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The First Dance Wedding Tradition: Bringing the Past to Life

I’ll admit it…I have a bit of a fascination with how traditions began. It feels like it’s bringing the past to life. Just as interesting, is how couples choose to make the traditions their own; to reflect their own uniqueness in such wonderful ways. Some choose to stick to the traditions, some add their own take on it and some ignore them altogether in favor of starting their own new traditions! There is no right or wrong way, just the right way for you. This is what makes planning weddings fun and so personal.  The first dance as a married couple is no exception to traditions.

Bride and Groom dancing their First Dance at their wedding reception planned by Distinctly Yours Wedding Events

How Did The Tradition Start in the First place? 

Well the common reason is that, just like the formal balls of days gone by, the guests of honor would open the dance. In this case at a wedding, it’s the married couple.  Pretty simple. 

Why is the First Dance Important?

  • The first dance gets the party started and establishes the energy for your wedding reception.  All of your friends and family want to have a good time at your wedding, and, more specifically, they want to see that you’re having a good time. Let them celebrate for you and with you.
  • Your first dance is your one moment together, just the two of you, during the wedding ceremony and reception. The wedding night is going to fly by! Between greeting your guests, photographs, and ensuring everything is running smoothly, how could you pass up the opportunity to share a few intimate minutes with your partner? It might very well be the only time you get to be alone together during the whole wedding reception.
  • It’s Symbolic.  The first dance is seen as a metaphor for your relationship and how you’ll move together through life. The entire wedding is meant to be an expression of your relationship together, but the first dance is your opportunity to show what makes you unique. 

In addition, the first dance can come together in all sorts of ways – it can be surrounded by loved ones watching you, it can include your wedding guests, but it usually signifies the beginning of the “party.”  After the first dance, all the formalities are complete, the evening party kicks off and it’s time for everyone to relax and have a lot of fun.

How Do We Make Our “First Dance” Our Own?

Some couples find it a bit strange to have everyone stand and watch them dance, so often invite other couples to join in after the first verse and chorus. Usually this is members of the wedding party or parents of the bride and groom. Sometimes the couple skips the first dance altogether and everyone hits the dance floor together. Sometimes the couple have been secretly (or not-so-secretly) practicing and have a pre-choreographed dance to perform. After all, it’s not everyday that most of us waltz or ballroom dance in front of hundreds of people is it?!

Some dance trends that can be copied or used for inspiration:

  • A choreographed bride and groom ballroom dance that is clearly well rehearsed. This typically takes hours of dance lessons and preparation.
  • A surprise bride and groom dance that has been choreographed to shake up the reception. This typically starts out slow and romantic. Then the music stops, the bride and groom look at each other in mock surprise, and then they bust out some moves that have the guests doubled over laughing. The rest of the wedding party may or may not be involved.
  • Wedding party dance that looks like a stage production. What better way to bond with your bridesmaids and groomsmen than spending your evenings leading up to the big day in a dance studio rehearsal something fun?

Make Your First Dance Something To Remember With These First Dance Tips

  • Choose a song that you love and one that speaks to the relationship between the two you.
  • Practice dancing to the song before the wedding. Not even professional dancers wing it! Learn some moves from a pro or at least take some time to push back the furniture and experiment.
  • If your wedding dress is long or has a train, bustle it so you don’t trip over it.
  • Wear shoes that are comfortable for dancing. If you aren’t used to high heels, wear lower heels or flats.
Groom twirling his Bride as they are practicing their First Dance for their wedding at the Rothschild Pavilion

First Dance Song Ideas

  • Amazed – Lonestar
  • It Had to Be You – Dooley Wilson  (Casablanca)
  • As – Stevie Wonder
  • I Will – The Beatles
  • As Time Goes By –  Dooley Wilson (from Casablanca)
  • I Won’t Give Up – Jason Mraz
  • A Thousand Years –  Christina Perri 
  • Just the Way You Are – Billy Joel
  • At Last –  Etta James
  • La Vie en Rose – Edith Piaf , Louis Armstrong
  • Better Together –  Jack Johnson
  • Let’s Stay Together – Al Green
  • By Your Side – Sade
  • L-O-V-E – Nat King Cole
  • Can’t Help Falling In Love – Elvis Presley
  • Make You Feel My Love – Adele
  • Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You –  Frankie Valli or Lauryn Hill
  • Our Love Is Here to Stay – Billie Holiday
  • Come Rain or Come Shine –  Ray Charles
  • Sparks – Coldplay
  • Crazy Love – Van Morrison
  • Stand by Me – Ben E. King
  • Everything – Michael Bublé
  • Steady As We Go – Dave Matthews Band
  • First Day of My Life – Bright Eyes
  • Such Great Heights – The Postal Service  Iron
  • Fly Me to the Moon – Frank Sinatra
  • That’s Where It’s At – Sam Cooke
  • Grow Old With Me – Mary Chapin Carpenter
  • The Best Is Yet to Come – Frank Sinatra
  • Here and Now – Luther Vandross
  • The Luckiest – Ben Folds
  • How Sweet It Is (to Be Loved by You) – James Taylor  
  • If I Ain’t Got You – Alicia Keys featuring Usher
  • Unforgettable – Nat King Cole
  • In My Life – The Beatles
  • We’ve Only Just Begun – The Carpenters
  • I Only Have Eyes for You – The Flamingos
  • You Are the Best Thing – Ray LaMontagne

