Southern Gentleman

Dance Like Everyone
is Watching

By Jason Frye  |  Photography courtesy of backyardballroom.com

The first step to a happy marriage might just begin on the dance floor at your wedding.

My wedding day was gorgeous. A perfect October day on the coast of North Carolina. Blue skies, photogenic clouds on the horizon, nary a hurricane in sight. We had our ceremony – short and sweet – and a cocktail hour – just enough time for one sip and 100 photos – then our introduction and first dance.

Oh, that dance. As a former middle school teacher, I can say with certainty that I’ve seen better moves in a gym decorated with crepe paper and one too many dark corners than anyone witnessed in Southport, N.C., on Oct. 20, 2006.

My wife and I, we dance at Phish shows. If you don’t know Phish, think Grateful Dead with fewer tie-dyes; think The Allman Brothers with sillier lyrics; think 10,000 people dancing like those giant blow-up noodle things that car lots use to try to get you to stop in for a test drive.

That’s what I look like when I dance: a windsock puppet flailing in the breeze, following no particular rhythm or rhyme or tempo, just moving for the sake of moving.

Frankly it’s embarrassing. Oh, it’s freeing when you’re in the crowd at a concert and the lights and music conspire to whip everyone into an ecstatic frenzy, but to dance like this at your wedding? No bueno.

Let’s just say that if I had decided to whip out some Phish moves for our first dance there’d have been no honeymoon.

That’s not to say we didn’t try to learn to dance. We did. But 20 minutes into our complimentary one-hour intro session at Babs McDance, my wife-to-be and I both knew that we’d be doing the eighth-grade shuffle in front of 100 of our nearest and dearest; we decided to be fine with that.

So, when Bob Dylan’s “Bye and Bye” played, we assumed the center of the dance floor and attempted a simple box step. Which we managed until the first chorus. That’s where things fell apart. We lost count. Blushed. Kissed. And scooted close – so close my eighth-grade teacher self would’ve slid onto the dance floor and politely reminded us to leave a little daylight between each other – and began to Franken-shuffle.

You know the move. You’ve done the move. Her hands on your shoulder, or, scandalously, clasped loosely behind your neck. Your hands on her waist, or, if you’re feeling your oats, on her hips, or, if you’re hopeful things are going to go that way later, hands on her lower back, pulling her so close she could count your pocket change with her hip.

Through all of this, your feet barely move. Essentially you lean to the left, lift your right foot ever so slightly, reset your right foot and repeat on the other side. Advanced shufflers might attempt a glacially-slow turn. Which we did.

In the months building up to the wedding a friend attempted to teach us to Shag, but the silky smooth six-step was too much for us to handle. We tried a Foxtrot and a Waltz to no avail. And in the middle of it all, the videos of coordinated dances – wedding parties doing the Thriller dance down the aisle, couples reenacting whole choreographies from movies and music videos as they made their entrance, father-daughter dances that showed signs of professional ballroom dancers in someone’s family tree – emerged.

We watched a ton of these videos. We laughed at a few. We stared in awe at others. We agreed that this was not for us.

In the years since our wedding, I’ve come to regret not learning to dance, not learning at least one set of steps that I could do with my wife and make the whole world disappear for the length of a song.

I’ve seen Shag dancers in North and South Carolina disappear into a melody and dazzle onlookers. I’ve stood by in bars in Louisiana while a zydeco band plays and the dance floor is awhirl. In Texas and Wyoming, I’ve watched cowboys take their ladies’ hands and lead them in nimble steps or hold them close when the tempo calls for it. In Chile and Peru and France and The Netherlands, I’ve stayed off the dance floor and left room for hip-shaking, quick-stepping, silly and sensual dancers and wished I had the confidence or the moves to match theirs.

So, Southern Gentlemen and Gentleladies, if there’s one piece of wedding advice I can give you it’s not about how to live in bliss or how to make things last – those answers are yours to figure out – it’s this: learn to dance, and on your wedding day, do it well. And every anniversary thereafter, every moment you’re standing in the kitchen making dinner and your song comes on, grab your partner and dance.

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