Zach and Sarah
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Zach & Sarah's First Dance

Written by Rick Archer, January 2014

Wedding: November 30, 2013


Rick Archer's Note:

When it comes to new students taking wedding dance lessons, I usually have no idea what to expect.  Many of these people have never "social danced" in their lives.

Some couples learn quickly, some take their time.  Sometimes the lady picks it up quickly but not the man.  Then sometimes that situation is reversed.  The point is that every couple I help prepare for a Wedding Dance is different. 

There is no surprise in that.  Everyone learns at a different pace. What was unusual about Zach Duran and Sarah Scroggins that they had a special talent right from the start.

Zach in particular was very gifted as a "Lead".  Before I compliment Zach further, let me add that Sarah was equally talented.  However 'dancing' typically comes more easily to the ladies, so I am used to seeing ladies with Sarah's ability.

What I am not used to is to find a young man like Zach who picks up leads and footwork right from the start.  Even better, Zach had natural rhythm! 

Truth be told, there are certain set patterns that work well for a Wedding Dance using the Foxtrot.  Typically it takes a couple about three lessons to pick up those moves.  Zach and Sara had them down in one hour.  They actually could have stopped right there and still impressed the crowd without any more work.

But such was not the case.  Zach and Sarah kept pushing the envelope.  In the end, I would have to put them right beside my 2005 "Cinderella Couple", Aubrey Smith & Billye Kridner, for dance excellence. That's how good Zach and Sarah were!

Not only did Zach and Sarah pick the material up quickly, they practiced and they kept coming back to me in order to polish their routine even more.

However, there was one major hitch in their plans.  The song they picked did not have the right speed for the dance they picked.  This issue added some real drama.  Fortunately, as their many smiles show, eventually Zach figured out how to solve the dilemma of the ultra-slow beat of their song.

In the end, Zach and Sarah looked very special when they danced.  They were graceful, confident and smiling.

I could not have been more proud of them. 

The Story of the Wedding Dance Lessons

From: Zach Duran
Sent: Sunday, August 25, 2013
Subject: Private Lessons

To whom it may concern,

My fiancée Sarah and I are interested in taking private dance lessons for our upcoming wedding on November 30th. We are having a jazz band play and would like to further our knowledge of swing dancing. We have taken 4 months of classes with the Houston Swing Society and want to round out what we learned with some one-on-four lessons (we would be taking them with Sarah's parents). We would like to do this during the month of September. Can you please send me some info on the times that are available and any other info you think we might need.


Rick Archer wrote:

Hi Zach, I should be able to help. Four months of previous lessons is very impressive. You guys should be pretty good!  

The big headache is to figure out a time slot for FIVE different people. Tuesday evening is open at the moment... pick your time. Saturday morning and afternoon is another good possibility. Otherwise I also do lessons 530-630 Monday, Thursday, and Friday.

Zach wrote:

Well, I wouldn't say we're great but we could be worse!

Luckily for us Sarah's parents have been taking the classes with us. Let me send this message out to them and see what times we can come up with. How late can we start a class on Tuesday?

Rick wrote:

We can start as late as 8 pm if that will help.

Zach wrote:

Tuesday would be great, but Sarah doesn't get off from work until 7:00pm. Where would we meet for lessons? If it's close enough we could probably all be together by 7:30pm on Tuesdays.  And how about September 10th?  Would that be something that could work? 

Our song is A Kiss To Build A Dream On by Louis Armstrong.

Rick wrote:

I hold classes here at my house in the Heights.  730
Time and date are fine.  Don't forget to bring your music!

First Lesson: Tuesday, September 10

Rick Archer's Side Note:

During our first lesson, I was really impressed with Zach and Sarah's dancing.

They covered as much ground in one lesson as most couples cover in the three lessons.  Their learning curve was phenomenal.

However I was worried that they were trying to force their Foxtrot to a song that in my opinion was about 20-30 beats per minute too slow! 

When it comes to a Wedding First Dance, typically a couple picks a song.  Then I suggest which dance will work best to that particular song. 

