First Dance Crash Course in Chicago
Your Wedding Is in Less than a Month ... What to do for Your First Dance?
Wedding crash courses are right for you if you have limited time to prepare for your first dance (one month or less). At each dance lesson, there are two instructors present, so that each student can learn their part with a professional before trying it with their fiance. By first learning with a professional, each partner reaches a level of competency at a much more accelerated rate.
Crash Course Quick Info:
Each dance lesson is one full hour (you and your fiancé with two instructors)
Lessons can be scheduled Tuesday - Friday from 1-10pm, Saturday from 11am-4pm
Rates range from $160-$185 per hour, depending on the number of hours purchased at a time
Crash Course FAQ
Why are two dance instructors better than one?
If it’s only a few weeks until your wedding, you might be thinking it’s too late to learn how to dance with your fiance. And, honestly, you’re right. It takes time and practice to feel comfortable moving with another person, not to mention, performing in front of an audience! As wedding dance experts, we understand all of the details that go into a) learning to dance and b) performing at your wedding. That’s why even though we know it’s too late to learn how to dance, in a typical sense, it’s not too late to still have an amazing first dance. We created the crash course for couples like you, who don’t have a lot of time, but still want to feel comfortable dancing together in front of their friends and family at their wedding.
The main difference between our regular private wedding dance lessons and crash course lessons is the number of instructors that you’ll work with in each wedding dance session. In a regular private lesson, you and your fiance would work with one instructor over a longer period of time. In a crash course, we have you and your fiance work with two instructors instead. That way, we can expedite the learning process and teach each of you simultaneously. We know that can be hard to envision, so here are some reasons why two instructors are better than one when you don’t have much time to prepare for your first dance:
1) Every time you learn something new, you get to dance with a professional before dancing with your partner.
Dancing with your loved one, especially while preparing for your first dance, is an exciting and fun experience. By first dancing with an instructor and getting feedback immediately, you feel much better taking your partner into your arms and dancing with him or her on the first try.
2) You gain more information at a faster pace, which speeds up the learning process.
When you only have one instructor working with two people, it takes longer to address all of the details that each individual should work on. When you get the chance to work one-on-one with an instructor, you gain more information more quickly. Dancing as a couple is then significantly improved each time you come back together.
3) You don’t have time to create bad habits because you get constant feedback.
When first learning to dance with your partner, it’s easy to form habits that aren’t productive for your improvement. In a crash course, since you have the chance to dance with a professional the majority of the time, all of those habits are addressed immediately, so you know that you are always practicing the correct form.
4) You have the knowledge of two wedding pros instead of one.
In a regular private wedding dance lesson at BDC, you have one very knowledgeable instructor and their experience. So, of course it’s even more beneficial to have the knowledge and experience of two instructors to advise you on your first dance.
5) You can see exactly what you’re trying to accomplish.
When you work with two instructors, they’re able to demonstrate moments of your dance together so you can see the outcome you’re looking to accomplish. Your instructors may even dance side-by-side along with you so you can notice differences and make necessary adjustments.
The bottom line: taking regular private wedding dance lessons over a longer period of time is your best bet. But, we know there are tons of couples out there who want to have a great first dance and only have a few weeks to prepare. If that’s you, you definitely want two instructors in every lesson. Check out our other crash course blogs for more information about how to make the most of your crash course wedding dance lessons.
Do we have to practice outside of our dance lessons?
Have to is a strong phrase, but should you practice outside of lessons? Absolutely! We recommend to all of our students, regardless of how long they have to prepare for their first dance, to practice between lessons. You want to spend more time progressing and less time reviewing in lessons, right? Since you are already pressed for time, the more you can practice your first dance the better.
To put it into perspective, imagine you had to learn some other skill in just a few short weeks- let’s take skateboarding for example. Imagine you are expected to work with a professional skateboarder for 2-6 hours total over a 3 week span, and at the end of those 3 weeks to demonstrate to all of your friends and family what you’ve learned. That’s just 1-3 hours per week that you’re actually working on your skateboarding. If that were the plan, you would probably spend some time practicing at the skate park, right? Dancing is exactly the same. Since it is a physical activity, and you can train your body to do the majority of the movements on autopilot simply by repeating the movements over and over, why wouldn’t you put in some extra time to take some of the stress away from the moment of performance?
