It’s traditional for the bride and groom to dance their first dance together as newlyweds while guests watch, but it’s not necessarily easy.
Accustomed to boogying down to popular music, many contemporary couples find themselves unprepared for old-fashioned ballroom dancing.
As a result, more and more beginners are seeking help from professional instructors, who not only teach the steps, but also help choreograph the dance routines.
“A lot of couples don’t have a song picked out when they come to me,” said Yana Schlenker, a dance instructor with Cheryl Burke Dance Studio, 1400 N. Shoreline Blvd. in Mountain View. “The first thing I do is assign them homework: Go home and pick out a dance.”
“Most of them have never danced before,” said Schlenker, a Russian native who has taught dance for 15 years.
She teaches private dance classes to couples mainly during “wedding dance season,” from April to September.
Schlenker recommends that couples take five to 10 lessons before the big day “to get to a pretty comfortable place.” She tries to dissuade clients from the waltz, preferring the two-step, because “it’s a great romantic dance and very pretty.”
The most popular songs for first dances are “At Last” by Etta James, Frank Sinatra selections and “I’m Yours” by Jason Mraz.
Some duos approach the performance with dread, but others take up the challenge and continue dancing as a hobby even after the wedding. With time and practice, couples who take lessons say they do well.
Couples that dance together …
Los Altos residents Robert Phair and Ann Chasson are used to teamwork – they run a company together out of their home – but they weren’t dancers before getting married. Chasson, CEO of Integrative Bioinformatics Inc., and Phair, chief science officer, said they jointly agreed on the necessity for dance classes.
“We were not dancers previously,” said Phair, admitting he was nervous about the prospect of dancing in front of an audience.
Chasson, however, was more optimistic about their talent.
“She was pretty sure we were going to pull it off, but she’s generally more confident about most things,” Phair said.
Deciding on the Beach Boys’ “California Girls,” they learned the East Coast Swing, hoping to dance to rock ’n’ roll at their reception. They attended teacher Robin Rebello’s six-week beginning dance series Tuesdays and Thursdays at the Los Altos American Legion Hall at 347 First St.
Rebello, who also gives private lessons, said she tries to “tailor everything to what the couple can do,” making suggestions based on their personalities and/or preferences.
In addition to taking lessons, Chasson said they practiced three to four times weekly.
“We worked hard,” she said. “Robin’s a phenomenal teacher.”
They started lessons three months before their wedding, which they celebrated in 2009 at a bed and breakfast in Chester, Pa.
Both bride and groom have adult children from previous marriages. Their wedding was small, with family only, so they weren’t dancing for show, Chasson said. She relaxed during the dance, and said everyone else was smiling.
Seasoned dancers take
Christa Setiawan, a nurse in the hematology and oncology department at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital in Palo Alto, is no stranger to dance.
A fan of “Dancing with the Stars,” Setiawan also took ballet classes at Sacramento State.
“I’ve always liked to dance,” Setiawan said.
“I’ve always wanted to learn,” quipped her husband-to-be, Blaine Uehara, who works for a Los Altos builder.
The Mountain View residents, who are planning a big wedding in his native Hawaii May 14, signed up for twice-a-week private classes at Cheryl Burke Dance Studio.
Setiawan had watched a “Dancing with the Stars” segment that featured the jive, a fast-paced competition-style dance.
“I liked the dance because it was energetic,” she said.
Schlenker, their instructor, had some reservations about the jive.
“She said, ‘Are you serious?’” Setiawan recalled.
They took a few days to decide on the music, wavering among “Mercy” by Duffy, Keith Urban’s “Making Memories of Us” and Van Morrison’s “Moondance,” which won the contest.
After just four lessons, Schlenker praised the couple’s progress.
“They are going a little faster than I thought, and I think this is going to be surprising to their families,” she said.
Adult Ed dance classes
Dance instructor Ellen Murray (no relation to Arthur Murray Dance Studios) and her partner Gene Esswein decided to teach a wedding dance class through Mountain View-Los Altos Adult Education when students said they couldn’t find one anywhere.
Their next six-week class, scheduled to begin Sept. 13, costs $37 and introduces the standbys: the nightclub two-step, a swing and foxtrot medley and the waltz.
Murray, a Bennington College graduate who majored in English, always loved to danced. She said her classes are low-key.
“I’m not at all like ‘Dancing with the Stars,’” Murray said.
Most students are nervous about their first dance, she said, “and it’s only natural, because all eyes are on you.”
Murray promised to help women “dance comfortably in a long gown and heels” and make a “graceful entrance for your big moment in the spotlight.”
Murray, 70, is an aficionado of the tango and recently traveled to Argentina.
Dancing makes her feel “ageless” and “really puts me in the present, the now,” she said.
For more information on Cheryl Burke Dance Studio, visit www.cherylburkedance.com.
For more information on Robin Rebello’s classes, visit www.readybyte.com/fridaynightdance.
For more information on Mountain View-Los Altos Adult Education classes, visit www.mvlaae.net.