,  Congratulations on your new grandbaby! That is so exciting!

We live out in southeast Houston.  We both work out here and I'm in graduate school too. We have been taking lessons from someone out here. But honestly, I'm very disappointed with them. I wanted to take from you originally but I thought I would save myself some time by not having to drive to Houston.

Well, I've changed my mind.  Now I'm convinced it's worth it!

I'd really like to show you what we have learned and then we are open to changing that but then finishing it. We have only learned about 5 phrases and I think there's 12. Our dance floor is 18 x 24 feet.

We would like to start next week, March 4th if possible. Of course I need to confirm all of this with Rick, but he's pretty easy going.

Thank you so much!  Michelle

Driving into Houston probably meant an extra hour of travel - 30 minutes in and 30 minutes back.  Fortunately our house in the Heights is just a few blocks from I-10, so it isn't hard to get to.

As most of you know, we have a comfortable dance room in our home that is the perfect size for teaching private lessons and small group classes.  Their wedding dance floor was 18x24.  Our dance floor is 20x20.  Our floor was perfect to rehearse on.  

I understand that it is an odd arrangement going to someone's home for a dance lesson.  However, once people realize we know what we are doing and that we aren't going to axe murder them, they relax and get down to business.

Eventually the students come to enjoy having the lessons in our home.  When I talk about "private lessons", this is the closest thing to privacy imaginable.  With a room deeply recessed by a spacious yard and hidden behind thick bushes and an eight foot wood fence, there are absolutely no distractions. 


The Second Lesson

I first met Rick and Michelle in March 2011 on a Friday night.  They were back for their second lesson.  As I shook the hand of this tall, handsome young man, I noticed immediately he was frowning deeply.  Something was clearly bothering him. 

I assumed he was a little irritated because I don't think Marla had a chance to warn them I would be taking her place.  I didn't blame him.  It had been a last-minute switcheroo. 

So where was Marla?  Marla was at a Friday night birthday party.  Marla was having dinner and drinks at a Mexican restaurant with the girls.   The time and date of the party had been moved to tonight at the last minute.

Marla had made a commitment to give Rick and Michelle their second lesson.  Marla had every intention of skipping the dinner party to honor her teaching commitment, but I could see that she was bummed out.  This party was for one of her best friends and her entire circle of girlfriends would be there.  It was going to be a fun event for sure. 

I told Marla I wouldn't mind subbing for her.  "Are you sure?" she asked. 

"No, I don't mind at all.  I don't have anything going on other than watching basketball and I can still do that after the lesson.  What kind of dance are they doing?"


"Oh really?  Didn't you tell them that's the hardest dance to learn?"  

"Yes, but Waltz is what Michelle has her heart set on."  


There is no doubt that as Wedding Dances go, the Waltz is the prettiest dance.

However, the rhythm can be so soft that even experienced dancers have trouble hearing the tempo.  It is very easy to get off the beat. 

Even more frustrating is mastering the rise and fall of the Waltz. 

The easiest way to teach dance is to show how certain dance steps resemble "Walking".

For example, a "Slow" in Twostep resembles a person's natural stride.  A "Quick" is a small sliding step that carries all of a person's weight.  You would assume that covers every kind of step... some of your weight or all of your weight. 

Unfortunately, the first step of the Waltz is different from both Quicks and Slows.  There is a third kind of step... one with no weight.

The first step of the Waltz is a False Step... a step that carries no weight.  The Compression technique requires someone to stand on one foot and bend at the knee while reaching the other foot as far as possible without putting any weight on it.

Does that make any sense?  Unless you are a trained Waltz dancer, probably not, but at least you get the idea that it sounds complicated.  The tricky compression on the first step creates the gentle rise and fall of the Waltz. 

This maneuver has left more than one young man convinced he has no chance of ever being a dancer. I count myself as one of the victims. I had a lot of trouble learning to Waltz properly.

As it turned out, it wasn't having me as a substitute teacher that was bothering Rick, but rather the dance itself.

