First Dance FAQ
You have questions about your first dance. We've got answers!
Many people ask us, “Is the First Dance important?”
The simple answer is “yes,” but we’ve taken a few minutes to clarify exactly why your first dance is important. Keep reading!
There are countless details to think about when planning your wedding reception and every couple has their own priorities. But no matter if you’re planning a formal black tie affair at a country club or a casual outing in the mountains of Tennessee, your first dance at your wedding reception is the one detail you shouldn’t leave to chance. Why is the first dance so important?
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. The first dance during a wedding reception is a tradition. No, it’s not a more modern wedding tradition like speeches by the best men and maid of honor or playing Pachabel's Canon to introduce the bride at the wedding ceremony. We mean that the first dance is a tradition started centuries ago. When a family with a high social position would host a ball or other formal affair the guests of honor, which would sometimes be the host if they were royalty, would begin the celebration with the first dance of the evening.
4. 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 bond together, but the first dance is your opportunity to showcase what makes you unique. Let your guests see your playfulness and fun you are together or how connected and supportive you are with each other. Your relationship is unique, and your first dance is a great way to express the way you bring out the best in each other.
5. You’ll learn to dance your first dance together. There’s no other way around it. With as busy as modern couples are with work, putting wedding planning on top of that can be overwhelming and often makes couples spend less quality time together. Make a date out of your dance lessons. Your weeks are filled with lists and errands, decisions and deadlines. Take time out leading up to your wedding to just enjoy each others’ company. Grab a dinner out, enjoy some wine and take a dance lesson where you’ll learn a fun pastime that you’ll share for the rest of your lives.
Opting to take lesson to learn a beautiful, thoughtful first dance isn’t just about learning steps. It’s about connecting with your future spouse on a new level and learning how to express what’s unique about your relationship. After all, this celebration is about you two, as a couple, beginning a new chapter in your lives. If your marriage begins gracefully and well-connected, it’s much more likely to sustain its rhythm. Still not sure? Read more here: Say Yes to Your First Dance.
How many first dance lessons do we need?
While this is one of the most common questions people ask us, there is no good answer – and that’s not because we haven’t tried! See: this, this and this. The reality is that every couple is different in their abilities, desires, song choices, time and budget. So we work with each couple to create a first-dance-game plan that is unique to them.
Think about it this way: would you be satisfied with your wedding dress or tuxedo if all they offered was a “one-size-fits-all” option. Your apparel would be clunky at best.
We’re baffled at how some dance studios offer “wedding packages,” where each couple, despite differences in song choice, dance style, vision, etc. are promised the same outcome. Those studios are just misinformed.
The best thing you can do is contact us for a complimentary consultation so we can sit down and discuss your particular goals for your first dance. After the consultation, you’ll also have a much better idea about what you’d like to commit to the learning process. If you have zero thoughts about your first dance, that’s ok, too! We’re here to help!
How does the first dance learning process work?
Most of our students preparing for their first dance have no experience learning to dance with a partner. We can only imagine what they think dance lessons look like:
An elderly lady named Mrs. Murphy guides you into a stiff, uncomfortable dance frame and plays a synthesizer version of “You Light Up My Life” insisting it’s the best song for a first dance.
While that scenario is true at some studios, you’ll never find anyone called Mr. or Mrs. something at Ballroom Dance Chicago and you certainly won’t be forced into uncomfortable positions while listening to music you don’t like (sorry if you like synthesizers).
We’re young, spritely innovators who balk at the very idea of the status quo; Ballroom Dance Chicago is the top-rated social and wedding dance studio in the country because we’re always challenging ourselves to be better. And we’re able to do this because we’re all full-time dance teachers (which is not very common. Most other studios employ contractors or part time staff).
So what does the first dance learning process look like? We’ll keep it short and sweet:
1. You come in for the first time and we get to know your personalities and vision for your first dance, if you have one.
2. You start dance lessons and we collaborate so that your first dance is exactly what you want.
3. You practice between lessons and we give you opportunities to dance in front of other couples to shake off the initial nerves.
4. You look awesome dancing on your wedding day.
When should we start taking lessons?
The bottom line: You should start taking first dance lessons ASAP! Learning a new skill takes time and effort, so the sooner your start, the more you focus and the more consistently you take lessons and practice your first dance, the more you can expect to get out of dance lessons.
Here is a general outline for what we can accomplish in first dance lessons for a few different timeframes. In each case, the couple preparing for their first dance consistently takes lessons and practices outside of Ballroom Dance Chicago:
If you start first dance lessons with a year or more until the wedding, we begin by teaching you how to lead and follow one another (this basically means you’ll learn how to dance with each other without needing a set routine or choreography). We also have the opportunity to explore a variety of dance styles that offer different techniques, timings, and ways to express the music. By the time we start focusing solely on your first dance, you will have a movement and learning vocabulary that will make the remainder of learning your first dance choreography easy. And, if you forget some steps along the way during the choreography, you will be able to recover by leading and following. If you are not hoping to do a choreographed first dance, we talk more about the musicality of your first dance song and how to improvise to the music, offering various patterns and structures that fit the song. By the time your wedding day comes along, you will have a killer first dance, one you’ll actually have fun performing, and you’ll also be able to dance socially to a variety of musical genres.
