Same-sex wedding dance tips from a pro

LGBTQ+ It's a beautiful moment when a newly married couple takes to the floor for the first time. But it can be nervewracking and daunting for those with a few steps under their belt, let alone those of us with two left feet!

It doesn't help that dance sometimes feels like a hetero world. Sure, so Strictly will, allegedly, have same-sex pairings before too long, but same-sex dance partners are still a not-too-usual sight. This lack of visibility is just one of the reasons that some same-sex couples may shy away from a first dance at their wedding.

And shying away with something you want sucks, dear readers, and you deserve so much more! Therefore I wanted to ask a dance expert how any couple, including those who don't match a 1950s cake topper, can incorporate a kick-ass dance happily and comfortably.

'Remember, guests aren’t sat watching your technique and footwork, unless you’ve got Len Goodman there!'
To help you make a decision, I met up with Nic James, professional wedding choreographer and Director of Dance at Your Wedding, to talk about all things first dance.

Nic has been creating and teaching first dances to couples for over ten years, so he has a ton of insight and experience. Over a cuppa, I picked his brains on the matter of the same-sex wedding dances.

So, Nic, how did you find yourself in the world of dance tuition?

My background is in performing arts and I learned to dance along the way.

I fell into Ballroom dance while living in Australia and spent a couple of years teaching all sorts of partner dances for a studio in Melbourne. It was here that I began to teach wedding couples and found that I really enjoyed the creativity involved in choreographing bespoke wedding dances.

Do you see many same-sex couples seeking help with their first dance?

Sadly, not at present. I think one of the reasons could be the need to come out to yet another wedding vendor, the fear of approaching a teacher whom you’re not sure is open to / able to work on a dance for a same-sex couple.

The other thing that might be off-putting is that traditionally, definitely with ballroom dancing, it’s very traditionally a ‘leader’ and a ‘follower’ that make up the dance and culturally we may be conditioned to think of these roles as male and female respectively.

This is possibly why same-sex couples may struggle to feel at home when planning their first dance. If you and your partner don’t have the option of falling into these default traditional roles by way of gender, how do you decide which of you works best as the leader and which is better suited to the follower role?

What if couples want to avoid making that decision altogether?

Ballroom dancing is the typical leader-follower style that many of us think about when contemplating a first dance, and it has a ‘frame’ that is held by the leader that the follower ‘sits’ onto.

That frame is there in foxtrot, quickstep, waltzes, etc. To avoid the roles, couples could opt to dance a salsa or the Charleston, or could simply dance any couples’ dance simply holding hands instead of dancing in a traditional hold.

These options are less about roles and more about two individuals doing the same moves, so they might appeal to those looking for a gender-neutral wedding dance.

If you wanted to do a dance that needed a leader and follower, could you change who leads halfway through?

Yes, you could, but it might be difficult to mentally and physically switch from one to the other. In the frame itself, the leader is carrying the shape of the frame and then the follower sits their frame on top.

Newcomers to dance can interpret the follower role as passive, but it’s not the case at all as the follower works just as hard to be responsive and on the ball, matching the leader’s movements; they work every bit as hard as the leader.

Do you think things will change in the traditional dance world any time soon?

It’s still very traditional. In my previous teaching jobs, studio etiquette didn’t really encourage a male instructor demonstrating a move by dancing with another male instructor, even if it was the most practical and logical thing to do at that moment (and some of the other instructors were gay anyway!).

It’s just the way it’s always been. It’s an industry full of people of all sexualities and genders, but the dance formations themselves are still the traditional ones and the vast majority of professional couples are male-female. But then that’s in professional circles, so it’s not something wedding couples have to worry about! It’s just interesting that it’s still the way it is.

The irony is that, with straight couples, you probably find yourself teaching leaders who aren’t natural leaders all the time – is that a fair?

Absolutely, and followers who ‘back-lead’ too! It’s a learning curve for every couple, which is something that’s important to remember. There’s a sense of a lot of pressure, a lot of eyes on you, but all couples are in the same boat.

Whatever their style, how would a same-sex couple find their perfect wedding dance choreographer?

There are lots of wedding dance companies, especially in London, where I’m based, and it can be a challenge finding the right one. Obviously, location is important, and also price.

Some teachers are inexperienced so it’s important to research your teacher to ensure they have an extensive knowledge of partner dance, and that they have some good recommendations and testimonials.

To my knowledge, there aren’t any wedding dance companies that specialise in same-sex wedding dances… not that that’s important so long as whoever you hire welcomes everyone and is willing to listen to you – though I appreciate couples may be more comfortable finding a teacher that promotes themselves to be gay-friendly or experienced in teaching same-sex couples.

When a couple is finally on that dance floor and the intro plays, what should they remember? Any tips?

The most important piece of advice I would give is to stand tall and smile. Guests aren’t sat watching your technique and footwork, unless you’ve got Len Goodman there!

It’s important to remember that it’s not a floorshow that you are performing to an audience (unless you want it to be, that is), but your first dance together to mark the start of your matrimony. But if you impress your guests in the process, that’s great!

Are you taking to the floor on your big day? How did you decide if, and how, to dance? Are you taking lessons or making it up and watching the odd YouTube tutorial? Check in below.

Tags: dancing, same-sex, advice, planning, first dance

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