At balls and galas in the past, there was a dance of the time, such as the macarena or cha cha slide. In my opinion, the minuet, quadrille, or polonaise are the best part of any historical fiction show or movie. Historically, the party’s dance would be initiated by the guests of honor, often royalty--then the dance floor would be opened for guests to join. Social dancing is not quite the norm these days, but there is an opportunity to have some fun, relay beauty to your guests, and lead them into your celebration as you twirl about the dance floor.
I loathe being the center of attention; formal dances can be uncomfortable bubble of alone time in the spotlight. As a DJ, I have worked with many couples who want to be on and off of the dance floor as fast as possible. The truth is, you and your new spouse are the guests of honor on the wedding day. As you host your family and friends for the celebration, I encourage you to take on the responsibility of opening the dance floor with your first dances.
If you’re not having dancing, roll the first die of the board games, butter the first bagel of your brunch, bounce the first bounce in the bouncy house. (Yes, you can now have bouncy castles at your wedding.) The pressures we may feel as the center of attention are most often rooted in our own insecurities; rest assured, the other guests will not hold up scores of your dance at the end of the song.
The truth is that not everyone is paying extremely close attention to your movements. Some guests watch with admiration, some eat their cake and drink their coffee, some chat among themselves.
Regardless of the attention span of the crowd, these first dances are one of the few times during the wedding day to have alone time with your parents or with each other. It is really just about the two of you on the floor. Sharing an intimate experience is not the same thing as being stranded on the dance floor. Dive into the opportunity to be vulnerable together, to create a memory, and to savor a moment. When the song ends, the DJ can easily fade out the song, turn the attention to the guests, and keep things rolling.
Though I don’t always enjoy being the center of attention, I love a good dance party. If we replace our fears with a smile and some joy, we can stir up the best start of a dance party you’ve ever seen. Below I share additional insight and advice from my experiences as a husband and a professional DJ.
Learn a new kind of dance
My wife grew up as an Irish dancer and I did ballroom for several years around college. We decided to do a waltz for our first dance--and later did an Irish dance. We worked on them for several months, but for us it was largely a fun project that was sincere to who we are. It was athletic, challenging, and something to do together outside of grad school and wedding planning.
In practicing the steps, my wife and I learned how to dance the movements of a waltz rather than memorizing specific choreography. If things come off the rails in a choreographed dance, it may be hard to adjust on the spot. Give yourself at least a couple of months to learn some specific steps. Get comfortable making mistakes and moving back into the music. Most people won’t know if you mess up, so follow the leader, laugh at yourselves, and enjoy the process of trying something new. .
Pick the perfect song
The perfect song is unique to each couple. Often, nostalgia has more value than perfect lyrics. Most often, guests are either distracted during the first dance or are enamored by the loving embrace of the couple to pay attention to the words of the lyrics.
If you and your fiance don’t have a song that is extremely meaningful or appropriate for a first dance, choosing a new song gives you something special that will forever be anchored to your first dance. If you plan to learn a kind of dance--as suggested above--ask a professional for recommendations for types of songs to match with a specific type of dance.
Do the first dance last
I have emphasized the importance of sharing an intimate moment on the dance floor. But consider that your first dance doesn’t have to last the entire duration of a song. I’ve worked with many couples whose families don’t have a strong dance party tradition.Here’s my pitch: make a plan for your MC explain that the couple doesn’t want to just share a first dance on their own, but with all of the guests--the friends and family who helped them get here. The first dance immediately becomes communal, inclusive, and fun for everyone.
Your bridal party and immediate families can be a part of the plan, and join you on the dance floor after the first verse and chorus. At the end of the song, the next song should come right on and everyone can come in around you. I have had a couple of these types of starts blend right into an upbeat remix or some great sing-alongs (think “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”).
Get great pictures
So, we have done something to create community and inclusion of everyone in the room. We are making dancing “the cat’s pajamas,” the thing to do. Grab grandparents for a dance. Sing along to your favorite Spice Girls song you drove around singing with your mom when you were young. Burn it down for 30 minutes. Your photo and video are generally scheduled for a short chunk of dancing, and they can capitalize on this initial time with the guests and guests of honor together on the dance floor.
If we have a slow build or if you disappear from the dance party at the beginning of the celebration , you are missing out on a great chance to create and capture special memories of the night. Eventually, some people might leave, go back to their dessert, enjoy a drink, or get some fresh air. A good DJ or band will figure out how to keep the party going. When you look back at your photos, your favorites may be from those first 30 minutes of fun. The mood for the night has been set. Anything else is gravy.
About the Author: Derek is one half of The Block Party, a DJ company specializing in playing vinyl, mixing records, and trying to pour as much warmth and friendship into the vendor process as possible. They have done weddings and events all over the country; when they aren't traveling to throw monster dance parties, Derek and his wife Clare are traveling to visit their nieces and nephews or adventuring as a couple.