The first dance, a western wedding tradition, has been gaining popularity amongst couples here. Similarly, they have adopted taking dance classes in an effort to up the tempo or add some ballroom magic to their wedding reception. “At first, we weren’t sure about our first dance which was a tango number but as our lessons progressed, we got into the swing and just had fun with the music and steps,” says Eva, who, with her hubby, attended dance classes for six months before her wedding.

Dance instructors agree that dancing has become more popular with soon-to-wed couples. And much of that interest has to do with exposure to movies about dance and music. 

According to Pele Lim, principal dance instructor at RpMerleon Studios, after the movie Shall We Dance? was screened, a number of starry-eyed couples asked for the dances performed by the main leads, namely the slow waltz, tango and quickstep. And when the songs Moon River and Santa Maria were played during her lessons – songs that were featured in movies –  her students were especially energetic.

Over at Shawn & Gladys DanceWorld, at least one or two couples sign up every month to learn a wedding dance. “A lot of couples realise that dancing is a very good expression of love and they are sharing something together. In our busy lives, dancing is a good way for a couple to spend time together,” observes instructor Shawn Tay. 

WHY A WEDDING DANCE?
Grooms and brides are more adventurous these days and prefer to skip the traditional sit-down wedding dinner. Stirred by the breathtaking view from The Altivo at the peak of Mount Faber where they hosted a wedding reception, couple Eileen Mok and Nicholas Choo recall fondly why they decided to dance at their wedding. 

“As we had chosen a Western theme for our wedding, we thought it’d be nice to do a dance,” Eileen says. “That was why we decided to attend dance classes to see if we can do an impressive dance, and go from zilch to wow.” And impress their guests, they did, managing a hot salsa number after weekly lessons for just two months. 

Linda and Melvin are another couple who’ve always loved music but had two left feet when it came to dancing. “For our wedding, we thought we might as well dance – or we were never going to get the impetus again,” says Linda, who chose to learn the romantic waltz for her wedding a year and half ago. 

Dance instructors generally advise that the couple learn a romantic dance not just with the goal of entertaining their guests, but as a romantic activity they can share long after the wedding is over. “People who don’t already have a love for dancing, and who are practising solely to perform at the wedding, usually fail to do it well,” says instructor Kace Ong, who organised the first tango workshop in Singapore at The Substation in 1999. 

He recommends about two to three months of lessons for simple dances such as salsa, and up to a year for more complex dances like tango. 

CHOOSING A DANCE
“I think the most popular form of social dance in Singapore is salsa, especially for young professionals or young couples in their 20s and 30s,” says Lionel Araya of LA Dance Connection.

“Salsa is a sexy and passionate dance. Some couples do it because they want to develop a closer relationship with their partner by taking it up together.” The word salsa means sauce in Spanish, and what better way to spice up your relationship than enjoying this red-hot dance together? Compared to ballroom dancing, it’s fairly easy to pick up as it’s a more fluid dance form and different styles can be worked into it, like hip hop and samba moves. 

Not into salsa? Then choose from other partner dances such as the swing, tango and waltz. Some couples choose a dance because of its significance to them. Linda recalls: “We chose a waltz because Melvin and I really liked the movie Beauty and the Beast. There’s something utterly romantic and graceful about the waltz.” 

Kace thinks that certain personalities are better suited to certain dances. “My advice to people picking up a dance for the first time is to choose the type of music that moves you. Each dance will attract its own aficionado,” he says. 

“Dances common at weddings are the waltz, rumba and Argentine tango, because of their romantic connotations. Of these, tango is the hardest, so for couples interested in learning this dance, it’s best to start early.” 

Kace’s point about certain dances suiting particular personality types is very true. “Linda and I love the waltz, but my brother, for instance, chose to learn the jitterbug when he got married. Both he and his wife are very lively people and the dance style suited them to a T,” says Melvin. 

When the dance style is right for the couple, everything that the couple feels about each other, the dance itself and the wedding day will express itself during the dance. Says Audrey, who married in New York: “Steve and I chose to do the tango. It was tough, but the dance is so sensuous and such a beautiful build-up of emotions!” And the emotions built up further in their hotel room, after their wedding party. 