When you step onto the dance floor on your wedding day to perform your first dance in front of your family and friends, you don’t want to be focusing on steps and patterns, you want to be focused on the love of your life and be in the moment. The only way to do that is to make the movement second nature. The only way to make the movement second nature is to practice.
Now, let’s also define what we mean by “practice.” Practicing your dancing can include a number of activities:
1) Dancing with your partner
2) Dancing by yourself
3) Listening to your song and imagining yourself dancing
4) Thinking through the steps and concepts you’ve learned
At Ballroom Dance Chicago, we recommend short bursts of practice when you’re preparing for your wedding dance. That means grabbing your fiancé and running through the first dance once or twice a day just to keep everything fluid and fresh in your mind. Especially since you are new to dancing, we do not necessarily recommend long practice sessions without a professional eye, since you are more likely to develop bad habits by spending too much time dwelling on details. Simply go over your steps and concepts that your instructors give you, and you will be set to continue improving! The main goal is to make you feel confident and comfortable doing your first dance on your wedding day, and practicing will undoubtedly help you get there.
The bottom line: yes, you should practice!
Read more about practicing your first dance here.
How do we get the most out of our dance lessons?
Since you don’t have much time to get ready for your first dance, it is important to make the most of each crash course lesson you take. Here are some tips on how to get the most out of your lessons:
1) Practice between your wedding dance lessons (see above)
2) Keep a positive outlook when working on new concepts. It’s easy to feel like you should be improving faster or that dancing should come easy, so it’s important to remind yourself that you are new to this skill and missteps are part of the learning process.
3) Be in the moment without distractions. Leave your cell phone at the coat rack, and, more importantly, leave wedding planning at the door! This is a time for you and your fiancé to take a break from the rest of your day and enjoy time moving together in a beautiful space with people who support you and want you to succeed at your first dance.
4) If you don’t understand something your instructor explains, ask questions or for clarification. Every detail matters and can enlighten more learning and a more successful first dance. If anything feels uncomfortable or you think it could be improved, bring it up in a way that is non-accusatory toward your partner or yourself. Everything is new, so it’s important to be understanding when things are not going exactly as planned.
5) Engage in the learning process and be open to your instructors’ suggestions. Each instructor is there to help you be the best dancer you can be, so make sure to take their expert advice!
6) Be open and honest with your instructor about what you hope to accomplish. Every couple has a different expectation for what they want their first dance to look and feel like. Let your instructors know exactly what it is you envision, regardless of how simple or how crazy it might sound. Your instructor is here to help you have a unique first dance that suits you and your wedding and advise you on how to either achieve or redirect those goals for a successful first dance.
7) Be on time for each lesson. Since you are pressed for time and you only have a few hours to work on your first wedding dance with your instructors, make sure to be on time and ready to dance at the start of the hour.
8) Try not to cancel or reschedule your lessons. Since you are reserving two instructors’ time instead of one, it can be difficult to make changes last minute.
9) Wear shoes similar to your wedding shoes or bring your actual wedding shoes in if you have them. There will be tons of variables on your wedding day, so it’s great to get one out of the way by practicing your dance in the shoes you’ll be performing in. If you’re worried about scuffing them, bring in a pair of old socks that you don’t care about, and we can cut them into shoe-covers for you.
10) Have fun in your lessons! Though learning your first dance is an important process that requires focus, dancing is still supposed to be a fun experience! Don’t take yourself too seriously. If you are able to let go and have fun in your lessons, you’ll be more likely to let go and have fun during your first dance!
11) Practice the emotion of your first dance during the lessons. On your wedding day, when you’re dancing in front of your friends and family, they are looking for smiles, happiness and joy between you and your fiancé. In order to make sure that emotion comes through in your final performance, make sure to practice smiles, warmth and joy throughout the learning process, too! If dancing together brings up fond memories of learning and exploring together, then you’re much more likely to feel good dancing at your wedding.
12) Engage in learning moments and dancing moments. At Ballroom Dance Chicago, we believe there are specific moments for focusing and specific moments for letting go and just dancing. Of course if you were always focused and thinking too hard, you would never look natural. On the other hand, if you just wing it all the time and never think about your technique and form, you would never actually improve. So, when we are working with you in a lesson, we will always designate thinking moments and dancing moments. Make sure to embrace the distinction between the two and make the most of both experiences.
