By Jill Draper
Weddings are a sacred ritual, the joining of two families, a beautiful ceremony. They’re also a show that deserves to run smoothly, quickly and be entertaining.
That’s the philosophy of Liz Kelley, who owned a south KC dance studio for 35 years and now works part-time as a wedding choreographer, consultant and music editor.
She’s been to plenty of receptions where the mother-son and father-daughter dances consisted of simply swaying back and forth to overlong songs, where dinner was interrupted by endless toasts and anniversary dances, and where the cake was cut so late that some guests had already left.
“It’s too much,” Kelley says. “I like to get everything done in the beginning so people can relax and just party, including guests who can’t stay long.”
She began choreographing weddings at the request of her former dance students. She always asks what kind of music they want, what are the bride’s dress and shoes like, how big is the dance floor, where will the band or DJ be stationed, and where will guests be seated. She also asks what kind of mood they’re going for—tearjerker or happy and fun or both.
“I throw ideas at them and make suggestions. I want it to move bam-bam-bam so there’s no awkward moments. Why? Because I’m all about a show and zip, zap, get ’er done.”
In the 1960s and ’70s Kelley danced professionally at the Starlight Theatre and with the Golddiggers on the Dean Martin Show. She also toured with the Bob Hope USO in Vietnam. She’s retired from dancing, but offers lessons to the wedding party if they want special dances, entrances set to a song, or processionals and recessionals.
If dancing is not an option, she’ll instruct the father (or the groom) on how to promenade the bride around the floor, always posing at the end for a Hallmark moment. She prints out exact notes for the band or DJ on how to introduce the parents, the groomsmen and bridesmaids, and the bridal couple according to specific bars of music and lyric cues, plus detailed notes for any choreographed dances.
For example, she recently worked on a father-daughter dance set to “Brown-Eyed Girl.” Each line corresponds to a movement by the dad or the bride:
You, my brown-eyed (turn, hug, sway) girl, do you remember (jump, face each other, point to each other) when we used to sing (jump, face front, point to self) sha la la (jam turning). As the song ends, she often suggests the groom tap the dad on the shoulder for the next dance, so the father can give away his daughter a second time.
If the bride and groom like different genres of music, such as country and rock, Kelley will blend their favorite songs into a medley. But she draws the line at inappropriate lyrics. When a groom insisted on playing Tyler Childers’ song “Feathered Indians,” she vetoed the first line about a man’s belt buckle making impressions on a woman’s thigh. Ditto for another line that dropped the f-bomb.
“No way!” Kelley told him. Instead, she was able to take out the first four stanzas and skip to the middle of the song by pulling in instrumental music from the karaoke version. “I’m pretty creative about where I edit,” she says. “I can flipflop lyrics and bleep out words if necessary.”
Right now she’s working with a family that wants a Frank Sinatra song for the mother-son dance, but many of those songs are too romantic. “You have to look at the lyrics and be careful the words don’t get creepy,” she notes.
Kelley pays licensing fees to ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers) and BMI (Broadcast Music Inc.) so she can use music from any artist or genre. She usually edits a song down to two and one-half minutes (“and that’s pushing it”) for official dances. If the couple is uncomfortable on the dance floor, one minute is fine.
“I feel like I’m doing a service to the wedding party and the guests,” she says. “I’ve really received great feedback on all of it.”
Her services start at $250 for consultation and songs, plus an hourly rate for dance lessons and choreography. A business website is being developed, but for now, interested parties can contact her at LizKelleydance@gmail.com.