I think Waltz is the prettiest dance, but it is also the hardest to learn.  Very few couples actually end up using the Waltz for their first dance.

Foxtrot is extremely popular.  It works well in small dance floors, the music is typically very classy, and the "formality" of the dance itself speaks well for the occasion.  There is also a romantic element to the Foxtrot that is missing in some of the bouncier dances.  In addition, Foxtrot is much easier to learn than Waltz. 

Occasionally people chose Twostep or East Coast Swing, but not that often. 

Another dance that has become very popular for Weddings is Night Club.  There are a lot of very pretty Country-Western "slow dance ballads" that end up working perfectly as First Dance songs. 

The problem with Zach and Sarah's song is that it was painfully slow for a Foxtrot.  A Foxtrot works best to a song somewhere between 120 and 130 beats per minute. 

Zach and Sarah's particular version of  A Kiss To Build A Dream On was somewhere around 98 BPM.

I can see speeding the footwork up or slowing it down a little to adjust to a favorite song ... 5% perhaps... but slowing down the footwork to reach a song 20% off the recommended speed was a real reach. 

Hoping to change their mind on their song choice, I had them practice to a Sinatra song with the correct speed that first night.  Then I gave them a complimentary Sinatra CD complete with 20 Sinatra songs that were the perfect tempo for Foxtrot.

My ploy was simple... I hoped if they practiced to one of the Sinatra songs, maybe they might find one they liked better.

Zach wrote:

Rick, We had a great time learning from you last week. I think we're going to wait until you get back from your cruise to continue lessons. What day would the first available Tuesday be?

Also, could you tell me how many BPM we were dancing to?  I remember you saying it was a little slower of a speed than the style usually is danced at but felt good anyways.

I know you suggested using a CD of our music, but Sarah has decided that even though it will be a little more work and a little riskier, she is gonna go with our band performing the first dance and the father bride/ mother groom dance. 

Thanks for the help!

Rick Archer's Side Note:

I frowned as I read the email above.  So much for my ploy. Not only did Sarah want to stick with her song, she wanted the band to play it!

Oh, no, not the band!!  Now I was even more worried.

Rick wrote to Zach:

Don't worry about the two week gap due to my Hawaii cruise.  Since you covered at least twice the material that most people get to, there is no hurry.

As for BPM (beats per minute), most 3-step Foxtrots work best in a range of 110-130 BPM.  The best speed is somewhere in the 120's.

For example, I had a request today to dance to Sinatra version of More. I clocked it at 126, a favorite Sinatra tempo.  This song was an ideal speed for a Foxtrot.

Your song was tricky to count, but I could have sworn I kept getting 96.  That's really a stretch to slow down your Foxtrot to hit that beat.

As far I am concerned, you are such a good dancer you could handle any change in speed just fine. Other men whose dance confidence is more fragile I would worry about, but not you, Zach.

I suppose you can always ask the band to play the song up-tempo.

Tuesday, October 8, is fine. I don't have anything booked so I will put you down for the same 730-830 slot that night.


Second Lesson: Tuesday, October 8

Zach wrote:

Looking forward to another lesson next Tuesday!

We told the band to do an arrangement of it set to 99BPM.  So why don't you use your computer program to speed up our song to that tempo and let's see how it feels.

We've been practicing, can't wait to show off our progress!

Rick Archer's Side Note:

I groaned when I saw that email.  I had no idea how much they could trust the band to play this song at the speed they wanted. 

Nor did I have any idea how they were going to get the band to end their song at the same time that the dance routine ended.

Third Lesson: Tuesday, October 15

Rick Archer's Side Note:

During their third lesson, Zach and Sarah spent the evening dancing to their favorite song, "A Kiss to Build a Dream On".

I was again amazed at how beautifully Zach and Sarah danced together, but the slowness of that song kept driving me crazy throughout the night.

Even Zach frowned a couple times.  He could see the speed was a real problem.

I was so worried about the song that the next I wrote a long, impassioned plea to get Zach and Sarah to "reconsider" using that song. Here is what I said:

Rick's Letter to Zach:

I have given this some thought.  Just so you understand, I like this song you have sent me. It's gentle, it makes me smile to listen to it. I remember my stepdaughter Marissa danced to Louis Armstrong's "It's a Wonderful World" at her own wedding.