Read more about getting the most our of your first dance lessons here.
Do we need to have a first dance song before we start the crash course?
We live in a world where there is a ton of music to choose from. It might feel overwhelming, especially when you are pressed to make so many other wedding decisions. Keep in mind that the song you choose represents the bond you want to project to all of your wedding guests, and it will remain in your memories for the rest of your lives.
We don’t mean to stress you out with these thoughts, but rather to give meaning to your choice. The truth is, you do not need to have a first dance song picked out before starting your wedding dance lessons. Part of our job as experts in wedding dance is to help you find the song that best suits you, your relationship, and your wedding reception. If you don’t have a first dance song yet, don’t sweat it! Here are some tips to help you get on the right track, so when you speak with us, we can help you find that perfect song (and fast!):
- Agree on the same genre of music, style, or feeling.
What style fits the look and feel of your wedding reception? Is it country, blues, pop, R&B, soul, classic jazz? Does that type of music make you want to get up and dance?
- Gravitate to the lyrics that represent your romantic bond.
Think about the story of your relationship. Were there obstacles you overcame? Maybe an interesting way you met one another? What is the story – your story? Do the lyrics speak to your relationship?
- If you’re not 100% sold on any particular song, bring a few different songs to us that have elements that you like. Maybe the lyrics are great, but the feeling isn’t right. Or, the genre is perfect, but the sentiment doesn’t work. If you let us know a few options that you’re considering, we can then come in and help you with narrowing it down to the perfect one or offering more suggestions of similar songs. It is our expertise to craft a first dance that suits you and your reception, so don’t hesitate to ask us for help!
The bottom line: if you don’t have a song picked out, or if you’re completely lost, don’t worry about it! We’ve got you covered. Simply because you haven’t found the perfect song yet is no reason to avoid doing the first dance all together. Communicate your style to us before we see you for your first lesson, and we’ll have tons of great suggestions ready for you. Just come on in and we’ll pick THE ONE together.
For your help choosing a first dance songs, check out this helpful blog.
I’m a terrible dancer. Is it worth it to take first dance lessons?
We hear “I am a terrible dancer,” “I have two left feet” all the time. And every time we look at their feet it’s a lie: they are usually equipped with one right and one left foot… and, once we start the learning process, they are fantastic students and pick up this new skill very well. The important skill you need to have in learning to dance is openness to giving it a try. It’s not about “having rhythm” being a “natural” or taking lots of dance classes when you were a kid. It’s about being kind to yourself in the learning process and being excited to learn!
The thought about your ability as a dancer is not yours. It is coming from your past, usually from your childhood. Perhaps someone made a remark about your body or the way you moved and that thought imprinted into your subconscious mind. Perhaps you saw someone else looking awkward on the dance floor and you’re afraid to look like them. It’s easy to let a message you’ve told yourself all your life to influence your creativity, joy, and fun of moving with your loved one and have a magnificent first wedding dance.
Here at Ballroom Dance Chicago, we believe that every single student is a great dancer. The limiting thought in your mind is just a thought and it can be changed and replaced with a more resourceful, positive and productive thought. You can simply decide that you are a great dancer and start repeating it to yourself many times a day until it becomes a new belief that will serve you, your partner, your first wedding dance and your romantic relationship. Just imagine what changing one little negative thought could do to your life, romance, relationship and personal development. We dare you to be brave and dare to believe you are a great dancer!
When it comes to a fear of dancing or a belief that you are not good enough, remember that your mind believes all the thoughts you are ruminating on, and you have control to change that. Whatever you think is perceived as an absolute truth. So if you think “I am a terrible dancer”, your mind will put work into proving that it is the truth. And, yes, today you might not be a good dancer but it doesn’t mean you will be stuck in this reality forever. You can begin the change today. Here are some simple steps you can start doing today to manifest the most fabulous first wedding dance performance you deserve:
- Eliminate all absolute, big, negative words from your self-talk. Stop thinking “I can’t”
- Start thinking the “I can” thoughts. It is especially effective if you think your “I can” thoughts first thing in the morning as soon as you wake up but still in bed, and also last thing before you are going to sleep at night. Practice affirmations like “I am a great dancer,” ” I enjoy dancing together with my partner,” “We move great together,” “We are enjoying practicing our wedding dance together.”
