Jill Peterson and Kevin Heinz's Wedding Dance Started at the Church

By Sarah Kaufman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 25, 2009

With their squeezed-tight knees and vigorously swinging backsides, the ushers do Usher one better.

Wearing pink dresses and dark glasses, the bridesmaids swivel and high-step down the aisle with deadpan gyrations, like voguers from the House of Honeymoon. The groom turns a somersault and coolly spins off to the altar, adjusting his tie.

And when the bride makes her entrance, white satin churning as she shifts into hip-slinging overdrive, pumping her bouquet in the air to the beat of Chris Brown's "Forever," she gets the standing ovation she deserves.

From the cheering guests in this rocking St. Paul, Minn., church on June 20, it wasn't just a show of respect. It was a shout-out of R-E-S-P-E-C-T, in a profound way.

In the latest dispatch from the Internet badlands, another meta-moment: Jill Peterson and Kevin Heinz's dancing wedding procession -- yes, they and their attendants (seven bridesmaids, five groomsmen, four ushers) all boogied down the aisle, fabulously -- which after less than five days on YouTube snagged 1.75 million hits, the latest ordinary-folks-with-talent stunner to hit the Web.

At this wedding, the party got started well before any vows, rings and kisses were exchanged. Here is the entrance of the wedding party turned into a wedding par-tay, a cakewalk down the aisle, a processional gone phenomenal. No wonder it migrated around the world after the couple, both 28, posted it on YouTube: Millions of eyes recognized it as something special -- from the linebacker-size groomsmen's seam-splitting moves to the slow-motion group tableau at the altar to the sheer uninhibited happiness of it all that pops off the screen like champagne blowing its cork.

Among the video's fans were the producers of NBC's "Today" show, who put the couple on the air Friday morning -- Jill with a delightful made-for-TV smile, Kevin donning a heartland-anti-chic look in an argyle sweater vest and horn-rimmed glasses. The whole wedding party is slated to give a command performance of their aisle style on Saturday's show, which starts at 7 a.m.

Peterson danced growing up and told Meredith Vieira and Matt Lauer that she "loved dance as a way to express yourself and share joy."

And that's exactly what's behind the enormous response to their video. It's all about the joy.

We all know what we're supposed to do at weddings: Look on politely as a matchy-matchy parade of friends makes its slooooow way down the aisle to Pachelbel's Canon in D. Try not to giggle. Rise for the bride.

But, by dancing their entrances and sending that upbeat, physical energy right back out to their guests, the Peterson-Heinz wedding turns the rote behaviors into spontaneous reactions. Of course the guests watch attentively as the wedding party bobs in. You can bet not a single child had to be shushed at that point. This was no longer a display of bad posture and dyed-to-match pumps -- it was an uplifting swell of celebration with a beat. The bride -- unescorted, we note; so independent! -- was and wasn't the center of attention. The true focus was on the unified, wordless but palpable emotions of her whole support system.

It plugs us in to something deeply human. Dancing is how so many cultures have celebrated weddings for eons. Okay, maybe not exactly like this, with the ushers turning their programs into confetti, with one groomsman thrusting a stray flower between his teeth and flinging himself into a handstand, with two of the bridesmaids clasping hands and doing a little riff on swing dancing.

Jill and Kevin claimed to have only had one rehearsal and said the whole group contributed to the choreography. They did an amazing job of it. It builds in force right up until the crowning moment: the pas de deux, where Kevin takes his bride's arm and they glide in step toward the beaming minister, capturing what Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse knew in their sweet "Dancing in the Dark" number from the film "The Bandwagon." There's nothing so intimate as a slow stroll. After everyone's bouncing, that short walk together was terribly moving.

This procession explodes a lot of assumptions: that church weddings are square and Minnesotans are squarer, that shaking booties and solemn vows don't go together. (It also puts a new luster on Brown's song, which must be appreciated by the pop star turned pariah, who pleaded guilty last month to assaulting his girlfriend in February.)

More important, this ceremony went deeper than behaviors. It elicited all the right feelings, in the way that good dancing transfers energy and emotion to its audience. In the way they moved -- and were able to corral their friends and family into the act -- the couple told us a lot about themselves, and about their bond.

This didn't look like a reluctant groom being dragged to the altar, nor a micromanaging bridezilla who had locked down every detail. They were open to music and movement and untucked shirts and sweat, and they gave to their guests what had to be the best party favor of all. An actual party.

Maybe we'll see the Heinz ensemble next on "So You Think You Can Dance." Maybe Jill and Kevin will go on to choreograph for the Vikings cheerleaders, or start up a wedding-planning business. Maybe not.

Whatever their future, they did with that performance what great dancers can do. They pulled us all into their story.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company