You picked a sweet song, but it is going to take some effort to bend it to your will.  I think we can make your song work for what you want to do, but keep in mind there is Risk involved.

1. The version song you sent me is actually 78 beats per minute (BPM) which is not even close to our desired speed of 100BPM. 

At this speed (78), a four-step foxtrot fits the music better than the three-step Foxtrot I have been teaching you.

I would steer away from the 4-step if possible.  That is more of a "Traveling Dance".  In my opinion, the symmetrical 3-step Foxtrot works much better for small floor wedding dances. 

So to keep the 3-step Foxtrot means finding a way to get that song played at the right speed.

2. Trusting the band to stop the song at the right time is Risk #2. … do they have a stopwatch? Will they know when to "fade" the music?

3. When I danced my own wedding dance, I had a cue in the music that told me when to begin my final descent (using airplane terms). Your band might not play their music in a way that makes it easy for you to find the same cue. Using the CD for your wedding dance would preserve that cue.

My biggest concern is whether the band play your song at the right speed? This is a huge problem because even the slightest deviation from the speed you are used to could result in a very awkward situation for the two of you on the floor.

Personally… and this is just me… I want to eliminate anything that involves uncertainty. You both are gifted dancers; I mean that. You have the rare ability to actually perform a true wedding dance rather than fake it like most people.

But the success of your dance is heavily dependent on your music…. and your music is NOT the right speed. The chance of this band finding the right speed to play at without serious practice is small in my opinion.

Furthermore, if you practice for two months to that CD, you will become very attached to that CD music. You might not like the way the band plays the song.

So many variables!  Why take any chances?

If this was my daughter's wedding, I would suggest she have the band sit quietly in the background for three minutes and watch while you dance to the CD I made for you… then do your closing sequence and finish to the applause you will surely garner for your excellent dancing.

Then you can signal them to begin playing the same song in the background as accompaniment while you and Sara go hug your family and friends.

That said, I am not the kind of person to "insist" that you do it my way. As your mentor, I am simply giving you my advice and my reasons. Now you and Sarah can mull it over!

See you tonight.

Fourth Lesson: Tuesday, October 22

Rick Archer's Side Note:

In our fourth lesson, Zach and Sarah stuck to their guns.  They said their band promised them it could play the song at any speed they asked.  It was obvious that Zach and Sarah had great faith in this band. 

Seeing that my prodigies were fearless on this issue, I surrendered.  It was time to back off and trust their judgment. 

That said, I understood why the song was important to them.  When I married Marla, our own wedding song was important to us.  We danced to a waltz version of the song "A Time for Us" from Romeo and Juliet

Now ten years later Marla and I still smile every time we hear that song.  That song has an powerful emotional impact on us. It has become "our song".

So I can easily see why Sarah embraced her own song even if it didn't make my job easier.  That said, it wasn't about me.  It was my job to offer advice, but I had to accept that Zach and Sarah knew the band better than I did and quit worrying.  

But I still worried.  For example, since no one had any idea how long the song would last at a different tempo, how would Zach and Sarah coordinate the end of their dance with the band?

During the lesson, we did come up with an interesting idea.  Zach decided he would ask the band to keep playing until he and Sarah stopped dancing.  That meant they had no worries about synchronizing their dance to the length of the song.  I wondered why I hadn't thought of that before... why not just let the band play on till the dance is over?  How easy is that? 

Our fourth lesson was used to master the Dip.  Naturally Zach and Sarah opted for the most difficult, flashiest form of the Dip. 

They found this pattern was a bit more of a challenge than the other material had been.  It actually took them most of the lesson to perfect it.  Nevertheless, their talent won in the end.  They looked terrific. 

I assumed this would be our last lesson, but Zach surprised me.  Zach said that he wanted to bring his mother in two weeks from now and Sarah wanted to do the same with her father.  They wanted me to create a simple routine for "Waltz Across Texas". 