- Along with your affirmations, start visualizing your first wedding dance. If you have trouble imagining yourself dancing, you can start browsing Youtube for first dance performances, flip pages of magazines looking for the images with people dancing and having fun. The more you imagine you and your fiance dancing beautifully, the more likely it is to happen.
We have seen people terrified about stepping on the dance floor and in fact most students are a little nervous at their first dance lesson, so you are not alone. But, with a little kindness and openness to themselves and the process of learning, plus our expertise, they all have an unexpectedly enjoyable time with us and walk out the door feeling confident and prepared. If they could do it, you can too. We believe in you! Now it is your time to believe in yourself.
The bottom line:
If you feel that you are a bad dancer, it is even MORE worth it to take dance lessons. You may believe you are a lost cause on the dance floor, but that’s just a thought, a belief. We have the tools to help you overcome that belief and become a great dancer. Even if you’re pressed for time, some assistance is better than none, so don’t hesitate to come in and give it a try!
Read more about taking dance lessons, especially if you think you’re a terrible dancer, here.
What if we can only take dance lessons the week of the wedding because we're coming from out of town?
You’ve spent months or maybe even years planning for your big day, and it’s finally almost here- it’s next weekend! You’ve thought of every single detail from the perfect mixture of flowers to the perfect entertainment and everything in between. But, you forgot to take dance lessons… With only a week to go it seems pretty unrealistic that you’ll suddenly be able to walk out onto the dance floor with complete confidence and ease. And honestly, you’re right! Learning to dance and having a successful first dance takes time and practice, but that doesn’t mean squeezing in a few hours of lessons and practice this week won’t be worth the time and money.
Imagine you’ve never really cooked before and you’re expected to host Thanksgiving dinner for your family this year. You may have tried dabbling a bit in the kitchen, but all of your efforts have been pretty mediocre if not downright terrible, and Thanksgiving is in 7 days! Your fiance suggests that you go take a group BYOB cooking class together just to learn a few tips a few days before Thanksgiving. If you really want to impress your guests, you would totally take that cooking class! Plus, maybe even do a practice run of the stuffing and pie the weekend before to try it out, watch Youtube videos about cooking and read some recipes. You wouldn’t just go in blindly on Thanksgiving and hope for the best, right? You know you’re not a great chef, so why not get just a little bit of guidance from the pros and give yourself some time to practice? You probably would have felt more confident if you had been preparing since last Thanksgiving, but that won’t discourage you from putting your best foot forward and trying your best to prepare an amazing meal for your family. Preparing for your first dance is very similar. Though we recommend starting your lessons as soon as possible, working on your first dance even for just one week is better than nothing. Typically, when a couple is concerned about having too little time to prepare, it’s because:
- They think they’ll look even more stiff or awkward after just a few lessons
- They think they won’t learn anything and it will be a waste of time
- They want an incredible, mind-blowing first dance with tons of choreography, and that seems like an unrealistic goal
All of these concerns are valid, but they are misconceptions about what it means to learn to dance or how a first wedding dance is crafted.
If you are concerned that you will look even more stiff or awkward from working on your dance for just one week, that makes sense! When your body is first getting used to new movements, it’s often mechanical or robotic feeling, simply because you’re not used to it yet. That’s why if you only have one week to prepare, we don’t throw tons of complex steps and patterns at you, but rather, we work on the fundamentals of leading and following to make your movement together look smooth and organic. No one becomes a ballroom dancer in one week, and we don’t expect you to perform a ballroom dance for your first wedding dance. Simply grooving with your partner in a more organized fashion, maybe with a little spin or a dip is all we’re looking for when we have that little time to prepare. So, will you look even more stiff or awkward after taking dance class for one week? Of course not! Our goal is to get you feeling more fluid, not more stiff. If you look more stiff, that’s because we failed as teachers; there’s a reason we’re the top-rated dance studio in Chicago.
If you are concerned that it would be a waste of time to start learning so late in the game, that makes sense, too! It can seem like if you only spend a few hours working on something, there is no way you would retain that information. But, that’s why we keep the first dance simple and work mostly on repetition and smoothing out simple movements rather than loading on tons of information. It may seem like you wouldn’t retain much information, but we ensure that the important stuff sticks and you can step onto the dance floor with confidence. Think back to when you would study for tests in college. Most people spend the week leading up the test cramming, and as long as they practice the right information in the right way, they can put their best foot forward and ace the test! That’s essentially what taking dance lessons right before your wedding would feel like.