Most importantly, when you start this far in advance, the process of learning your first dance is relaxed and you will be able to enjoy your time at the studio without feeling the stress of a close deadline; your first dance lessons will be a fun date night for you and your fiancé.
Six – Nine Months
If you come to us with six to nine months before your wedding, you still get to experience a good amount of leading and following technique prior to focusing on your first dance. You can expect to learn a variety of dance styles and feel comfortable moving with your partner. Whether you want to lead and follow or have a choreographed first dance, with six to nine months to prepare, you will be very well prepared to get on the social dance floor and perform a beautiful first dance at your wedding.
Four – Six Months
If you come to us with four to six months to prepare for your wedding, we, of course, have a bit more urgency, but the process is still relaxed and enjoyable. We still begin with leading and following techniques to make sure you are comfortable moving together, but we also work on the first dance concurrently right away. If you are unsure of a specific first dance song you’d like to use, we still have time to explore and figure out what style or song would be the best fit for you. Trying out multiple dance styles is a great way to narrow down your song choices or find out what kind of first dance you’re looking for. If you’re unsure of what song you’d like to use or what you’d like the dance to look like, that’s even more reason to get started with your dance lessons! Often, we have couples come to us who don’t have a clear vision for their first dance, asking if they should put off dance lessons until they know what they want. But, that’s what we are here for – to help you find out what it is that fits your personality and your vision for your wedding reception.
If you come to us with two to three months before your wedding, we get started on your first dance right away! Taking the song or style that you would like to dance to for your first dance as a launching point, we teach you some basic steps to get started. Once you feel confident dancing together in rhythm with the song, we start creating patterns of movement and a structure for the dance that will ensure your first dance is successful (i.e., you look good dancing together, you’re not counting to the music out loud, and you’re confident in your abilities). At this point, we don’t have tons of time to work on details of leading and following or learning additional dance styles, but we still focus on aspects of leading and following that will help you feel and look connected with one another during the first dance. Often, at this stage, we’re able to try out the steps and concepts we’ve worked on for your first dance with other songs so that you are able to dance to a larger variety of music.
One Month or Less
If you’ve put off learning your first dance and you’re coming to Ballroom Dance Chicago with a month or less to learn, don’t worry, we’ve got your back! We have a Crash Course that we’ve designed just for you. Basically, we expedite the process of learning to dance by giving you two dance instructors so that you each can learn separately and then come together to see how it feels. By each of you having the undivided attention of a first dance specialist, you’ll get better faster and feel more confident on the day of your wedding.
Regardless of the amount of time you are able to dedicate to your first dance, we ask that our students see each hour spent in the studio as a date night. Of course we have a timeline and a goal in mind, but the more fun and excitement you have during the process of learning to dance, the better your first dance will look and feel. Take this time to look into your partner’s eyes, get to know them in a new way, and create something exciting together that you can show your friends and family on the wedding day.
If you'd like to discuss your specific timeline, contact us so we can get started.
When should we do our first dance during the wedding reception?
In reality, you can place your first dance anywhere during your wedding reception. But let’s take a look at a few of the options you have and the pros/cons associated with each:
1. First Dance immediately upon entering the wedding reception. This is usually for couples who want to get the traditions, like the cake cutting and first dance, out of the way. We understand this sentiment, but really don’t like the way those traditions are disconnected from the flow of the evening. Why would you cut the cake before everyone’s had dinner? To give the kitchen time to cut it up and distribute it, right? But it still doesn’t make sense to cut the cake before people have eaten dinner. The same goes for the first dance: why disconnect it from it’s original, traditional purpose, to kick off the dance portion of a formal event. We’ve had some wedding planners tell us that by putting the first dance at the beginning of the evening, you’re more likely to have people watch. But what we’ve found is that people will watch if they’re told the first dance is coming. Yes, they put off the bathroom break of trip to the bar for a moment to enjoy watching the first dance. After all, this is the moment that you guys get to demonstrate your new bond as husband and wife through movement. It’s pretty important and people get that.
2. First dance during dinner. Performing the first dance during dinner, along with speeches and other traditions takes some emphasis off of the first dance. If you don’t want your dance to be a big show or you want attention directed elsewhere because you’re uncomfortable performing in front of people, offering your guests a distraction, like dessert, is not a bad solution.
3. First dance after dinner. This is our favorite choice! Kicking off the rest of the dance party with your first dance is a great way to go, especially if you’ve put time into preparing for the first dance. If you have a great performance, your guests will be more inspired to join you on the dance floor. Just keep in mind that if you are trying to inspire guests to get up and dance, you’ll be best off with an upbeat song or doing a romantic song that segues into a faster song.