I smiled.  A Waltz!  I love to Waltz.  Too much fun for me!  And to think I was getting paid to do this.  Now I felt guilty... but just a little. Dance teachers have to pay taxes and for groceries just like everyone else.

Fifth Lesson: Tuesday, November 12

Rick Archer's Side Note:

Sarah's father's name was Jerry and Zach's mother was Melissa.

I think both parents enjoyed hearing me brag about the amazing dance ability of their son and daughter.  And I don't think Zach and Sarah minded the flattery at all.  I think they both very much wanted their parents to be proud of them.

Since I had unofficially adopted Zach and Sarah myself, I took special note of the warmth between the parents and their gifted children. 

Zach had mentioned that the parents had been taking some Lindy lessons with them earlier on.  It became readily apparent that Jerry, Sarah's Dad, was a pretty good dancer in his own right.  He caught on pretty quickly. 

But not that quickly... it was fun to see Sarah gently coaching her father the whole evening.  Meanwhile I just grinned.  This was so much fun that for the millionth time I reminded myself how lucky I was to share in this experience.

Melissa was more tentative.  Fortunately she was blessed with a son who could lead at an extraordinary level and who remembered the pattern effortlessly.  Once I explained to Melissa how to get her feet closer together on the many Waltz turns, she began to get some confidence.  Slowly but surely Melissa began to relax.  By the end of the evening, Melissa looked a lot happier.

Sixth Lesson: Tuesday, November 19

Rick Archer's Note:

This was our final lesson. Zach and Sarah returned with Jerry and Melissa to help lock the routine deeper into their memory.

Considering we only had two lessons, I was still able to teach the two couples a fairly complicated Traveling Waltz routine.  Each couple would dance for one and a half minutes.  That gave us enough time to include the Travel step, Twinkles and of course the Sweetheart series (you can't have a romantic Waltz without the Sweetheart pattern!)

Zach and Sarah had given this Father-Daughter, Mother-Son dance some real thought.  Both couples would do the same routine, but not at the same time.  Jerry and Sarah would go first.  When they finished, like a Tag Team, Zach and Melissa would take the floor for their turn.

Taking a clue for an earlier solution, the band was instructed to keep playing till the second couple stopped dancing.  I liked that idea a lot.  Now the second couple didn't have to worry about running out of time.  In this sense, using the band to play the Waltz was more practical than using a CD.  I nodded in approval.  Clever idea.  I smiled.  Never too late for the old dog to learn a new trick.

This would be the last time I would see Zach and Sarah.  I sometimes feel guilty accepting money to teach these lessons.  Maybe I should pay them!  I always felt so good after helping the couple.  They were so appreciative and concentrated so hard.

There is a "Glow" that surrounds most wedding couples.  I think it is a real blessing for me to be able to bask in their obvious affection for each other and their excitement over their dance progress. 

That "Glow" was magnified in Zach and Sarah's case because they had the enthusiastic participation of their parents in the special Mom-Son, Dad-Daughter dance.

I don't get to see this extra feature very often, but I love it when I do. I can honestly say it really tickles me to see the parents interact with their talented sons and daughters. 

Usually it is a Daughter-Dad dance, not two sets of parents.  More often than not, the Dad can't dance a lick, but his daughter will always cheer him up and get him to hang in there till he gets it.  It is so much fun to watch! 

In general, I think a lot of Wedding Dance couples are a little confused about the First Dance.  They know they are expected to do it, but really wish they could skip it if it was left up to them.

I always explain that the First Dance is presented as a symbol of their love to the people who care about them the most.  I explain that "Love" is better expressed through "Dance" than any other vehicle. 

I say to each couple that what their guests want to see more than anything else is that the bride and groom are Happy Together out on that floor.

Considering all the stress this First Dance causes people, looking "happy together" is a lot easier said than done.  And that's where I come in.  I explain there is no such thing as a mistake-free wedding dance.  And I mean it!  Something always goes wrong

So I explain that both people need to relax and smile.  If something goes wrong, don't frown but rather laugh about it.  People don't care about a dance mistake, but they do care if someone looks upset or angry about it. 

