Back in 2009, Jill Peterson and Kevin Heinz had a crazy idea. The 28-year-olds were getting married, but they wanted to put their own stamp on the traditional church ceremony. Walking down the aisle? Nah, that’s tired. They were going to dance to a pop song.
Fast forward a month after their nuptials to July 19, 2009, 10 years ago this week. Heinz uploads to YouTube a video, taken on a digital camera by the boyfriend of a bridesmaid, of their wedding party boogeying between the pews to Chris Brown’s “Forever” as surprised wedding guests clap their hands in glee.
What he didn’t realize is that they’d have tens of millions more onlookers, too.
The video, titled “JK Wedding Entrance Dance” on YouTube, lives as one of the internet’s greatest viral hits, amassing more than 98 million views to date and since inspiring many spoofs, the most famous being from the 2009 episode of “The Office” when Jim and Pam tied the knot.
Essentially, when our children’s children are one day reading a wise historian’s book about that wacky internet era we currently live in, they’ll be revisiting Peterson and Heinz’s wedding, right up there with the likes of The Ice Bucket Challenge, Grumpy Cat and Salt Bae.
“It is amazing to think that it’s been seen all over the world that many times,” Peterson told TODAY. “Although, it will never stop being strange to me at the same time. It still feels like, when people find out the video and us, it’s this secret identity we have. People are so shocked by it.”
Today, Peterson and Heinz lead a pretty normal life together. He’s an immigration lawyer and she’s a university professor who’s also working in violence prevention. They’re still based in St. Paul, Minnesota, where they got married, and share three kids, Baron, 8, Calvin, 5, and Vivian, 2, as well as a golden retriever.
But their lives could have turned out entirely different. After the video took off, they “had fun with it for a few weeks,” Peterson said. They did tons of press, including a few appearances on TODAY.
“Then, offers started rolling in. It was very intense,” she recalled. “Our phones never stopped ringing. We started getting all sorts of offers like book deals and hosting reality television shows and dancing at celebrity weddings and being on ‘Dancing with the Stars’ — it was wild.”
It was time to make some decisions: “We had this real vision point where we were like, do we want to keep going with this and ride this a little bit or do we cut it off? And we made the decision to cut it off.”
They didn’t completely disappear, though. Peterson and Heinz set up a website, which encouraged donations to an organization combating domestic violence. They also released their email addresses so fans could reach out. Heinz said, “We still get messages here and there about how it brightened somebody’s day, or they tell us that it turns things around for them when they’re in a dark place.”
Despite the video’s lasting popularity, it doesn’t impact their lives much anymore. “Today I think it’s more of a novelty,” Heinz said. “Besides that, we get to show our kids a fun video of us dancing down the aisle every once in a while.”
“Our kids have a very skewed sense of what it means to get married,” Peterson added, laughing. The children prefer the “Office” parody, she said, and especially get a kick out of the part when Dwight accidentally knocks out a bridesmaid.
Though the world will remember Peterson and Heinz’s wedding through the lens of a five-minute clip, the two say that’s not the case for them.
“I would say when I think about that day, I don’t connect that day with the video,” Peterson said. “To me, I think of that day as very warm and intimate. And the video is kind of a separate, bizarre thing that happened.”
Heinz agrees, pointing out that neither of them got to witness the choreographed routine in real time. They were both part of it and were awaiting their turns to dance down the aisle. Heinz came out with a somersault while Peterson did a solo strut.
“There’s plenty we didn’t video,” he also said. “I still think — the groomsmen did a dance at the reception that made that thing look boring!”
Some memories are better savored between the two of them. We’ll take his word for it.