Rick was wrapped up in knots because he didn't have a clue how to dance gracefully to this strange dance.  The rise and fall was difficult, the music was foreign to his ears, and the patterns made no sense.  As I said, Waltz is complicated. 

Getting our lesson started was awkward. Since I was substituting for Marla, I had no idea what they knew or what to begin with.

So I told them to put on their song and dance for a minute or so.  I recognized "Moon River" immediately and frowned.  This is a pretty song, but it is very slow and has a weak beat. 

Rick immediately began to struggle.  In addition to not dancing anywhere near the beat, he was trying some very advanced Waltz patterns.  I could not believe Marla had taught a beginning dancer such difficult patterns. 

So my first question was to ask the origin of the these tricky patterns.

As Rick stared at the floor with his arms crossed and wearing his frown, Michelle began to explain that they had taken lessons elsewhere at a Ballroom dance studio near where they lived.

Michelle said the whole experience had been a comedy of errors.

Michelle said their instructor taught them some very complicated patterns and seemed extremely impatient when they didn't pick the material up very fast.

Michelle added that she liked the patterns, but that Rick chafed under the constant criticism.  It seemed to her that the teacher was irritated that they couldn't learn faster.

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

"When's the wedding, Michelle?"

"Next month."

I nodded.  That's what I figured.  I smiled.  "Well, 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 it into four basic patterns.  Then we can work on an ending."

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

One of our first patterns was the classic "Diva Walk" seen pictured.  Marla had taught them this move the previous week.  As Michelle walked solo in a half-circle to her right, Rick learned to slide in behind her back.  They would meet at an arranged point down the floor. 

With practice, this move actually began to feel right.  Rick finally began to smile a little now that we were making progress. 

You cannot ask for perfection.  There is so much to remember that to criticize constantly just locks people up with anxiety and frustration.  For example, in the picture on the right you can see that Rick's left hand is too high.  And his right hand is too low. 

But the overall look is very graceful.  Close enough!!  

People are too hard on themselves to begin with.  They think their guests expect "Dancing with the Stars".  No, that is not correct.  All the guests want is to see is that the couple is happy together out on the floor. 

Having me chew Rick out for every flaw and every mistake would discourage him even further. Why upset the young man with more fussing?

I am pleased to say that by the end of the lesson, Rick was actually smiling when I took his picture.  I think that knowing the routine was being simplified was an incredible relief for him.

I think Rick appreciated that I was patient to a fault.  I had explained to him that there was nothing wrong with his dancing ability.  The problem was that he had been pushed to do patterns that were way above his skill level.  No wonder he felt incompetent. 

I think once his self-esteem in regards to dance improved, he began to understand there was a light at the end of the tunnel.  Rick just might be able to pull this off after all.

In my opinion, the previous dance teacher was definitely competent.  I think her mistake was overestimating this young couple's ability to absorb advanced material in the limited amount of time.  When the teacher saw they were going to fall short, she lost her composure and pushed them to learn faster.  Rick and Michelle then froze under the increased pressure.

Fortunately Michelle realized it was time to switch to a new coach.  I think their previous dance teacher had them on a path that would have imploded with bitter frustration had they gone much further. 

It was with a certain amount of sadness that I said goodbye to Rick and Michelle after our first lesson.  I was going to miss them. 

I felt like I had made a huge contribution.  I had cheered Rick up, calmed Michelle down and shown them that the time spent with the other instructor had not been wasted.  That knowledge really cheered Michelle up because she liked the moves a lot.

When Marla asked me how the lesson had gone, she must have picked up on something.  She invited me to continue as their teacher. 

From: Michelle
To: Marla
Sent: Tuesday, March 22, 2011 12:42 PM
Subject: Michelle & Rick Dance Lesson

Hi Marla!  Rick did a great job helping me and my Rick with our wedding dance earlier this month. Will either of you be available this Friday at 7pm?

Thanks! Michelle

From: Marla
Sent: Tuesday, March 22, 2011 12:49 PM
To: Rick Archer
Subject: Fw: Michelle & Rick Dance Lesson

Rick, I think you should continue with Michelle and Rick since I don't know what you taught.

