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Save Me the Waltz

Our friends had prenuptial counseling. Casey and I had dance lessons.


It was the Year of Weddings-a reception whirlwind comparable only to bar mitzvah season back in seventh grade. With nine weddings to get through before our own November date, we'd be off to St. Paul one weekend, San Francisco the next. And, like at those sweaty-palmed preteen affairs, there was no getting around the main event-the dance floor. To distract from our inability to mature beyond the clutch-and-sway, Casey and I took up our own unique routine, clowning our way through "It Had to Be You" and "Fly Me to the Moon." Yet the truth was apparent: We really wanted to dance together, only we didn't know how.

Playing the fools at our friends' weddings was one thing, but it would be quite another at our own. And lately, our impending first dance wasn't the only challenge we were facing. With plans for our wedding in full swing, petty spats suddenly were loaded with the promise of "forever." Casey's argument that an entire Sunday spent with ESPN was akin to watching history in the making could prompt me to wish them a happy life together, and my insistence on reading in bed with the light on while he tried to fall asleep could easily ignite a fervid light-switch war.

The situation had become mildly desperate by the time we arrived at DanceSport, a ballroom studio on the Upper West Side. Not ready to brave dancing among other people, we had signed up for private lessons. At the mere sight of a group class-twelve couples, bodies bouncing, hands flying-Casey froze like a deer in headlights.

Enter our good-natured coach, Amy Garcia Phillips.

A petite blonde flashing an encouraging first-day-of-school smile, she sized us up on sight, asked if we had picked out a song (we hadn't), and beckoned us to follow her upstairs.

"Just so you know," I whispered in her ear when Casey stopped for a drink at the water fountain, "he has no rhythm." A small part of me figured that I was a diamond in the rough; it was my fiancÚ who needed work.

As it turned out, Casey was the natural.

Amy started us off with a fox-trot. "Slow-slow-quick-quick," she chanted, as we attempted to dance our way down a long wall of mirrors.

"You're going to knock me over," I whimpered.

"Let him lead," Amy shouted, still clapping her hands to the beat. "When he steps forward, you step back." Then, stopping our efforts mid-step, she said, "Here, let me show you." Moving aside, I watched as Amy and Casey glided across the room, lightly, effortlessly. Suddenly, I was embarrassed by the remark I had made earlier. Okay, so I'll let him lead.

At the end of class, our eyes were still glued to the floor, but we were enjoying ourselves. We bought a whole package of lessons and walked the mile home, rehashing what we had learned and stretching the unexpected date by sharing a bottle of wine when we got back to our apartment. Quickly, this became a habit. Casey and I savored the time together after dance class, doing what we pleased with it, whether that meant peering into the lit windows of brownstones and imagining our lives in them, picking out a honeymoon destination, or paring down the guest list for our wedding.

Meanwhile, Amy continued to work her magic on the dance floor, breaking me of my need to control the situation and reminding Casey to have fun: "Smile, Casey! Look up! This isn't a football game!" Eventually, we graduated from fox-trot to swing, where my fiancÚ proudly mastered his signature move, a swift around-the-waist windmill to a man's hand change. Sure, sometimes we'd get stuck; a new move gone wrong could find both of us pointing a finger at the other. But we lightened up quickly for the sake of the dance. And as our dancing improved, our fights became fewer.

We continued our classes into the fall, and I thought we were getting pretty good; Amy agreed. Stealthily, she and I began campaigning for a choreographed first dance. I really don't know what convinced Casey in the end-maybe he was getting more confident in his abilities, or we were gaining more confidence as partners. Whatever it was, Amy created a routine for us and we signed on for more lessons.

Looking back, the final weeks leading up to our wedding remind me of every cheesy dance movie out there-the part where the soundtrack comes on, and the couple rehearses, and sweats, and fights, and kisses, and makes up, in a montage of mini-dramas before the climactic dance-off. But the truth is, I'd be riding the subway to work, headphones on, tapping out our routine with my feet.

We'd chosen Nat King Cole's "L-O-V-E" simply because we liked dancing to it. "L is for the way you. " I'd bob my head to the beat. "O is for the only one I see. " Time was ticking, and there were parts of the dance that we still couldn't stick. "V is very, very extraordinary. " It didn't help that Amy had included two sections of swing, a special kick for Casey, and the Charleston! "E is even more than anyone that you adore . . . "

I'll spare the step-by-step account of our first dance, except to say that it was sensational. In fact, we've since become one of those shameless couples at other people's weddings, out on the dance floor for every number. At my sister's wedding, I famously lost a very pretty heel during a rousing round of the hustle. At a reception in Minot, North Dakota, my husband had us two-stepping all across the floor. But, even more important than mastering the fox-trot and the waltz, Casey and I learned that sometimes it helps to push away the distractions of our busy lives, turn off the television, and turn up the music. When Casey takes a step forward, I know to take a step back. When we lose our footing, we recover quickly. When he spins me out, I know that we'll always come back together again.

From the Fall 2005 New York Wedding Guide

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