The Who, When and How of Dancing at Weddings

Etiquette dictates a few rules of thumb when the time comes to take a spin on the dance floor at a wedding. Most weddings feature the newly married couple sharing a first dance as a married couple – but while tradition and history would chart a course for the when and how of dancing, modern weddings are adapting the traditions all the time.

Who dances with whom? In what order?

It is traditional that the bride and groom debut as a married couple by sharing the first dance of the wedding. Guests watch and applaud the newlyweds.

Sometimes in practice this varies, and the couple does not even get through a full song before someone cuts in to dance with the bride or before others begin to dance as well. But traditionally, the newlyweds dance first for an entire opening song, and then there are traditional patterns that follow. For example, the bride’s new father-in-law may ask the bride for the second dance, and then the bride’s own father cuts in. The groom dances with the counterparts – mother-in-law and then his own mother.

It may happen then that the bride’s father may dance with the groom’s mother, and the groom’s father with the bride’s mother. Sometime around this point, the groom may dance with the maid of honor, which signals that the ushers may dance with the bridesmaids – and guests should all take their cue to begin dancing.

This is a traditional “dance order” at a wedding, but in these modern times, things are never quite as simple as tradition caters for. With many parents, step-parents, extended families with complex structures, many weddings have dispensed with hard-and-fast tradition and simply invite all guests to start dancing as soon as the bride and groom have finished sharing the first dance. It is really up to the couple how they would like to handle the dancing.

First dance

As the first dance carries the most significance, it of course is almost always reserved for the bride and groom. Of course variations on this exist, but it is often used as a thematic showcase “event” for couples – some of whom have taken dance lessons to show their dedication, some of whom have sought the perfect song that represents their love or relationship. It may have some emotional or sentimental value for the couple – tied to a milestone in their lives together, a specific memory or perhaps even something comical.

Let the dancing begin! But when?

Whether or not the wedding sticks to a fixed pattern as to in what order people will dance with each other, an important question is when does the dancing actually happen during the wedding festivities?

This can depend, largely on the kind of wedding and its overarching themes. The reception can dictate the kind of dancing and when it happens. If you are having a very formal wedding and reception, with a sit-down dinner, it makes sense to keep all the dancing for post-dinner. A less formal reception might begin with dancing, as soon as guests have been greeted in the receiving line.

A dance more unusual

While most couples continue to opt for some variation of the traditional wedding dance, many are moving toward fun, more inclusive activities, like creating a full, choreographed performance – which ends up being like entertainment for the guests rather than just a continuation of a long-held, if romantic, ritual.

Dance plans

No matter what the couples chooses for their reception dance plans, good planning, timing and maybe a bit of help from professional planners can add value to an already stressful wedding day. The bottom line is that the dancing should be fun – a time to release some of the accumulated stress of pulling a wedding together and, as they say, let your hair down!

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Patrizia Saraga

Patrizia Saraga

What a long list of things could summarize my passions: style, details, colours, trends... but also artworks, interior design... If not clear, I'm the stylish and creative part of the…

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