I was really pleased at this turn of events.  This was an assignment I relished.  At our next lesson, I spent time reviewing their material and working with Rick on leads.  

The importance of leading cannot be underestimated.  If something goes wrong in a memorized routine, a man who doesn't know how to lead is in deep trouble.  I know this for a fact because the most traumatic moment of my entire dance career was caused by this exact problem.

With this memory still fresh in my mind after 25 years, I wasn't going to set this young man up for a similar experience.  I was going to teach him how to lead these moves properly.  Rick wasn't just going to learn a dance routine, I wanted him to learn how to look good doing it...and I succeeded.  Rick looks poised in every single wedding picture and his dance frame is perfect.  That makes me proud of him.

Next I had to teach Michelle how to be more patient.  I explained to her that if she moved ahead of the leads, then she was in essence "leading" herself.  They would never be able to move as a team this way.  They need to learn lead/follow to coordinate their footwork and look graceful together.  Michelle was more than willing to listen.  She would do anything to make this project work.   

I know she will kill me for saying this, but Michelle's big turning point was the evening she had a margarita shortly before coming to the lesson.  She was so relaxed that the feel of the Waltz actually snuck in. I put on the music and Michelle giggled as I guided her through the patterns.  As Michelle floated through one move after another, she began to hum the tune.  Then she actually began to sing some of the lyrics.

It is a very good sign when a lady starts singing while she is dancing.  It means she trusts her leader, it means she isn't "thinking", and it means she is so relaxed that she is having fun.  I think this was the first time Michelle had realized that partner dancing could be this much fun!!  Meanwhile Rick looked on in stunned amazement.  He had never seen Michelle quite this cheerful out on the dance floor!

During the second half of their third lesson, I introduced the Sweetheart Pattern (as seen in the picture).  The Sweetheart Pattern is popular in Western Waltz.  I doubt seriously their Ballroom instructor had considered showing it to them.

Rick actually turned white when I suggested he learn the Sweetheart pattern.   "No more material, please!" he said. "I can barely remember what we have covered so far!!"

I explained they should learn the Sweetheart pattern for a number of reasons.  First, because Rick was so tall, his beautiful fiancée was lost inside his massive shoulders much of the time. How could a camera find Michelle?  Why not put his stunning beauty at his side where everyone could see both of them?

Second, I explained, this was not a difficult pattern to learn.  I promised him I wasn't fibbing.  Third, this pattern would be a good lead-in for their final routine. 

When Rick heard a certain phrase in the Moon River song, "my huckleberry friend", that would be his cue to wrap up the Sweetheart and move into the final pattern. 

Michelle liked the move immediately, but it took Rick a while longer to come around.  Rick reluctantly agreed after I demonstrated the pattern to him several times. 

I think Michelle's hopeful smile sold the move.  Whatever the reason, I am glad Rick relented.  Some of the best wedding dance pictures came from the Sweetheart position... as I suspected they would.

Most people have no idea how difficult it is to get a good dance picture.  90% of the time you only get one face.  Therefore, the Sweetheart move is the perfect Wedding dance pattern.  It allows everyone to get a great dance shot.

The picture on the left solved the mystery of the dance floor.  I knew the date was on the floor, but wasn't sure about the rest.  Now I can make out "R&M".  Aha!  Clever!

By the fourth lesson (one with Marla, three with me), their dance routine was taking shape.  We broke it down into five segments.  Rick and Michelle would start by dancing in the center of the floor.  There they used the Ballroom Waltz patterns suggested by their first teacher.

Then they would move to the edge of the floor to dance Western Waltz-style Twinkles and the Carousel. 

Then they would return to the center for the lovely Shadows pattern. 

From there they would Chassez back to the perimeter to begin their Sweetheart pattern.

For the conclusion, Michelle would hit the separation position shown in the picture.  She would do a complete turn and then wrap herself in Rick's arms. It was a pretty conclusion to their impressive dance.

There was only one problem.  Rick knew each of the five sequences fairly well by itself, but when I asked him to dance the five sequences back to back, he kept forgetting leads and what came next. 

