Dancing through Life

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    Have you heard about the studies that connect the amount of money spent on a wedding to the length of the marriage?

    The research suggests that couples who splurge on a grand affair tend to end up in front of a lawyer discussing settlements, while those who host a less swanky event are more likely to end up with the travel agent talking fiftieth anniversary trips. Same goes for the engagement ring. The smaller the rock, the more solid the foundation. Presumably.

    Anyway, I found this all very interesting (lo these twenty years later) because in our case, the prospect of the wedding – any wedding at all – almost foiled what has turned out to be, by all accounts, a darn good marriage.

    Here’s how it went down. The youngest of six in a close-knit family, I grew up in northern West Virginia. The first time my then-boyfriend, Scott, met my great big Catholic family en masse was at my sister’s wedding. During the reception, my new brother-in-law wore a ball and chain, like the kind you might get from Party City, around his ankle. There was a band, a wedding singer, and a handful or more of bridesmaids with matching groomsmen (we called them ushers back then). My sister had a traditional bridal dance where guests paid a dollar or two for a shot and a dance with the bride. At this point, Scott and I had been together for about a year, so marriage wasn’t a given by any means. But we had been dating exclusively and we were kinda sorta thinking about starting to talk about one day maybe discussing the possibility of making it legal. Everyone agreed my sister’s wedding was beautiful, but by my family’s standards, it was on the small side. “That was small?” Scott said.

    It had left a mark.

    About a year later, the prospect of a solo relocation to Cleveland for a job opportunity prompted my honey to finally pop the big question. I never thought I would put this in writing, but thank God for Cleveland! I said no to the relocation, yes to him, and immediately followed up with: “What the heck took you so long?”

    When Scott was silent, I was about to joke about borrowing the ball and chain, but thought better of it. With some prodding, my future husband said he had known for quite some time I would be his wife, but the idea of the wedding celebration required to make that happen was making him nauseous. Turns out, there was one thing in particular: the first dance at the reception as husband and wife.

    A state away, details were coming together for our fall wedding. My mother, who by this time was the closest thing to a professional wedding planner any couple could ask for, had artfully handled every detail. We basically had to show up.

    Back in Richmond, my fiancé had a plan of his own. I soon found out he had nothing at all against dancing, he just didn’t like looking stupid. We had four months until the wedding when he scheduled our first class at the Arthur Murray Dance Studio on Broad Street. Twice a week, we worked with Nicki, choreographing and practicing what would be our wedding dance to Louis Armstrong’s “I Only Have Eyes for You.”

    When I read this month’s love story on Kirk Henning and Valerie Tellmann of Richmond Ballet, my heart melted. And that was before I even got to the part about the dance. You’ll soon read how Kirk engineered a special surprise for his bride that involved hours and hours of practice and later, blew up YouTube. “I thought I couldn’t love Kirk any more,” says Valerie, “but hearing about everything he put into it…made me think I am the luckiest girl in the world.”

    I remember a time I felt like the luckiest girl in the world. Our dance instructor told us we needed to practice more on our own to master a few of the steps. Neither one of us had enough floor space at our own places, so we headed to the parking lot of a local high school with a boom box. Press play. Are the stars out tonight?  Step together. I don’ know if it’s cloudy or bright. Step turn. ’Cause I only have eyes for you, dear. We floated on asphalt!

    That summer, we learned that mastering just one dance takes a lot of hard work. Over the years, we’ve discovered that dancing and marriage have much in common.

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    Karen Schwartzkopf
    Karen Schwartzkopf has her dream job as managing editor of RFM. Wife, mother, arts and sports lover, she lives and works in the West End with her family: husband Scott, who not coincidentally is RFM’s creative director, and their daughters—Sam, Robin, and Lindsey. You can read Karen’s take on parenting in the Editor’s Voice.