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Wedding Moves

Dance Lessons for Those with Two Left Feet


For many brides and grooms, the first wedding dance is a terrifying prospect: They’ve just survived the most nerve-wracking — if most joyous — experience of their lives, gulped down a glass or two of champagne, and endured the blinding pop of the photographer’s flash, and now they have to get up in front of big brothers, work colleagues, and old friends, and … dance? Poor things.

It’s a crying shame if the first dance fills you both with fear instead of pride and tender love, but it doesn’t have to be a trial. “The key is to start early,” said Sylvia Sykes, longtime swing dance instructor of Jonathan and Sylvia fame. Sylvia and her dance partner, Jonathan Bixby, have won awards in national dance contests and have been offering social dance classes in Santa Barbara for nearly 30 years. They specialize in teaching absolute beginners, and despite their background, they say the goal is to relax and have a good time, not win a competition.

Jonathan and Sylvia often give private lessons to brides- and grooms-to-be, and sometimes even the rest of the wedding party. They tailor their classes to the couple’s style and ability level, and emphasize confidence-building and fun. As far as Jonathan is concerned, three or four one-hour lessons about a month before the wedding should do it, with a quick brushup shortly before the big day. “It’s great when guys come in saying, ‘There’s no way I can do this, I can’t dance,’ and they leave loving it,” Sylvia said. Jonathan agreed. “Most men are never really given a chance to get into dancing,” he said. “Once they get a taste of it, you can’t get them to stop.”

Jonathan and Sylvia’s main piece of advice is to select a song for the first dance and bring it to your first dance lesson, so you can begin getting used to moving to the music you know you’ll use. By the time the real thing rolls around, dancing to that tune will be second nature.

So get on the phone and book yourself a few private lessons with the dance instructor of your choice. A few hours spent in the hands of professionals, and you’ll be dancing your wedding night away as Mrs. and Mr. Smooth Moves.

Jonathan and Sylvia These longtime, legendary Santa Barbara swing dance instructors tailor their private sessions to suit the couple’s style, choice of music, and ability level. Visit jonathanandsylvia.com or call 569-1952.

Arthur Murray Dance Studio Part of a dance studio franchise, the Santa Barbara studio offers private lessons in virtually every form of couples dancing imaginable, and aims for a polished and graceful performance. Visit dancestudios.com or call 963-6658.

Santa Barbara Dance Center Formerly known as A Fascinating Rhythm Dance Center, SBDC offers private and group instruction in a variety of styles. Visit afrsb.com or call 899-2901.

Nigel’s Dance A former ballroom dance national champion, Nigel Clark teaches competition dancers and also offers private and group lessons. Call 637-0966.

Patricia Ryan Patricia Ryan also teaches ballroom dance, specializing in smooth ballroom and Latin. Call 963-1148.

Fay Villanueva and Brian Griffin Fay and Brian are serious tango teachers — they encourage those interested in dancing the tango at their wedding to begin training well in advance, but they’ll teach a few quick moves, too, in case you’re dead set on dancing to “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina.” Visit tangosb.com or call 687-2113.

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