Sunday, August 8, 2010

How to Select a Dance Studio/Instructor

We have couples and event planners who call us from all over the country asking us for advice on selecting an instructor for the most memorable dance of their lives. Their inquiries inspired us to write this article. So here are 8 ways to pick a wedding dance teacher:


1. Know the difference between a generalist and a specialist. In an unregulated industry such as dancing and wedding planning, just because someone calls oneself an expert or specialist doesn't mean they actually are and just because someone is a champion competitor doesn't mean they can teach beginners effectively. There is a huge difference between a a generic studio who slaps up a pink website with stock images of brides and grooms and then advertises on wedding sites that they are wedding dance experts versus a company whose bread and butter is engaged couples, has years of experience primarily serving that clientele and is keenly focused on addressing their needs. It's the difference between a general physician and a cardiac surgeon. One is a generalist the other is a specialist. One way to evaluate a service provider is to see if they are addressing your specific goals. One of the problems with a standard dance studio or instructor is that they view wedding couples as "lost leads." This is because the wedding couple has a short term goal - - the wedding, which does not usually lead them to take very many lessons. Keep these facts in mind when you call or go into a studio and especially if they try to upsell you. Unfortunately your wedding insurance won't cover dance malpractice...So choose carefully!

1) "FREE" lessons: You get what you pay for! Most "free lessons" at dance studios are a lure to get you in the door. Much of the lesson is spent convincing you of the benefits of dance as a lifetime hobby and reviewing lengthy and expensive packages for after your wedding. The free lesson’s emphasis is not actually on learning to dance but rather on selling you more lessons and since the first one was "FREE" the rest of the lessons will have to be more expensive or shorter in duration than other studios to cover the initial loss. Plus, you should factor in how much your and your fiance's time is worth. There is nothing that can't be answered over the phone, by email or online that requires a trial visit. Especially if you are just looking for a short crash course. It costs a dance studio thousands of dollars to create a dance instructor, promote their business and cover expenses. Therefore, studios do not give away QUALITY private lessons for free. Certainly DO NOT expect to receive a complete routine in one FREE trial lesson. In fact, it is rare to find any studio that will GUARANTEE a complete wedding dance routine in one lesson. We were the first!


2) One dance style versus a variety: The Wedding Dance Specialists leaves the decision of how many dances to learn up to you-the client! Most wedding couples are on a tight schedule and limited budget, they want to focus their attention on feeling comfortable for their first dance in front of their guests. In contrast, general dance studios may discourage students from studying only one dance for various reasons (primarily the bottom line). Complicating a small program (3-5 lessons) with additional dances may result in needing to purchase more lessons and cause a sense of confusion and discomfort on your big day. Feeling comfortable with new dance material generally requires about 5 hours. Depending on your skill and comfort level,it’s O.K. to reevaluate your progress and comfort level after the third or fourth lesson to consider learning the very basics of a second dance but be wary of teachers too insistent on focusing on more than one dance from the onset.


3) Experience of the instructor: Since wedding couples generally purchase small packages (less than 25) many studios have their most inexperienced instructors teach the wedding couples. Our instructors have been specially trained for the unique needs of wedding couples and are all competition or performance level dancers. Dance lessons are as important as any other service you might hire for your wedding. You have every right to ask how long your instructor has been teaching. Would you want to hire a chauffeur who just moved to the area, got his license last week and has never driven the limo before?


4) Flexibility in package options: Be wary of studios who insist you cannot benefit from just one lesson or worse do not allow you to purchase only one lesson!  Even one lesson with the right instructor can show remarkable results. Some students time or budget do not allow for more than one lesson. We understand this and are flexible. We GUARANTEE that you can look and feel more elegant on the dance-floor with ONE lesson compared to just trying to “wing it.”. The Wedding Dance Specialists cater to the unique needs of wedding couples. We created this niche in the metro/DC area years ago because we saw a need was not being met. A couple years after our inception, we have been flattered by those attempting to imitate us. Your wedding dance preparation can be the most relaxing and romantic aspect of your wedding planning process IF you have the right instructor! We encourage you to do your research and compare!