This small lecture puts things in perspective.  Now a couple realize they are not expected to put on a "Dancing with the Stars" routine, but rather do a series of fairly basic moves and simply show the world how happy they are together.  That takes off a lot of the pressure. 

Where Zach and Sarah exceeded my expectations is that they actually came pretty close to matching a "Dancing with the Stars" routine.

Indeed, Zach later mentioned he got a lot of grumbling from the other guys in his group, saying how their own girlfriends had taken note of how good Zach and Sarah looked out there.

Zach and Sarah's Wedding
Saturday, November 30



A week or so after the wedding, I was curious how things went.  So I emailed Zach and asked some questions. 

Rick's Question: So how did your dance go, Zach?


The wedding dance went off without a hitch! Our dance was perfect. Not to mention we received plenty of praise. I even had a few frustrated friends who thought I set the bar a little too high. Once a video surfaces, you'll be the first to get an email with the link. Thanks again for all your help!

Rick's Question: 

Your quip about raising the bar made me laugh. I can definitely say I see their point.  I would hate to be the next wedding couple to take the floor after you guys.

Your news is absolutely awesome! I am so proud of you! Give Sarah a big hug for me; you both deserve all the praise in the world for your hard work. And I mean it when I say you have a god-given talent for dancing.

Do you mind if I ask a few more questions? How did your parents handle their dance?


Our parents both did very well considering the amount of practice we were able to squeeze in during the final, busy month. We got a lot of complements on the shared song and how smoothly the transition was from the father daughter into the mother groom. And yes, my mom finally relaxed a bit!

Rick's Question:

How did the band handle that music speed dilemma?


The band, Aunt Ruby's Sweet Jazz Babies, were really what put the wedding over the top in our opinion. They were a very entertaining, personal, and unique wedding band. We did go with Kiss to Build a Dream and they nailed the tempo and fade out perfectly. I wish I could remember all the compliments we received but there were too many to keep track of!

Rick's Question:

I am curious about something. I never did remember to ask how you stumbled across me as your teacher.  Your original letter was simply "to whom it may concern".


I think the way we found you was just by googling dance lessons in the heights. And are we ever glad we found you!

Rick's Side Note: 

A couple weeks after our email exchange, I got another email. 


Hey Rick!  Here is our wedding video.

We really did have an amazing night. Not a lot of dancing footage in the video but there is a nice shot of our final dip.

Thought you might want to see it. Couldn't have done it without you!

Rick's Side Note:

When I saw the video, I was really impressed.  I have never seen a wedding video capture so much warmth before.  Then it crossed my mind that "warmth" came very easily to this special couple.  Here is what I wrote back.

Rick to Zach:

That video was so wonderful!  Someone had a keen sense of style for cutting that video. My compliments!

I remember how quiet Sarah always was.  It was delight to see how animated she was on her wedding day. That is one happy girl!!!

I will confess the video brought happy tears to my eyes. Good for you.

PS - the Dip looked terrific!!  Well done!

Rick's Side Note:

Zach gave permission to share their wedding video.  It is 3 minutes long... you will definitely find yourself smiling.

Zach and Sarah's Wedding

Andrew Scroggins (in uniform) is Sarah's brother.  Andrew served as Best Man at the wedding.  He is a Freshman at Virginia Military Academy.

Don't Zach and Sarah look great?  Well, that's the finished product. 
It took us an hour to get this difficult pattern down just right.

Sarah's father Jerry has his daughter in traditional Waltz Sweetheart position.

I explained carefully that since both people are going forward, the Sweetheart position gave a cameraman the chance to get both faces in at once.

After dancing with Sarah, Jerry had the chance to dance with Sarah's mother as well.

I assume this is the infamous band.  Zach had nothing but praise for Aunt Ruby's Sweet Jazz Babies (link).  They played an important role in the Wedding Dance song and "Waltz Across Texas" for the Father-Daughter, Mother-Son dance.

As you will see in the video, Zach and Sarah had a very unique wedding.  Someone had a real gift for this because there was a lot of ingenuity involved.  I have never seen so many smiles!

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