If you are concerned that you won’t be able to accomplish your original goal, you might be right. Often, couples who have little time to prepare come to us with pretty lofty goals. Some couples want a fully choreographed dance or they want their first dance to involve lots of spins, dips, and complex traveling patterns. If you have never danced before the week leading up to your wedding, those types of goals are simply unattainable. However, even if you can’t achieve your original goal because of the time constraint, there’s no reason to write off the first dance entirely! You can still have a beautiful, enjoyable first dance, and your guests will never know the difference. Of course you would feel better heading out to the floor with some knowledge of how to look graceful and fluid, especially if you originally set out to have full choreography.
How long should our first dance be?
Regardless of how impressive a first dance is, it should always be about 2-3 minutes. Here are some things to keep in mind when deciding how long your first dance should be:
You still have options:
We understand that most songs are three to four minutes, but your DJ/band is able to cut the song or fade out at a specific time, so you don’t necessarily need to limit your options to only songs that are under three minutes. Choose that song that best suits you and we can help you decide what parts you should keep and what parts you should cut.
Think about your guests:
It’s important to keep your first dance under three minutes because people (especially tipsy, hungry people) have very short attention spans. Think about how long you’re willing to watch a video on youtube before you get bored or want to move on, regardless of how entertaining the video might be. It is similar with the first dance- if it’s too long, you simply lose your crowd’s interest. If you have limited time to prepare your first dance, and it will likely be fairly simple, it is even more important to keep the first dance short and sweet.
Think about yourselves:
If you are taking the wedding crash course, you’ve had little time to prepare your first dance and reach a point of comfort and confidence. Dancing, especially in front of a crowd, is a new endeavor for you and your fiancé. Give yourselves a break and take as much pressure off of the first dance as you can. By limiting your song to two minutes, you alleviate a lot of pressure to perform for an extended period of time.
I don’t want to look stiff. Do you only teach traditional ballroom dance?
Couples preparing for their first wedding dance often come to us with two concerns:
“I don’t want to fall down” and
“I don’t want to look stiff”
First of all, we can definitely assure you that you won’t fall down- how often do you really fall down in your day to day life? But, we do understand where that concern comes from. Your body isn’t used to these new movements. You picture yourselves learning spins and dips that would normally make you feel off balance. Add in a big dress and high heels, and that seems like a recipe for disaster! That’s why taking dance lessons is so important, especially when you plan to dance in front of a crowd of people, even if you can only fit a few crash course sessions in before the big day. We can show you the proper techniques for those spins and dips that would typically knock you off balance or feel uncomfortable so that you’re ready to execute the fun stuff without the fear of falling over.
We also understand that most couples who have limited time to prepare for their first dance are concerned that they’ll end up with a stiff, stuffy wedding dance that doesn’t “look like them.” Our goal is to give you a first dance that expresses who you are, your relationship, and your wedding reception, regardless of the amount of time we have to prepare. Though we are called Ballroom Dance Chicago, we teach much more than ballroom dance. We promise we won’t push you into a strict Waltz pattern or formal dance frame if that’s not you! We also teach a lot of improvisational partner dancing that looks great for a relaxed, natural first dance. Rather than forcing our students into a mold of what dancing “should” be, we find movements that are natural for them and work on creating the dance from there.
When students come to us with limited time to prepare for their wedding, the first thing we do before hitting the dance floor is get to know them. We sit on the couch and chat about details of your wedding, the types of music you enjoy, how you envision yourselves dancing at your wedding, etc. Once we have a feeling for what styles of dance would work well for your song, your reception, and your personalities, we are inspired to show you how to dance in a way that suits you. As wedding dance experts, we have tons of ideas that will work well for you, and we’re ready to share them with you! However, we also want your feedback every step of the way. This process is a collaboration between you and all of our instructors. We work together as a team to come up with great ideas to bring to you, and you have complete say about whether or not you like those ideas. If something feels too stiff, too spinny, too boring, too showy, or too anything, we either figure out how to rework what we’re doing or we just change it to suit what you’re looking for. Your wedding is all about you and so is your first dance!