THE EXPERTS SAY…
So where do you begin if you’re keen to tap your feet across a ballroom? Here’s some good advice: 

Know what you want 
Don’t be swayed by what you have seen in movies or be distracted by what other brides are doing. The important thing is to be comfortable with your choice of dance. You’d also need to be sure that you’re both comfortable with a few hundred pairs of eyes watching you.

Be each other’s support – encourage each other and tell yourselves this is a good measure of how closely you can work together as a team because few things make you rely on each other as much as dancing. 

Time factor 
For smooth, confident dancing, you’d need at least four months of regular practice before the wedding. It’s best to give yourself enough time to learn the steps and style of your dance. If you don’t have time, opt for a simple routine and look good doing it rather than tripping over difficult moves.

Talk to your instructor
Find an instructor both of you are comfortable with and will get on famously with. It should be someone with whom you feel comfortable talking to because you’d need to discuss details like the design of your dance wear, choice of music, choreography and the floor plan of the ballroom.

Find a suitable venue
Before you book your wedding venue, check with your instructor about the size of dance floor you’ll need. The ballroom at Swissotel, for instance, can be partitioned to size and has a good sound system. Other hotels great for an Astaire-Rogers display are Shangri-La Hotel, the Ritz-Carlton, Millenia and Grand Hyatt.

Practise and practise
To dazzle the audience, you must set aside time to practise your routine regularly. Try to have at least a full-dress rehearsal, and another on the actual dance floor, during the day itself.

Clothes maketh the couple
The bride must make sure that Cinderella and Prince Charming did it. So did Beauty and the Beast. No, we’re not talking about the birds and bees. We’re talking about how they swayed and danced across the ballroom in romantic swirls that set the hearts of everyone watching fluttering and sighing.

Remember the love
Always keep in mind what’s most important to you – your love for each other. Couples can get caught up in the process of learning the steps, focusing on who’s doing it right, who’s wrong, or who’s better. 

Clarify your expectations with each other before any dancing begins to avoid getting more loathing than loving out of the dance.

In the midst of remembering…
…the dance moves, of avoiding crushing each other’s toes (and egos!), and of gritting your teeth when all the steps go the wrong way, remember that dancing is really an expression of love. To paraphrase the words of a former dance instructor, dancing is an emotion you must feel!

Love isn’t just in the air
It can be found right at your feet too. Shall we dance? You betcha!  

WHO’S OFFERING WHAT?
Here’s what’s available if you’re interested in stepping out in style: 

Shawn & Gladys Danceworld
The wedding dance package costs $450 for four lessons (45 minutes per lesson) per couple. It’s a private class and the instructor will choreograph a wedding dance based on your choice of music. The deal includes one CD with the music you have chosen. Registration fee is $10.

#04-05 Bras Basah Complex
Blk 231 Bain Street, tel: 6336-2648
Website: shawnandgladys.com

Jitterbugs Swingapore
A private class (for a couple and the instructor) costs $180 an hour (with each subsequent hour at $150). You can have up to six people in the class, so feel free to rope in your bridal party. Then, they’ll be able to join you on the dance floor on the actual day. 

#01-20 Central Square,
20 Havelock Road,  tel: 6887-0383
Website: www.jitterbugs.com

En Motion Dance School
Wedding dance classes are private and cost $85 (an hour); $80 per hour (four hours or more); $75 per hour (eight hours or more). The instructor will choreograph a wedding dance based on your choice of music. This studio’s speciality is Latin street dance – cha cha, salsa and tango. 

8 Craig Rd, Level 1
tel: 9159-7811
Website: www.dance-en-motion.com

RpMerleon Studios
Wedding dance private classes cost $250 for three hours per couple. There is an enrolment fee of $25. This studio also offers lessons for a wide range of dances, from square rumba to samba. 

#03-08 The Adelphi
1 Coleman Street, tel: 6339-8238
Website: www.rpmerleon.com

This article was first published in Her World Brides March – May 2009.