LA Times


Below: Karina and Nehal Patel of Los Angeles practice their first dance before their grand entrance into the ballroom at the St. Regis Monarch Beach in Dana Point.

Below left: Kate Collins and Will Bladt of Los Angeles relax after inviting their guests to join them on the dance floor during their first dance at their wedding at the Adamson House in Malibu.

Both photos © Ryan Phillips Photography



Elaborate wedding settings, lavish floral arrangements and elegant cuisine can make a big impression. But for some couples, they’re nowhere near as important as that first dance as husband and wife.

Robert and Hilda Sotelo’s first spin around the dance floor as a wedded twosome started pretty typically. The disc jockey began playing a slow romantic song. The newlyweds wrapped their arms around each other. Then the Sotelos did what millions of other couples do for the traditional first dance. They began the all-too-familiar synchronized shuffling across the dance floor.

Before a single yawn could escape from their guests’ mouths, however, the DJ switched the music to a fast-beat hip-hop number. The Sotelos burst into a four-minute high-energy choreographed dance routine that instantaneously set a celebratory mood for their 200 guests.

“Not only did we want [our guests] to be a part of our wedding, but we also wanted to create a unique experience for them to never forget,” said Robert Sotelo, who resides with his bride of four months in Valencia.

Tired of the classic dance steps, an increasing number of newlyweds are tossing aside tradition, turning to professional dance instructors and amazing their guests with smooth hip-hop moves, sexy salsas and elegant waltzes
. Thanks in part to such hit TV shows as “Dancing With the Stars” and “So You Think You Can Dance,” the couple’s first dance has become one of the top elements of a wedding, said Marita Sobel, owner of Funky First Dance in Studio City. Sobel assisted the Sotelos with their first dance.

“You’re not boring,” said Sobel, a dance instructor for about 20
years. “Your relationship isn’t boring. Your first dance as husband and wife shouldn’t be boring, either.”

The trend to create unique and often
well-choreographed first dances is also being fueled by social networking sites as an increasing number of couples post their first dance routines there, said Sobel.



Eve and Anthony Anderson viewed dozens of videos on YouTube to help them decide the length, style and tone of their own wedding dance. One of the most popular wedding videos on YouTube, with nearly 33 million viewer hits, is called the “JK Wedding Entrance Dance.” It was that video of a wedding party’s musical entrance into the church that inspired the Andersons to make their first dance surprising, humorous and fun, she said. After selecting “Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey, they booked some one-hour sessions with Sobel and then put in several hours more rehearsing at their Silver Lake home. The end result was a humorous pseudo-artsy, modern-dance-inspired dance routine.

“[Our dance] was definitely as far away from slow dance or club dancing as it could be,” said Eve Anderson.

With most nuptials being ritual-heavy, a first dance is often one of the best ways that a couple can allow their personalities to shine on their wedding day, said Antonio Madrigal, owner of Hot Peppers Entertainment & Dance Studio in Temecula. “ Compared to past

generations, I think that couples have matured in their creativity and are more open-minded and willing to break traditional boundaries to make their special day whatever they want it to be,” Madrigal said.

At Hot Peppers, Madrigal uses his more than 30 years of ballroom and Latin dance experience to help couples add flair, excitement and drama to their first dance. An increasing number of newlyweds are stepping onto the dance floor to a mixture of ballroom, fox trot and even salsa, he said.

Dean and Amanda Bong wanted their dance to contain an element of surprise and a visual display of their love for each other. They spent four hours with Madrigal to prepare a slow, romantic first dance for their recent wedding in Murrieta. Madrigal created a dance routine using a combination of waltz and fox trot dance steps. The couple danced to “Love of My Life” by Michael W. Smith. “We wanted to show our family and friends the love we have for each other, and what better way to do that than through our first dance,” said Dean Bong. The Bongs recently moved from Southern California to Pensacola, Fla.

Lessons with a qualified dance teacher may not turn you into a professional ballroom dancer, but they will have you practicing some basic steps that will give you

confidence and make it look like you know what you are doing, Madrigal said.

But for all of the energy some couples put into these first steps into married life, others don’t want the added stress of worrying about their first dance.

“To a lot of couples the first dance is very important.

We didn’t place too much importance on it because



we didn’t want the pressure of putting on a spectacular

performance,” said Karina Patel, who married Nehal Patel a year and half ago. She said because her husband moved here from the East Coast four days

before the wedding, they picked their song just three

days before and only practiced for about 30 minutes

“Admittedly, we probably practiced a total of one hour,” said Kate Collins, who married Will Bladt in 2006. “The dance was not something we wanted to stress about, and I knew that nerves would get the best of me if I was trying to focus on the choreography. Day of, we totally winged it and had fun making it up as we went.”

Whether they just want to put on a performance with their first dance or just have fun, it’s up to the newlyweds to decide how they want to present themselves as a couple to their guests.

“I am a firm believer that the first dance sets the tone for the rest of their lives,” said Madrigal. “When the newlyweds display strength in their first dance, they also are showing their guests the confidence they have in their new union as husband and wife.”

— Kim Kabar, Special Advertising Sections Writer