Zac Ufnar’s friends thought it’d be fun to celebrate his 27th birthday at Habana Village in Adams Morgan. Unfortunately for him and a few women at the club, salsa dancing was not, by anyone’s standards, his forte.
His dancing that Thursday night in 2011 was, according to Frances Correa, stiff and awkward. “He clearly did not know what he was doing,” she says.
“Now, let me be clear that I did give salsa dancing a fair chance that night,” says Zac, a campus minister at Calvert Hall College High School in Baltimore. “But I did step on the toes of at least two women that night, and that doesn’t even include Frances.”
She decided to come to his rescue.
“I could tell that he was really trying, and that was really charming and endearing, and I kind of thought, ‘Let me help this guy out,’ ” says Frances, a digital media specialist at a health-care research institute in the District.
She led him away from the other women, taught him the steps to the salsa, cha-cha and merengue, and they danced and talked until the club closed. Then, the two walked around Adams Morgan. After 2 a.m., he walked her to her Columbia Heights apartment.
He was struck by her patience to “help this clumsy gringo dance salsa” and texted her the next day to ask her out for dinner the following week. They decided on Open City in Woodley Park and dessert later at the Diner in Adams Morgan.
Over dessert, Frances hesitantly revealed that she was struggling with her Christian faith. It was constantly on her mind and making her unsure of herself, she said. Zac opened up about his own religious convictions, leading them into a passionate discussion about their beliefs. It made them realize how alike they were in terms of values and family.
Bound by an interest in strengthening their faith, Frances and Zac introduced their family and friends to each other. He got a critical stamp of approval that Christmas.
“Three of my college friends came up, and he came over and we played some games, and they were all like ‘he’s amazing,’ and actually one of my girlfriends said, ‘Please, marry him, Frances,’ ” she remembers. “And that night is when I called him and said, ‘Look, I like you. Let’s do this.’ ”
The relationship couldn’t have come at a more stressful time for Frances. A few months before she met Zac, she was involved in a serious car crash that left her with a concussion and lingering migraine headaches paired with unexpected mood swings. It was scary for her to experience those side effects while being in a new relationship, but he was just as patient with her then as she was with him on the dance floor.
Their dating life revolved around frequent visits to St. Augustine’s 12:30 gospel choir Mass, game nights and wine tastings. Everything was going according to plan until Zac accepted a job in Baltimore last summer where now, instead of their routine of seeing each other every day, they got together only on weekends. What often weakens a relationship made theirs stronger, says Frances, because “it just made seeing each other a little more special.”
With the relationship withstanding both pain and distance, Zac knew it was time to propose.
On a regrettably cloudy day in October, Frances and Zac headed to Sugarloaf Mountain in Maryland for a hike. He had dreamed of proposing to her on the overlook but changed plans after he got nervous by how many people were there. They ended up taking a leisurely stroll on and off the trail so that Zac could buy time to better formulate the metaphor he wanted to incorporate into his proposal.
“All of a sudden he was like, ‘You know what I really like about that overlook over there? You see all the beautiful things out there and appreciate them and then you can see the horizon and think of all the beautiful things beyond that horizon,’ ” Frances recalls. “So, he kept going on and on and using that analogy to talk about us. He said something like ‘I don’t just wanna marry you, I wanna create a community with you.’ We were sitting on this rock, and then he did a short pivot and kneeled down.”
He admits that his voice cracked, and she, well, freaked, Frances says. There was a party planned later that day at her mother’s house, and Zac had flown in her uncle from Puerto Rico.
On June 28, Frances Correa, 27, and Zac Ufnar, 29, wed at Baltimore’s St. Pius X, where they constructed their own Mass with a traditional Roman Catholic feet-washing ceremony and prayers and songs that the couple loved, including her favorite prayer to St. Francis.
The newlyweds honeymooned in Cancun and are now faced with the move to Charm City and the blending of belongings. Their first home will be in the Mount Vernon neighborhood, where they will cook together, build their lives and communities together and, most important, practice their dance moves.