“Remember, if you don’t know when to start, say ‘five, six, seven, eight,’ ” Rena Kammerer said encouragingly as couples sputtered to begin the three step.
Kammerer would repeat herself several more times over the course of the hour that followed, as students learned dance steps during the new Beginning Wedding Dances class at Missoula's Lifelong Learning Center.
The class is ideal for couples who don’t want to be wallflowers during the upcoming wedding season, or who want to dance the night away at their own wedding reception, said Kammerer, who has been teaching dance for 42 years.
Classics, including the jitterbug, three step, two step, swing and polka, are covered in the class.
Without confidence in their footwork, people tend to be stiff on the dance floor.
“They’re afraid to make the wrong step, step on somebody’s toes,” Kammerer said.
In the end, though, it doesn’t matter.
After the four-week course, Kammerer said, she wants people to feel good out on the dance floor.
“To be able to dance and feel comfortable doing it,” she said.
Kammerer teaches the class with her husband, Mick Kammerer.
The long-term relationship is one born on the dance floor, with Mick taking years of Rena’s class before getting bold enough to ask her out.
“It took three years to get me,” Kammerer said, laughing.
The duo spent a recent Wednesday night breaking down complicated moves for the 20 class participants.
“Now remember, we’re gliding,” Kammerer said over the music.
Despite the occasional displays of awkwardness – and even one fall by a couple – smiles and bursts of giggling broke through the concentration in the gym at the Emma Dickenson School building.
By the end of the class, Bridgette Hoenke and Mike McTee said they felt they were improving.
Both said they have taken classes through the center before, and when they saw the wedding dance class they decided to take it in preparation for their July wedding.
“I have horrible rhythm,” Hoenke said.
“It will give us confidence not to look like dorks out there,” McTee said.
Other couples took the class as a refresher.
“It gets us out as sort of a date night,” said Karen Rimel, who took the class with her husband in advance of a spring wedding.
It’s been more than three decades since the couple took a dance class, although they have danced since then.
“But we needed updated moves,” Rimel said.
The Rimels also reconnected with old friends and classmates who they didn’t realize were taking the dance class.
Like Karen and John, Susan Barmeyer and Jon Haber took the class to feel more comfortable cutting the rug.
“It’s showed us some moves that we’ve forgotten,” Barmeyer said.
Both she and Haber had taken classes at the center before, so they get the course catalog in the mail. Haber said he had been thinking about taking a more advanced dance course, which was a risky proposition with Barmeyer’s self-proclaimed lack of coordination.
The beginning class seemed like a good place to start, he said.
“They’re fun and you meet people,” Rimel chimed in about the breadth of classes available.
“They have everything here,” Barmeyer added.
The variety of classes is not by accident.
Community members have different interests and the Lifelong Learning Center has access to instructors.
“So we are the conduit to make it happen,” said Monique Fortmann, director of the adult education center.
When it came to the wedding dance class, Fortmann looked at who was taking dance classes and why.
“And said, ‘You know, I bet there might be interest in doing something just geared for individuals who were getting ready for the wedding season,' ” she said.
Whether people take a dance class or a beginning plumbing class, the response is similar, she said.
“I think people come in and find out that this is not an intimidating place to be. It’s welcoming. It’s adult like and it’s probably not like any other school they’ve been in before,” she said.
Students usually know other students or make fast friends, she added.
Tapping into the center and the lifelong learning opportunities it offers is beneficial for people who can often transfer what they learn into a work environment or to learning something new with their kids, Fortmann said.
They also learn an overall lesson, she said.
“Modeling that lifelong learning can be fun and is something that everyone can do,” she said.