First Dance FAQ: Your Top First Dance Questions Answered

When Should We Do Our First Dance at Our Wedding?  

  • Option #1 – The first dance immediately follows your grand entrance into the reception.

You can enter to a fun song while your guests clap and cheer, and then you can head straight to the dance floor to keep the momentum and excitement going. It is the first thing you do at your reception, which is great if you’re both nervous and want to do it without further delay, or if you’re doing a surprise dance for your guests and want to show it to them or involve them early on. (You can also cut your wedding cake after that too, if you want.) And if you want to get all of the dances done upfront, you can do any parent/child dances after the first dance as well as the first course of your meal is served.

  • Option #2 – Your first dance is after the meal is over.

As soon as the final course is served (cake or dessert). Everyone will be paying attention and you can easily transition into everyone being welcomed onto the dance floor right after (or after the parent/child dances, if you do those then too).

Bride and Groom First Dance

Should we take dance lessons before our wedding?

If you want to, yes. If not, then no!

That said, with a resurgence in the popularity of ballroom dancing, more couples  are choosing to take dance lessons prior to their wedding. There are many dance schools that specialize in pre-wedding lessons, and often provide packages designed to get you in shape for your first dance, with plenty of first dance tips and advice.

If you have a particular song in mind for your first dance, a professional dance teacher will be able to give you ideas for the best type of dance to complement it and they’ll also teach you the choreography. 

What style of dance should we choose?

You should choose any dance style you’re comfortable with.  Yes, a slow dance or a basic waltz is traditional, but there’s no mandatory first dance that must be done, just as there’s no requirement that you even have a first dance!

If you’re really confident, why stick to one style of dance? You and your new spouse could pull off a mash-up of different styles of music and different songs. That’s always fun, especially if you get the bridal party involved.

Do we have to do a First Dance at our Wedding?

As with every aspect of your wedding, apart from the official ceremony, the first dance is not something that is not required. In fact, you could have an entirely dance-free event if you so wish. Just know you’ll probably end up with a lot of disappointed guests!

Wedding guests really do look forward to witnessing a couple’s first dance as newlyweds. It’s one of the big highlights of any wedding and it is also, likely, one of the few undisturbed moments you’ll get with your new partner throughout your big day.

If you want to have a first dance, but aren’t comfortable – or able – to pull off the full wafting, floating formal deal, you could just sway back and forth in each other’s arms to your favorite song for a while. Just arrange for the MC to encourage other couples to join in after a few minutes.

First Dance Alternatives?

Welcome Toast

Once the bride and groom have their grand entrance into the reception area, things can move very smoothly into a welcome toast. Whether it be a toast from the newlyweds, a family member or member of the bridal party, this is a great alternative.

Play a Video

If you are uncomfortable having “all eyes on you”, you could create a video to be played during your first dance and give your guests something else to have their attention on while you dance.  

Bridal Party Dance

If you still want to dance with your new spouse, but don’t want to be the only ones dancing, have your bridal party join in. This could mean that you and your honey have a short timeframe to dance alone, with the bridal party joining in part way through the song. Or your bridal party could go straight to the dance floor when you do.

All Guest Dance

Once your first dance song begins, your DJ or band can invite all of your wedding guests to join in on the dancefloor. This will surely take the pressure off of everyone looking at you.

Straight to Dinner

If dancing at all is something that makes your nervous, why not transition straight to the meal? You could skip the grand entrance all together and sit down to eat with your guests, or have the grand entrance and then go straight to your table for the meal.

Whichever wedding first dance option you decide on, plan the timing of your reception from start to finish with your wedding planner and be sure to keep your entertainment (DJ or Band) in mind.  Keep everyone in the loop and share why those choices are so important to you.   

The first dance captures the joy and celebration of the wedding day. It should represent you in whatever way you wish (even if that means not having one at all or having everyone involved) and that’s what I love about the planning with couples:  making their day filled with those personal touches!