The bottom line: we are the top-rated wedding dance studio in Chicago because we help our students feel confident, not stiff and awkward. If you take our advice to heart, you’ll be no different from all of our successful wedding dance students!
Can I expect to have a fully choreographed first dance from the crash course? Should we choreograph it?
Choreography can mean a variety of different things. At Ballroom Dance Chicago, we see “choreography” broken up into three main categories: full choreography, partial choreography, and patterned.
If you compare learning a dance to writing a speech, think of this option as the “completely scripted” option: you’ve considered every word that you’re going to use, how those words flow together, and the tone in which you’re going to speak. It’s very similar in learning a fully choreographed dance: every moment of the song is planned with specific, detailed movements that are coordinated specifically in relation to the dynamics of the song.
If we continue with our speech writing metaphor, think of this as a speech planned out on notecards: you know what points you have to hit, but let yourself explore the topic in between those points. In a partially choreographed dance, you’ll have a general outline of the dance with room for improvisation. We will look at certain moments of the song to “highlight” and create movements that express those moments.
In this version of speech writing, you’re pretty well versed on the topic, you’ve given a few presentations about it before, but you’re performing without a concrete idea of what you might say next. For dance purposes, we develop a “go-to” series of movements that have been rehearsed throughout the learning process – these are like catch-phrases. These patterns do not necessarily coincide with any specific moments in the song, but instead are universally useable throughout.
The choice to choreograph or not to choreograph is often determined by a few factors:
The amount of time a couple has to prepare for their first dance
How complex they would like the first dance to be.
What option makes them feel the most comfortable
For couples who have a month or less to prepare, we recommend staying away from full choreography, simply because it takes more time to learn the movement and then execute the movement at very specific moments in the song. Depending on how quickly you are able to pick up the movement, we are sometimes able to do a partial choreography, selecting certain moments of the song to highlight. However, if you are coming in with two weeks or less leading up the wedding, focusing on leading and following and feeling comfortable with some basic patterns is the way to go!
Learn more about first dance choreography here.
Can we take a crash course at either of your locations?
Both our Lakeview studio and West Loop loft are great spaces for a wedding dance crash course. Depending on what day/time you can come and what your plans are afterwards, you might consider making your dance lessons part of a date night. If that’s the case, the West Loop location is ideal because we are neighbors to some of the hottest restaurants in Chicago.
Why don’t other dance studios offer a first dance crash course?
Let’s look briefly at where the idea of a 2-instructor crash course originated. Way back when, Ballroom Dance Chicago was getting an increasing amount of inquiries from couples with very little time left to prepare for the wedding. While we wished they had contacted us sooner, we pushed forward in the usual fashion with a “better late than never” mentality. We had the couples come in and take standard private lessons with just one instructor for the duration of their very short time frame, and found ourselves wishing that we could have accomplished more with those students.
And that’s when the Crash Course was born!
At Ballroom Dance Chicago, we are constantly examining what we can do to improve our services and how we help our students achieve their goals. We had identified the problem: students couldn’t progress as quickly as we hoped given their short time frame. So, we came up with a solution. We began offering lessons with two instructors present so that each partner could learn their part simultaneously with a professional. We’ve found that this greatly expedites the learning process, allowing each partner to get more details and feel more comfortable dancing.
Honestly, we’re not sure why other studios don’t offer this service. It’s likely because having two instructors planning and teaching lessons together requires a heightened sense of communication and cohesiveness between instructors, which other studios often lack. Because all of our staff is full time, we’re able to seamlessly plan and lead crash courses together, collaborating on your vision with the teaching power of two instructors.
Additionally, when a student seeks out wedding instruction so close to their big day, it’s easy for the instructor to brush off shortcomings as a “not enough time” problem. An instructor can easily say, “Well, the couple didn’t come to me soon enough, so of course they had a bad first dance!” At Ballroom Dance Chicago, we want everyone leaving our studio headed for their wedding to feel like confident dancers, whether they were able to spend one hour or 100 hours with us. We know what it takes to make a great first dance, and we’re dedicated to helping each couple achieve that, regardless of their timeline.
To read more about first dance lessons, check out our wedding dance page.
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Banner Image: Krystal Mitchell