5) The Teacher: The personality, demeanor, image, teaching style are all important factors to consider when selecting a dance teacher.  Just because they are good dancers does not guarantee that they will be good teachers. The teacher must genuinely enjoy working with beginners and ideally have compassion and understanding of the unique pressures that wedding planning involves. Our staff also stay abreast of the wedding industry by reading our two complimentary online newsletters called "Wedding Dance 411" and "Marriage 411" which provide professional planning advice, resources and we have negotiated exclusive vendor discounts on your behalf! We hope you'll read it and benefit too!


6) Price: The rate an amateur dancer can expect to pay for a professional private lesson can range anywhere between $65 - $140 per lesson depending on where you live, what type of facility is hosting the lessons, the length of the lessons, the quality of the instruction and specific services provided. There are studios that require you to purchase a package combination of privates, groups and practice parties. If you do not realistically think you will be using those services then subtract out the value of the group ($15 per group) and the value of the party ($10 per party) and then you will have a realistic idea of how much you are actually paying for a private lesson. 


7) The Duration of the lesson: Lessons that are lower in price but also shorter in duration often end up costing the exact same or even more than lessons that are higher per lesson but longer in duration. The actual cost per minute of instruction may come out even in the wash and the longer lessons will save you a lot of extra commuting time and avoid you having to reserve extra studio visits in your busy wedding planning calendar. Lessons range from :40 - :55 mins. Generally it is better to find a studio that offers :55 min lessons. If you calculate in all your wasted time, the shorter and "cheaper" lessons may actually cost you more in the long run. Also remember four :55 minute private lessons are equivalent to five :45 minute lessons.

8.) The studio's/instructor focus: Does the entire studio or independent instructor exclusively focus on engaged couples 99% of the time or 10% of the time? If it is not at least 70% of the time chances are high you business is just "filler income" to them. That means they just throw up an ad during the busy season for weddings and siphon off the business from clients who didn't fully research their options. Also generic studios tend to give their most inexperienced teachers (now dubbed wedding dance specialists) their wedding couples since they consider them "lost leads" anyway. It takes a certain type of teacher who truly has a passion for weddings and for teaching beginners to be a wedding dance specialist. Even prestigious high ranking national champion dance competitors have tried and failed.


9. Can he/she work with your song? The vast majority of First Dance songs are very slow love ballads. They are not used in ballroom dancesport competitions because their tempos cannot be easily categorized. Many of these songs do not work well with the traditional ballroom dance tempos for typical dances like Fox Trot, Waltz or Rumba. So what do you do in those sticky situations? Plus if you are taking a crash course and your song does fit into a typical ballroom style, the basic curriculum is not particularly dynamic and photogenic to maximize the best poses for your photography and videography. So what do you do? This is where a specialist can help. We suggest you ask the instructor to demonstrate the whole routine at the beginning of the lesson with the bride so you can see the big picture perspective of what you are about to learn.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Unique Wedding Ideas

I came across a bride's post online asking for unique ideas for her wedding. I suggested a creative First Dance instead of the usual high school prom sway. My husband and I wanted to demonstrate our unity and teamwork and passion for each other by dazzling everyone with our First Dance. We feel the First Dance is the most sentimental and indispensible moment of the reception. With a little preparation it can also be the most memorable moment! So we changed into Tango costumes and performed a sultry Argentine Tango routine with a live guitarist and Julio Iglesias sountrack to "A Media Luz" in Spanish. (the lyrics - about a mysterious and sensual mood) were translated on the back page our ceremony program). The Argentine Tango was my husband's idea and reminiscent of the surprise date he took me on to see amazing Tango show on Broadway in NYC. It made for amazing pictures and really set the tone for the rest of the evening which was "Dancing and Romancing" all night for all of our guests! Looking back, we had lots of other unique touches but THE FIRST DANCE takes the cake! video