Looking silly — or worse — during the first dance as a married couple rates way up there on the scale of wedding stress for grooms who are terrified of anything fancier than the high school prom sway.
"It's not Emily Post's dance anymore," said Crista Tharp, a wedding planner in Kokomo, Ind. "Some are doing rap, hip-hop, break dancing in little snippets. Most grooms would probably nix the dance, but they're not given that option."
Motivated by television's "Dancing with the Stars" and wacky wedding dance YouTube videos, more couples are building fancy footwork into their big-day budgets, turning up the pressure on members of the wedding party with two left feet.
For those who can't dance — but will be singled out by cameras and watching guests — setting a clear goal is a good place to begin, dance instructors suggest. Are you merely looking to survive with a few basic steps, or are you going all-in with dance sequences put together with help from an instructor or a wedding choreographer?
Groom-to-be Jerry Karran, 28, a video editor in New York City, decided on regular lessons at a dance studio ahead of his wedding in July with 400 invited guests. He tried watching instructional videos online, but they left him confused.
"I'm very nervous," he said. "I'm not nervous about anything else concerning the wedding but that. I can't dance, like, at all. Everybody's looking at you. I don't want to look stupid messing up, or stepping on her toes or something."
Dance lessons helped calm Jeremy Gorelick, 30, when he got married in April at Johns Hopkins University, where he met his wife. He has always enjoyed dancing in clubs, but slow dancing was "THE worry of the wedding for both of us."
They took lessons together, but he often practiced on his own with a broom. That, Gorelick said, was a misstep because it wasn't at all like leading his bride on the dance floor.
"A broom will do whatever you do, so it was actually an exercise in futility and probably did more damage," said Gorelick, of New York City and White Sulphur Springs, N.Y.
Start taking lessons well in advance of the big day to make your movements more instinctive and less dependent on shaky, short-term memory, instructors recommend. Beginning at least six months ahead of a wedding is ideal, but six weeks would suffice, so long as at least four lessons are involved.
Start with group lessons, many suggest, to get comfortable on a dance floor and boost confidence. Then take private instruction to work on a specific routine or dance.
Jackie Horner, who was Gorelick's instructor, often teaches whole wedding parties how to dance. While women, too, can be dance-challenged, men are often more nervous because they must also learn how to lead, she said.
"I say to them, dancing is just walking to music," Horner said. "I have them walk around the room for me to just feel the music a little bit, because there are men who do not have any rhythm at all. Usually it's a little easier than they thought."
Gorelick said beginners should advocate for a short song. He and his wife chose "The Way I Am" by Ingrid Michaelson after their instructor steered them away from a longer tune, "based on the fact that I seemed so tense. She didn't want me to be out there for an eternity, which is sort of what it felt like."
James Joseph, who wrote the book "Every Man's Survival Guide to Ballroom Dancing" (BlueChip, 2010), said taking lessons is fine if couples have the time, money and inclination. For those in dance-floor survival mode, try embellishing the basic side step with a simple change of footwork, a slow rotation or some underarm turns.
"If anyone asks, tell them it's a foxtrot," he said.
Change steps when the music changes, from verse to chorus, for instance, to avoid getting lost. Making four or five changes, with a dip in the middle and at the end, can look more difficult than it really is.
Working with a choreographer, Joseph said, may be more trouble than it's worth.
"If you work with a teacher, there's a temptation to add choreography that you might not be able to handle," he said.
"Don't get in over your head."
Do a realistic trial run
Practicing in wedding clothes, including shoes, also helps lessen anxiety, said Joseph, a former two-left-footer who lives in Jackson Hole, Wyo. Videotape a practice session to see what needs work — and practice, practice, practice.
Grooms aren't the only front-and-center wedding participants who may be jittery about big dances.
In 2006, at age 62, bawdy TV personality Jerry Springer brought tears to the set of "Dancing with the Stars" with an on-air kiss for his daughter Katie after a waltz he learned so he could dance at her wedding that December.
"I've never really danced," Springer, now 66, said in an interview. "So the night of the wedding, it's time for the big father-daughter dance. In the middle of it, Katie looks up at me and says, 'Dad, nobody can see our feet.' They were covered by her big gown. My advice to dads unsure if they can dance for their daughter's wedding is to make sure they have a big gown. Then you can get by doing anything."
Shelley Kapitulik, 29, and her fiance, Michael Drazin, 27, both of Greenwich, Conn., hope to do more than just get by when they dance to the Michael Buble cover of James Taylor's "How Sweet It Is (To be Loved by You)" at their June reception. They plan a swing dance, and took lessons to get a nervous Drazin over the hump.
"The more we dance and I make mistakes, we figure out how to just keep going, which has decreased the anxiety level," he said.