Ballroom Fever

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With just five weeks until wedding bells ring, there are seating charts to be made, flowers to be ordered and playlists to be finalized.

But Bri Fletcher and Matt Terry put all that aside to spend their Friday evenings following the directions "slow, slow, quick-quick" over and over ... and over.


They, like a growing number of couples, want their first dance as husband and wife to rise above the hug and sway. They want a dance floor debut that sparkles (not to mention twirls, turns and dips).

Call it the "Dancing With the Stars" effect.


So Bri and Matt booked five lessons in two-step at Studio Dans, in Marriottsville, where Samantha Redman serves as their choreographer and coach.

There are Redman's terms, like promenade and port de bras (French for carriage of the arms), and then Bri's interpretation — "spiderman fingers" and "that lasso-thing."

But they reach a common ground, with Redman bowing to her clients' less technical terms. "Don't noodle it!" she calls above the strains of Tim McGraw's "My Best Friend."

"Have you ever seen Harry Potter when he has no bones in his arm? Yeah, it's like that," she explains.
The hour is filled with smiles and giggles exchanged between Matt and Bri.

By their third lesson, the couple looks comfortable. But for these two dancing neophytes, the first lesson resembled something like a gag reel.

"She laughed at me a lot," recalls Matt. "The male is supposed to take the lead,  and she was having trouble letting me do that."

Adds Bri: "It was pretty funny. He kept stepping on my feet."

'A romantic side'


Redman, a director at Studio Dans, says her studio sees a boom in wedding dance lessons each spring and summer.

"People are just getting more adventurous," she says. "It's lovely working with these couples. You catch that buzz. You can see the excitement and love in their eyes. I tear up when I see them do it."

Carlos Pabon, owner and director of That's Dancing Ballroom &  Dancesport Center, in Jessup, says he, too, is witnessing a revival of ballroom dancing.

"We're getting back to partnership dancing. There's a romantic side to it," he says. "I think it's nice we're seeing this resurgence."

Exposure on TV and in movies has helped, as have popular musicians like Michael Buble, whose jazzy throw-back style Pabon calls "awesome for ballroom."

For some, the goal is to learn a  choreographed dance — mostly foxtrots and rumbas — while others want basic footwork and carriage pointers under their belts.


But there are the unusual requests as well. One couple Pabon worked with mixed a sassy cha-cha with a smooth waltz, while others have opted for the drama of a tango. Yet another couple incorporated a "Wizard of Oz" theme into a Viennese waltz in which the groom played the role of the Tin Man and the bride was Dorothy (she gave him a heart).

'Like Fred Astaire'

One of Pabon's students, Gina Tzomides, included both of her leading men in dance lessons prior to her April 17 wedding. "I didn't want to just stand there and sway like in middle school," Gina says of her decision to book the lessons.

Gina and her fiancé, Matthew Folstein, took five lessons to learn a foxtrot to Jason Mraz's "Lucky," while her father got a lesson in basic waltz to prepare for their father-daughter dance to Steven Curtis Chapman's "Cinderella" — a song that fittingly includes the line: "And I need to practice my dancing."

"If 200 people are going to be staring at me, I want to look like Fred Astaire," Tom Tzomides says, adding of his soon-to-be son-in-law: "I don't want Matt to show me up."

In just 45 minutes, the father of the bride went from joking about his dance abilities to beaming as he confidently led his daughter (her bright purple satin heels peeking out from her jeans) in a forward and back balance step and walking step, even throwing in a few changes in direction and turns.


During the lesson, Pabon reminded Tom Tzomides to take small, controlled steps, not to lead with his heel, and to avoid letting his arms sag.

"It'll look like we've taken a lesson when we do this," Tzomides says as he and his daughter practiced even the seemingly small details of walking onto the dance floor followed by a simple twirl and a hug.

According to both Pabon and Redman, the tempo of the chosen song determines what style of dance is most fitting.

The Tzomides' "Cinderella" is a Viennese waltz, while Bri and Matt's country song is a natural two-step.
And for Michael Hussle and his fiancée, Marianne Skees, a rumba is best suited to Andrea Bocelli's "L'Ultimo Re" (Italian for "The Last King").

In their third lesson of five at Studio Dans, Michael and Marianne learn a wrap into a dip that they will use to accent the rock step they have already mastered.

"We were tossing the idea around," Hussle, a Howard County firefighter, says of the couple's decision to take ballroom lessons. "A really awkward slow dance was about all we could come up with on our own."


Breaking the ice

Lessons are an investment, but teachers and students say the skills can be used again and again in social dance settings.

At Studio Dans, Redman charges $65 for an hour-long lesson, and $300 for a five-lesson package. À la carte lessons at That's Dancing are $92, while multi-lesson packages can cost up to $1,200.

Pabon recommends a least three lessons, while between five and 15 lessons offer more elaborate choreography — to learn three or four patterns, how to lead and follow, an entrance and an exit.

Many couples consider the expense a worthwhile way to further personalize their wedding day.

Ryan and Cristin McMichael, of Ellicott City, performed a rumba to Billy Joel's "Just the Way You Are" at their May 1, 2010, reception at Turf Valley Resort.


"Neither of us are very good dancers, and we wanted our first dance as a married couple to be something memorable," says Ryan. "It was a great feeling. We can watch it over and over since it is on video."

Special dance elements can add not only a romantic touch, but also can set a fun-loving tone to break the ice on the dance floor.

At Marianne and Michael Hussle's reception, the plan is to involve a dozen members of Michael's family in — what else? — the hustle.

Bri and Matt decided to take lessons to add an "element of surprise" to their wedding. Since their friends and family would expect something zany from this pair, they chose to do something decidedly traditional.
And after their time in the spotlight, Bri and Matt will lighten the mood by inviting the wedding party to join them on the dance floor for a simple line dance to Zac Brown Band's "Chicken Fried."

Redman calls dance lessons "a real trust exercise" for couples.

"We teach them how to hear the music and how to lead," she says. "When all that's going on, you're going to be nervous. You have to just step out of yourselves and forget about everyone else."



• Whether you prefer 3-inch stilettos, ballet slippers or Chuck Taylors, wear your wedding day shoes to all lessons.  
• Grooms should consider practicing in a suit jacket, while the bride should consider the n and length of her veil.
• Practice at home. This helps develop muscle memory.
• Schedule several lessons. The more lessons, the more intricate your dance can be.
• Dance TV shows can be misleading. Few people can master an elaborately choregraphed dance in a short period of time.


Studio Dans

That's Dancing Ballroom & Dancesport Center

Arthur Murray Ballroom and Latin Dance Studio

The Wedding Dance Specialists


Howard County Department of Recreation & Parks
Group lessons, locations vary. Classes include ballroom, swing, Latin and smooth social dancing.