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Annapolis

Anne Arundel couples learn to waltz with confidence for their first dance

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Humbled. That’s how Harry King felt when he and his fiancee entered the Arthur Murray Dance Studio in Arnold for lessons.

“We walked in and saw all these couples who had been dancing for years, and here we were, unable to put two steps together without looking like robots,” said King, of Pasadena. “But then others said they remembered their first lessons, and how [flustered] they felt.”

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Last year, five months before their May wedding at Kurtz’s Beach in Pasadena, Harry and Rhonda King took a big step forward. And back. And forward. And back. Ready for their first dance, they would be.

“I told myself, I’m 50 years old and supposed to be a successful person, so I don’t want to get out there on the dance floor and just sway back and forth like I did in high school,” said Harry. “Let me look at least a little like I know what I’m doing.”

A businessman, Harry owns both a fitness center and an industrial sales firm; Rhonda, 44, is a speech language pathologist for Anne Arundel County Schools. Both are longtime triathletes who’ve competed in Ironman events, and said they were surprised by the savvy they needed to master the ballroom moves.

“It was a lot harder than we thought,” Rhonda said. Once a week, they came to practice the fox trot to the tune they’d chosen for their first dance, “Better Together,” by country singer Luke Combs.

Early on, Rhonda learned to evade Harry’s size 13 feet.

“It’s not like he’d stomp on mine; he’d just catch a toe,” she said. But those gaffes stopped before the wedding. At their reception, as he led his bride onto the floor, Harry murmured:

“The hard part’s over. Let’s go.”

One problem: they hadn’t allowed for Rhonda’s wedding dress, which hung more snugly on her shoulders than expected.

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“We had to modify our turns because I couldn’t pick my arms up,” she said, “so I just ducked my head underneath.”

Nearly a year later, they still attend classes. The couple have five children by previous marriages and one, Harry King III, is to be married in April. Will he follow in his father’s footsteps and study up?

“No, he’s going to wing it,” Harry said. “Me, I’ll be ready.”

Not just for the bride and groom

The Kings are typical of those who reach out to end such pre-wedding jitters, said Autumn Dawn.

“A lot of people who have successful careers don’t feel so confident on the dance floor,” said Dawn, owner of Arthur Murray Dance Studios in Arnold and Crofton. “They don’t want to look silly for their first dance, or do the old clutch-and-sway from high school. They have a song in mind that is meaningful, and they come here to prepare to dance to it.”

About 10 couples a month seek instruction for the same. Most are ages 30 to 50, though Dawn and her staff have instructed lovebirds as old as 70. She recommends a 10-lesson minimum, regardless of the music in mind.

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“The ‘country’ genre is big, along with old classics like [Frank] Sinatra’s ‘It Had To Be You,’ “ she said. “Songs like ‘At Last’ always pop up, along with some Disney tunes. We decide what type of dance [swing, cha-cha, quickstep, etc.] is best. Some songs have better beats than others, but there has never been one that we couldn’t match a dance to.”

The cost is $97 for two private and two group lessons, followed by a package of either six or 10 lessons for $870 or $1,450, respectively.

It’s not always the wedding couple who sign up. Sometimes other members of the bridal party seek support, said Dawn:

“Once, when they learned that the groom’s parents knew how to dance, the bride’s parents came for lessons so they wouldn’t get shown up on the dance floor.”

Starting off on the right foot

Their first dance as newlyweds was all that Kasey and Natasha Miller had hoped for: a waltz, laced with dips and twirls, that spurred guests to ooh and aah.

“There was a lot of gasping, and some tears here and there,” Natasha recalled. “Kasey’s mom was crying; she didn’t expect that at all.”

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On the sly, the couple took dance lessons to surprise family and friends at their wedding and reception at the Elkridge Furnace Inn in October, 2020. Once a week, for nearly 10 months, they practiced their moves at the Arthur Murray Studio near their home in Crofton, polishing the steps for their big day. As expected, there were stumbles along the way. For one thing, during lessons, it was hard for Natasha to let go.

“Off the dance floor, I like to think I wear the pants, while Kasey goes with the flow,” she said. “I like being in control; I’m not a natural follower.”

In class, however, Natasha acquiesced and let her partner take charge. Both took the experience to heart.

“Our relationship changed out there,” said Kasey, 39. “For 45 minutes a week, we focused on each other, not like at home sometimes when one person speaks while the other is reading or watching TV. We were involved.”

The lessons weren’t always “a PG-type thing,” said Natasha, 36. “We got frustrated, figuring out where our feet were to go. It was a good thing we were wearing [COVID] masks because they hid our facial expressions. But it’s hard to stay annoyed when you’re dancing with someone; it really does take two to tango [or any ballroom dance]. You have to listen to each other and read their body language. It takes a lot of relationship skills. It’s like a couples’ therapy session.”

Between classes, the Millers — who both work as software engineers — practiced their waltz routines at home, where each has two children from a previous marriage.

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“We’d dance a loop around the house, trying to avoid all of the furniture,” said Kasey. “Our cats thought it was time to play and rolled on the floor, in front of us, waiting to be petted.”

Sometimes, the two youngest kids, ages 5 and 6, joined in. One clung to her father’s leg while the other latched onto that of her mother.

“It became a family affair,” Natasha said. “There were times when one of us would run into the iRobot [vacuum], which would switch on and start to clean the house.”

Their dance instruction didn’t end with the wedding.

“It’s still our date night, once a week,” said Kasey who, with his spouse, is now learning the rumba, tango, fox trot and swing.

“We still knock knees once in awhile,” Natasha said. “It’s challenging, but a lot of fun.”

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Surprised guests

Phil and Maria Youngberg knew their marriage got off on the right foot when, at their wedding reception in 2021, they nailed their first dance. The song was “The Good Ones” by Gabby Barrett, a country tune given a mischievous twist.

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“We wanted to impress our folks, so we took dance lessons beforehand, but told no one,” Phil said. “We began the dance with those awkward old ‘high school’ moves, you know, her arms around my neck and mine around her waist.”

Guests smiled politely — lulled, perhaps, by the humdrum start.

“We teased people, pretending we didn’t know what we were doing out there,” Maria said.

Then, with a flourish, the couple broke into their ballroom gambit; even now, their dance remains cause célèbre among friends and family. Phil Youngberg, 30, is a Naval Academy graduate and a surface warfare officer assigned to the college; Maria, 32, is a disbursing technician there. Their wedding and reception took place at the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Annapolis.

For two months prior, the bride and groom attended the Arthur Murray Studio in Arnold, perfecting the moves they hoped would evoke Fred and Ginger. But the dance lessons offered something else as well: a collaboration between a couple set to play give-and-take for life.

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The classes were “the first step in learning how to cooperate in marriage, a test run for teamwork,” said Phil. Months later, the Youngbergs continue to cut a rug at the studio each week. For how long?

“We’ll see where the rhythm takes us, down the road,” said Maria.


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