Dawn & Chris' belly dancing colorful beach wedding

August 29 |

A very special contributor to this wedding was featured in a Monday Montage — the ring monkey. And now he would like to present the rest of the wedding to you. Voila!

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Photos by Susan Helgeson

The offbeat bride: Dawn, Corporate Minion (business analyst) (and Tribe member)

Her offbeat partner: Chris, Pool Boy (pool and spa technician)

Date and location of wedding: New Brighton State Beach, Santa Cruz, CA – — May 20, 2011

What made our wedding offbeat: The groom wore a track suit and I wore a prom dress. As sometimes happens, I went looking for a specific style of dress and got swept off my feet by something completely different and unexpected. In turn, Chris was smitten and inspired by the groom gear featured in this wedding profile.

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The only services we hired professionally were cake and photography. A close friend got ordained in order to marry us. Food, flowers, invitations, entertainment, and decorations were all made by ourselves and our friends. We did save money that way, but more importantly, creating the event together gave us and our community a strong sense of ownership, emotional investment, and accomplishment.

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We wanted to make it a really fun occasion for everyone and we threw a lot of silliness into the mix. We had a sock monkey to hold our rings.

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To reflect our love of the beach, we used a lifesaver ring as our guest book, found surfer cake toppers for our oceanic cake, gave jars of herb-infused sea salt as favors, collected beach sand for our unity ceremony, and played plenty of surf music. We also played a lot of '80s pop as a nod to our having first met in high school during that decade.

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I developed a love affair with paper flowers. Chris and two of his posse are mountain bike coaches, so I found some fun bicycle earrings to add to their boutonnieres. We served "breakfast for dinner" with a kick-ass vegetarian breakfast burrito buffet, fresh waffles, and a fruit smoothie bar.

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I've always dreamed of dancing at my wedding, but like many grooms, Chris isn't too keen on dancing. So I danced for him instead of with him. I'm an amateur belly dancer and I put together a dance set with two of my friends for the reception. They opened with a traditional tribal-style dance, then I joined them and we kicked it up with a couple of surprise rock-n-roll numbers! I told Chris ahead of time that we would be performing, but kept the music selections and choreography a secret.

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Tell us about the ceremony: We kept it short and simple. We chose Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World" for our processional because it reflects the joy and gratitude we felt in each other and in having our friends and family gathered around us. We passed the ring monkey around for a ring warming and had a sand ceremony that included our mothers, sisters, and Chris's two teenage daughters. We wrote some of our vows but kept the traditional "love, honor, and cherish" line, since it's important to me. At the end, we walked out to "I Feel Good" by James Brown.

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We adapted a small segment from the Massachusetts marriage ruling as our declaration of intent. I felt it was important to define precisely what we were doing there. Everyone knows we're in love and we want to be together, but we don't need to be married for that. Neither of us practices any particular religion. So what was the purpose and intent behind this ritual? It was difficult to find a concise statement of what marriage is in the context of our present society, but we found such a statement in the ruling and it really resonated with us:

Marriage is the exclusive commitment of two individuals to each other; a commitment to nurture love and mutual support. For those who choose to marry, marriage provides an abundance of legal, financial, and social benefits. In return, it imposes weighty legal, financial, and social obligations. Marriage is at once a deeply personal commitment to another human being and a highly public celebration of the ideals of mutuality, companionship, intimacy, fidelity, and family. Because it fulfils yearnings for security, safe haven, and connection that express our common humanity, the decision whether and whom to marry is among life's momentous acts of self-definition.

Marriage is perhaps the greatest and most challenging adventure of human relationships. No ceremony can create your marriage; only you can do that — through love and patience; through dedication and perseverance; through talking and listening, through helping and supporting and believing in each other; through tenderness and laughter; through learning to forgive, by learning to appreciate your differences, by learning to make the important things matter, and to let go of the rest. What this ceremony can do is to witness and affirm the choice you make to stand together as lifemates and partners.

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Our biggest challenge: Finding a venue proved to be much more difficult than we expected. We spun our wheels for months before we realized that some of the requirements on our long list just weren't compatible with others — at least not with the budget we had. We had to go back to the drawing board, list out everything we wanted, prioritize the list, and decide where to compromise. We ended up with venues that were far removed from our original vision but that allowed us to carry out our vision for everything else.

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Even after that, we still had logistical issues on the day. The guys who were transporting the sound system got lost on the way to the park where we had our ceremony, and the officiant got stuck in traffic along with several members of the wedding party who rode with him. They all made it eventually and the delay turned out to be a blessing because a few guests also had traffic problems and would have missed the ceremony if it had started on time. We took the opportunity to visit with folks while we were waiting, and to take more pictures than we would have had time for otherwise.

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My favorite moment: The exchange of vows was the high point for me. Amid all the goofing around we put into the rest of the event, we made sure that was a true and sincere moment of connection for us.

