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Dancing Through Life

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-five 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.”

Even in those early days, life was busy and finding time to nurture our relationship and just be a couple was a challenge. The scheduled weekly classes made that easier.

But 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 Tucker High School with our boom box. (This was a quarter century ago, remember?)

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 across the asphalt!

That summer, we might have learned more about each other than we had during the whole time we dated. We also learned that mastering even one dance takes a lot of hard work.

And over the years, we’ve discovered that dancing and marriage have much in common.

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, including husband Scott, who not coincidentally is RFM’s creative director. You can read Karen’s take on parenting her three daughters – Sam, Robin, and Lindsey, also known as the women-children – in the Editor’s Voice.
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