Swing With Me
Combining their two different cultures, this STL couple held an unforgettable affair that was entirely their own.
34, Geneticist and Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Washington University School of Medicine
33, Neurogeneticist and Assistant Professor of Psychology at Washington University
THEIR STORY Ryan Bogdan and Arpana Agrawal met when Ryan was interviewing for a genetics position at Washington University. Arpana, who taught behavior genetics at the university at the time, was invited to serve on the hiring committee. Though Ryan was offered the job, he deferred for a year to complete his postdoctoral training at Duke University. The two kept in touch after that, but strictly on work-related matters. Only after Ryan had returned to St. Louis and the pair met for a sushi lunch did they realize how much they had in common.
After three months of catching movies at Tivoli Theatre, seeing concerts at The Pageant and Ryan (patiently) teaching Arpana how to ride a bike in Forest Park, the pair knew that they were meant for each other. Ryan began casually dropping hints, asking Arpana about her jewelry tastes— specifically regarding rings. Finally, on a drive home from dinner one evening, Arpana confessed that she’d always wanted a tattoo of a wedding band when she got married rather than an actual ring. Ryan turned to her and said, “That’s exactly what I’ve always wanted, too!” So when Ryan popped the question, it was with a gift certificate to Iron Age Tattoo instead of a diamond. Arpana, of course, accepted.
MOTHER KNOWS BEST Neither Ryan nor Arpana wanted a big wedding, but their parents were set on a celebration for the books. So, Arpana handed over the planning to her mother and future mother-in-law. This presented the challenge of combining two distinct cultures—Arpana’s Indian heritage and Ryan’s classic American upbringing—to create a seamless ceremony and reception. The result was a big-band, swing-themed evening with Indian customs sprinkled throughout. For the ceremony, Ryan wore a traditional Indian sherwani and Arpana wore a bridal sari—both beige and deep red with gold accents—and Arpana decorated her hands and feet with henna. They started with a traditional Indian tilak ceremony, in which the bride’s family welcomes the groom and his parents, and then the couple exchanged personal vows—keeping the mood light by working in a mention of their shared love of zombies. As the ceremony ended, close family and friends broke into an impromptu Bollywood dance number, surprising and thrilling Ryan and Arpana. For the reception, Arpana changed into a vintage pinup-style satin halter dress with a lace overlay, and Ryan donned black pants and a simple white shirt.
TRUNKS UP The ceremony and reception were held at NEO on Locust, where exposed brick walls and cityscape views created a perfect backdrop for the couple’s special day and their photographs. Continuing in Indian style, elephants were a common motif in the reception décor: Bejeweled elephant place cards sat amidst red roses on the tables, elephants adorned the backs of the sashes on each chair and guests received carved wooden elephants on banana leaves as a unique memento. Not to mention, Ryan’s mother constructed two massive carboard elephants for the photo booth.
CREATIVE CUISINE The predominantly Indian menu for the reception was prepared by Patty Long Catering, including Ryan’s favorite dish, shrimp vindaloo. Instead of cake, the couple served 500 mini cupcakes in flavors like red velvet, peanut butter and strawberry, as well as cookies and milk from SweetArt, Arpana’s favorite bakeshop. Bride and groom dolls from various parts of India served as alternatives to cake toppers. For the customary cake-cutting, the parents of the couple surprised them with a 6-inch-tall cupcake from Jilly’s Cupcakes. Ryan’s mother also created a “sweet and salty bar” for guests, featuring snacks like potato noodles, fried lentils, chocolates and cookies.
BOLLYWOOD BOOGIE Bollywood music played during dinner, and Ryan and Arpana surprised their guests by choosing a popular Bollywood hit for their first dance. They started swing dancing to it at first, but when the chorus picked up, they broke out into a full-blown, choreographed Bollywood dance number. After their performance, the 22-member St. Louis Big Band played classic swing tunes for the rest of the evening as guests joined the couple on the floor to jitter and jive the night away.
Photo credit: Guillermo Gomez & Rebecca Haas, St. Louis Color