That love-affirming first dance as husband and wife has been a tradition handed down through the ages. Some couples do whatever slow dance they're most comfortable with; others shell out hundreds or thousands of dollars for lessons to jazz up their waltz or foxtrot.
But if you've searched the Internet lately, you might notice a trend developing -- the staid first dance might be going the way of the dodo.
Many couples these days have a secret yearning to duplicate what they see on "Dancing With the Stars," so they're going to professional dance teachers asking to learn some new steps. They want a first dance that swings, one that reflects their personality, and they're willing to commit time and money to putting their best foot forward.
If you check YouTube.com, you'll find first dances based on routines from the movies "Dirty Dancing" and "Moulin Rouge," and on Michael Jackson's music video "Thriller." Sometimes the bride and groom have their entire wedding party rehearse and take part in what can only be called a performance.
To Love, Honor and Twirl
When Samantha Boris and Jared Katz were six weeks away from their June 2007 wedding, they were 13 lessons into preparing for their first dance. They demonstrated some of the "lame" dances they've seen their friends do -- what they call the "rock and sway," or the "step-tap." They wanted their cha-cha and foxtrot to stand out.
For Boris and Katz, both doctoral candidates at Columbia University in clinical psychology, it's not about vanity. It's also not about having the "coolest" video on the Web. For this couple, it's about recovery. Three years ago, a woman on the subway accidentally punctured a major bone in Boris' foot with her stiletto heel, and she was unable to walk for months.
"I couldn't move my leg, I was paralyzed," Boris said. "I was in a wheelchair, then wheelchair dependent, now I walk with a cane. Jared was helping me…and that's when I said to him, 'I'm not going to get married unless I can walk again.'"
"After the accident, she said, 'We're not going to get married unless we dance at the wedding,'" Katz recalled. "So it wasn't enough to just stand and sway -- it's a real celebration of what we've had to do, what we've accomplished."
The Motown Foxtrot
The couple chose a studio that said Boris' disability was no problem, and dancing has become another form of physical therapy for her. Nathan Hescock, owner of New York Wedding Dance Studio in Manhattan where the couple takes lessons, told Boris they had worked with the blind and disabled before. Hescock's studio is devoted solely to preparing engaged couples for that first dance.
"There's a good market out there, and we love it as instructors," Hescock said. "New couples coming in and then we send them off to their wedding. It is a wonderful thing."
Hescock says most students want a twist on the traditional dances, such as foxtrots set to Motown, disco or '80s music.
"People want to do the songs that they grew up with or that they are connected to when they were dating or growing up," Hescock said. "They get pretty intense. Some guys come in and are hesitant, but then they get into it."
The Test of Time
Asked how many classes it takes to master the dance, Hescock laughs. "To master?" he asked with a smile. "Or to go out there and have a good time?"
Katz and Boris' teacher Leslie Whitesell said the New York Wedding Dance Studio has choreographed first dances to everything from the "Cinderella" theme, to Motley Crue, to traditional Frank Sinatra songs.
It can be a trying experience, when couples are in the midst of wedding planning. "You have emotional days with couples," Whitesell said. "You go through tough times, but their expectations are usually a lot lower than what they can achieve. They just want to 'get through' the dance, but it turns out beautiful."
Hescock said some couples have odd requests which might not stand the test of time, so the instructors often try to at least tone those impulses down. "If their heart is set on doing something that's kind of crazy, we'll try to make it elegant," he said.
Boris and Katz don't want anything outrageous. They just want a record of how far they've come.
"We figured out how to walk again and how to dance together," said Katz. "And 30 years from now that's what we want to see."