Rick got very frustrated.  He was angry at himself.  Michelle wasn't sure what to do either.  Seeing how despondent they both were, the success of the lesson hung in the balance.  I decided to take control.  I asked Michelle to sit down and chill for awhile.

I knew what was wrong.  Rick was simply overwhelmed. 

He knew all his material.  It was stored in his brain in five separate compartments.  When I put the music on, he could handle one sequence at a time without freezing up.  However he did not know the material well enough to dance all five sequences back to back without blanking out at certain times.

When he saw how disappointed Michelle was, the frustration just got to him.

It was time for an "intervention".  So I asked Rick to dance with me.  I told him he didn't have to do it, but it was in his best interests.  We had danced together briefly a few times and I knew he was uncomfortable with it. 

I didn't blame Rick a bit.  Few men are comfortable dancing with other men.  I don't enjoy it, but it doesn't bother me.  I will dance with a man any time it serves a purpose.   I have discovered that dancing with a man is the fastest way to get him over a stumbling block.  I have the ability to "back-lead" a man through patterns to allow him to get the hang of a tricky pattern.

So I literally led Rick through the entire pattern by calling out each pattern as it arose.  Plus I influenced his footwork by "back-leading". 

Rick wasn't at all happy about the bitter medicine. However he stopped resisting once he saw how well my radical suggestion was working.  Slowly but surely the five separate sequences began to flow together. 

After we finished, Rick nodded to Michelle with a wan smile.  He said he was ready to try the patterns with her.  Michelle eagerly hopped up out of her chair and practically leaped into Rick's arms.  I had to suppress a smile. 

Yes, the two of them were ragged.  However they got all the way through the routine without stopping.  Michelle had a couple small tears in her eyes and Rick looked like the weight of the world had come off his shoulders. 

That was the breakthrough.  From that point on, everything went much better.  As their nerves began to mend, their mood turned from depression to elation.  They were very pleased to see how nicely the five sequences flowed together. 

Afterwards I encouraged Rick and Michelle to come back for one more lesson.  Their routine was done, but it needed polish and more practice.

The final lesson was marked by laughter and smiles.... and a few frowns.  Rick was extremely hard on himself whenever he made a mistake. 

I cautioned him to relax.  Mistakes were inevitable in every dance routine.  I said that pros make mistakes too.  For example, I messed up during my Wedding Dance with Marla.  After an especially graceful pattern, someone in the crowd hollered out, "Good move, Rick!" 

When I looked up to see who had complimented me, I lost track of where I was in my routine.  I could have gotten angry over the distraction, but I simply rolled my eyes and started over on the next beat.

Marla smiled, I smiled, someone giggled, everyone knew I had messed up... and no one cared. 

I told Rick it isn't so terrible to mess up just as long as the two of you smile and don't let it bother you.

All the guests really want to see is that you are happy.  One or two dance mistakes should not be allowed to interfere with that important message.

I think they got the message.  You can see the smiles and approval of all the guests in every picture.

When Michelle sent me her wedding pictures a couple weeks later, she added this short note:

Hi Rick!

It wasn't perfect, but it was definitely beautiful!

Thanks again for all your help!  We really appreciate it!  Michelle


The entire process of working with Rick and Michelle was a real challenge.  From the moment I saw they had bitten off much more than they could chew, I realized they were looking to me to somehow guide them through the jungle of their confusion.

Rather than start all over, I took each move they already knew and broke it down in a way that Rick could understand better.  Once he learned to lead, he was pleased at how much easier it was to master this material than to simply memorize it.

Neither Rick nor Michelle were born dancers.  However, they both possessed a will to achieve.  Once they put their mind to their task, they had the ability to accomplish it through their determination.  Quite frankly, most people would have quit and moved to an easier dance.

Not these two.  They set a goal and they learned to Waltz through sheer will power.  It wasn't easy.  I saw steam rising on several occasions from all the frustration.  But they always got back to work.  That was impressive.

I took great pride in their success.  Seeing Rick and Michelle accomplish their goal despite the hurdles was the reward that all teachers live for. 

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