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My mom, who hadn't been able to participate in the planning, was tickled pink by the whole thing. I've never seen her have so much fun, and the best part was when she took me aside and told me how proud she was of what we'd done. Strutting my stuff in front of my new husband was another favorite moment. The pride and admiration in his face made me feel like a million bucks!

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My funniest moment: At the end of the ceremony when everyone expected us to kiss, we did a spit handshake. We had seen it on some episodes of Deadwood a few months earlier and joked about how funny it would be for us to "seal the deal" like that. And then we got impish and dared each other to actually do it. A few people knew about it beforehand, but it was a surprise to most of the guests and it got a big laugh. We kissed for real right afterward, of course.

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Was there anything you were sure was going to be a total disaster that unexpectedly turned out great? The food had me in a sweat. We had a crew assigned, but up to a couple of days before the wedding I hadn't seen a whole lot of progress in the way of planning, set-up, or procurement. At the last minute, scheduling conflicts arose and we had to get a bit more hands-on than we expected. But in the end, the team came through with flying colors and provided a spectacular and super yummy spread.

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My advice for offbeat brides: Planning and carrying out a wedding can teach you a great many things about yourself, your partner, your family, and your friends. While the end result is important, also consider the journey as a unique learning experience. When disappointments happen along the way — and they will — pay attention to what you can learn from them that will make you a stronger, wiser, more compassionate person. Talk through the difficulties with your partner. It will bring you closer and help you grow as a couple.

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What was the most important lesson you learned from your wedding? People can take care of themselves. I'm a worrier by nature and I expended a ridiculous amount of energy worrying about my guests getting lost, forgetting their jackets, not knowing where to sit, etc. Finally I had to stop and firmly remind myself that these people are all functional adults capable of finding their way around in the world. "They'll figure it out" became my mantra during the last few days. And by golly, they did.

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Care to share a few vendor/shopping links?

Enough talk — show me the wedding porn!

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  1. Oh my gawd, you guys are adorable.

    And now my wife is asking me why we didn't have a tracksuit wedding. In fact, she just said, "I think ALL weddings should be tracksuit weddings." This may or may not have to do with the fact that we're attending a (very traditional) wedding in October… ^_^;

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  2. Everyone looks so happy! Such a sweet and warming thing to see this early in the morning :)
    BUT my favorite part is the belly dancing. Stole my idea dernit lol ;) Dawn, it is seriously awesome that you had the courage to do that! And the look on your husband's face says it all :D

  3. I love the content you found from the marriage ruling for your ceremony. It would be perfect in describing marriage for us as we are not religious and its not too frufru. It was honest but heartfelt in s more practical way.

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  4. Awesome! You had "Brinner"! It's one of my very favorite meals.

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  5. A brinner buffet is genius! Also, I have a soft spot for your using of the MA marriage ruling since I've lived in MA my whole life and the whole same-sex marriage deal back in 2003 made me really proud.

  6. I'm so jealous – I SO WANTED to do breakfast for dinner at my wedding. Sugar early in the day is a major migraine trigger for me, so I can't do things like pancakes or waffles for breakfast. If I get them at all, it has to be for dinner. And by the hammer of Thor, do I ever love my pancakes and waffles and French toast. So I campaigned hard for breakfast for dinner, but my husband was (and still is) convinced that dinner was the one-and-only wedding meal, and it was one of the few things he was really adamant about, so I caved. As it turns out, I didn't get to eat any of our food on the day of anyway, so it's probably better that I didn't have to stare at piles of bacon and waffles while not getting any.

    I LOVE that both of you threw out tradition and wore what you wanted. A track suit at a wedding is AWESOME! And the 'spit shake' to seal the deal was perfect. You both look so happy. Congrats and I wish you both many many happy years. =)

  7. YAY for breakfast for dinner! So awesome! It was our original plan to have made to order waffle, crepe, and omelette stations, but we had to go with dinner for dinner because of logistal issues at our venue. :-(

    And WOW….the bride was in high school in the 80s?! No freaking way! I seriously wouldn't have guessed it.

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  8. In so many ways this is the wedding I've been dreaming of… intimate, personal, fun-loving yet momentously sincere, lots of involvement from many people, gorgeous DIY flowers, dancing in your own personal way… etc. etc.
    Having felt that perhaps my minimalist budget and ideas wouldn't come together nicely, I thank you for giving me a glimpse of the possibilities. Many congratulations to you!

  9. As a bellydancer myself… big YALLA from MEEEE for this wedding! Well done, habibi. :)

    Hoping to include a fair bit of bellydancing at my own hootenanny next year.

  10. Dawn – I LOVE the wedding! It looks like it was a beautiful celebration of love and happiness with all your loved ones.

    I'd love to talk a little more with you about having your wedding at New Brighton SB… My fiance and I are getting married in CA (I'm a native, and refuse to get married anywhere else), and are bouncing back and forth between a beach wedding and a redwood forest wedding. If I can pick your brain for any advice, I'd really appreciate it!

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