“I remember when I was a little girl and my elementary school teacher asked us to share our parents’ jobs. I was so proud to stand up in front of the class and tell everyone that my dad was a dance teacher because it was so different from other parents.
possibly due to babysitting costs, I spent many evenings in his studio when I was at his house. He also ran a lot of amateur competitions in Seattle, so I’ve always been in the ballroom dancing scene and wanted to teach and perform as a career path.
In later years, I turned pro to dance latin in competitions and worked with a local dance teacher in Seattle. That’s when I started teaching myself. But while I’ve always loved teaching ballrooms and interacting with my students, I found that I preferred teaching part-time. Keeping my artistic endeavors separate gives me balance and control over my own schedule.
I came to Ireland in 2002 and started working with First Dance a few years later. They specialize in wedding dance classes for couples. I work with both clients who want a professionally choreographed dance routine and students who just need a few basic moves and general confidence for the first dance of their big day.
What attracted me to working with honeymooners is that it’s much more flexible than offering weekly classes. Besides, it’s just absolutely insane. And newlyweds, in general, are just the nicest people to work with.
Couples come to me with the song they chose. Sometimes they ask me for help choosing between two or three songs and I can definitely do that. Before class, I listen and sketch out some ideas to bring to the lesson. I tailor each couple’s dance to their song, dance skills, and desired end result.
We usually do between one and five lessons, depending on the needs and choreography. But if a couple wants something very specific and a really polished performance, it can take seven or eight hours or even more.
I teach at the couple’s home, where they free up space by pushing aside the table in their living room or dining room. We’ll discuss the floor-to-ceiling layout. Even if we’re working in a smaller space than their dance is being performed, I can help them plan for those differences. Often my students do not tell their friends and family that they are taking dance classes, especially when they invest a lot of time preparing for their dance. They want to surprise their guests on the big day.
I think the idea of making the first wedding dance a performance for guests was imported from the USA – the land of extroverts! In general, I think most Irish people shy away from being the center of attention. However, I’ve been able to work with a few couples who weren’t afraid to show themselves in their performance and choreography, which is particularly fun to be involved with.
These couples want to entertain and laugh. And some students really surprise me, especially the fans of Be sure to come dance. I give them a position to hit and they get it before I even finish my sentence about what I’m looking for. Other couples come to me with an idea in their heads of what the dance should look like. I was really amazed at the natural instincts of some couples.
However, most of my couples book classes with me because they are nervous about dancing in the middle of the floor when all eyes are on them. You’ve been through all the planning and craziness of organizing a wedding and then you realize, “Oh my god, we have to dance in front of all our friends!”.
Because of this, my main focus is on instilling confidence in my students and keeping it as simple and accessible as possible for them since they don’t have much time to prepare and practice.
As a wedding dance teacher, my approach and teaching style has changed over the years. Looking back, when I first started teaching for First Dance, I was very regimented because of my ballroom studio experience.
I felt that the choreography should correspond to a specific dance style, such as a foxtrot or a swing dance. Since then I’ve done a whopping 180. Sometimes I teach a specific dance that can be used with a song, but these days I usually keep it much looser with the dance footwork and rhythm, which makes the dance easier for the students.
I have worked with over 100 couples mostly in the Dublin area and I would say that one of the most popular songs is the timeless one fly me to the moon by Frank Sinatra. One of my recent couples chose this song for Foxtrot which was wonderful to put together with them.
Some couples have quirky song choices. A favorite of mine a few years ago was a dance to this This must be the place by Talking Heads. The experience was very collaborative. The song is written almost like a poem, and the choreography was specifically structured around the words, with moves that her closest friends would uniquely recognize as her story.
Sometimes I teach certain dances from movies or TV. One of my couples wanted to work on a routine inspired by pulp fiction. And more than one couple has asked me to help them recreate the famous routine Dirty dancing — albeit with a safer elevator at the end! I was even asked to teach and prepare choreographies from music videos by artists like Lady Gaga and a dance scene from the TV show Ally McBeal.
The most performative dance creation I’ve ever done was for a couple using the song to put on a show for their guests Shut up and dance by Walk the Moon. The choreography was extremely playful, requiring dramatic movement, storytelling and lip-synching of the lyrics. I’m sure learning and performing the dance in front of their friends brought them wonderful memories and it’s also one of my fondest memories. I love that couples trust me to prepare their wedding dance. It’s one of the most important days of her life and I’m allowed to be part of the entire preparation. It’s such a happy thing that we do together and it’s a brilliant feeling when it comes together.
Over the years I have seen the positive impact dance can have on people and how this outlet can transform their lives. My dream is that one of my wedding students will say, “It was so much fun that I want to take dance lessons now.” I would be so excited.”
As Katie Byrne was told
https://www.independent.ie/life/life-as-a-wedding-dance-teacher-most-irish-shy-away-from-being-the-centre-of-attention-41607999.html Life as a wedding dance teacher: ‘Most Irish people shy away from being the center of attention’