4. Other thoughts. We have couples ask us when the parent dances should be in the reception. Often, planners recommend doing all three (father/daughter, mother/son, and first dance) in succession, all right before inviting guests onto the dance floor. This makes sense from an organizational point of view, but from an entertaining point of view, not so much. Think about your guests. They have full bellies, they’re three or more cocktails in, and they’re at the point where they can either get up and dance or take a nap. Forcing them to sit and watch 10 minutes of dancing and then asking them to get up and get the party started is likely not the best route to take. Instead, we recommend doing parent dances during dinner (along with speeches and other traditions) and reserving the first dance for the dance-party kickoff!
The Bottom Line:
If you’re reading this FAQ, you’re likely considering putting some effort into your first dance, which is a great thing! This moment demonstrates your new bond as a couple, and when you pull of an amazing first dance, your guests will be inspired to join you on the dance floor. It’s easy to shy away from the spotlight, especially on a day where all eyes are constantly on you, but we encourage you to take the opportunity to really show everyone who you are as a couple. Just remember that everyone who is at your wedding is there to support you and see you succeed, so there is no reason to be shy! Think about the sentiment you want your first dance to convey, and place your first dance at a point in the evening that makes you feel confident and excited to show your guests what you’ve got. If you'd like to read more on this topic, check out this blog.
What song should we choose for our first dance?
There are definitely a few key things to consider when choosing the right song for your first dance. For some couples, they have that one song that has always been “their song,” and that’s usually a good choice. But for others who don’t have that special song, the amount of options can be overwhelming.
First, ask yourself a few questions about how you want your first dance to look and feel:
1. Do you picture it being classic and romantic?
2. Would you rather it be fun and playful?
3. Is there a specific style that you’ve always imagined dancing at your wedding, like waltz or swing?
Once you’ve considered these details, it will be easier to start narrowing the list of first dance songs down. Remember to not get caught up in details like how “danceable” the song is. If it speaks to you and you feel that it represents who you are as a couple, then we can make it work.
Keep in mind your first dance is part of the entertainment for your wedding guests, so you’ll want to make sure the song you choose fits the following criteria:
1. Does it inspire you to dance with your fiancé?
2. Will it inspire your guests to start dancing?
3. Does it have a significant meaning to you as a couple?
4. Does it match the style of your wedding reception?
Whatever you do, don’t choose a first dance song that doesn’t speak to you. You’ve got to want to dance to it and it needs to have emotional significance for both of you. That doesn’t mean your first dance song has to have significance outside of being a first dance song (i.e., a song that connects to important moments in a relationship, like a first date or first kiss). You just need to choose a song that has meaning for you, whether it’s the lyrics or the “feel” of the song.
It’s also important to keep in mind that songs that are too sappy will put your audience to sleep. It’s usually a good idea to choose songs that are up tempo and have great energy. If you want to go the romance route for your first dance, that’s fine, just don’t make it the full first dance. Choose two songs! Start with a slower romantic song so that you and your partner can connect and then kick it up a notch with a fun dance song to finish it off. This will keep the energy at your wedding reception strong and it’ll also ensure that your guest won’t fall asleep during your first dance.
So what if your fiancé doesn’t like the song you’ve chosen? Sometimes explaining why you like a specific song will put it in a different perspective. If that doesn’t work, print out the lyrics and have your fiancé read them. Some people don’t connect to the sung-word and need to see the words in order to understand what they mean. You could also look for covers of the song you want to use to see if a slightly different sound appeals to your fiancé.
Most importantly, make a date of it! Grab a bottle of wine (or two), cozy up on the couch together, and log into Spotify or YouTube to listen to songs together.
if you don’t know where to start, there are plenty of blogs out there with suggestions. Check out our blog for a list of some of our favorite first dance songs! Here and here. Contact us if you need suggestions!
How long should our first dance be?
Your first dance should be up to 2.5 minutes long. Show what you’ve got, enjoy the moment together, then invite everyone else to get on the dance floor and have a good time!
Let’s be real. People have short attention spans. Add three cocktails and a full belly to the mix, and they’re even more antsy (or sleepy). While you may have spent a lot of time and money preparing for your first dance, that doesn’t mean it should be 5 minutes long. In order to ensure that the first dance is enjoyable for your guests and yourselves, keep it short and to the point.
Of course, most songs are much longer than 2 to 2.5 minutes, so you might have to get creative! It’s ok to choose a longer song; just think about the parts of the song that stick out most to you. We can help you prepare to dance to that portion of the song and your band will be able to replicate that new version or your DJ will cut the track to only include the moments you want.
If you insist on playing the entire song, even though it’s over 2.5 minutes, consider inviting your bridal party or guests onto the dance floor after the 2.5 minute mark to keep everyone engaged. You can also start the song before you walk out to the floor to eat up some of the time at the beginning of the music.
Keeping the first dance short is especially important if you have had little or no time to prepare for the dance. Swaying in the middle of the floor for 5 minutes will quickly make your guests feel uncomfortable and bored. You’ve thought through every single detail of your wedding so far, so don’t leave this one to chance! Make sure you feel prepared and also keep your guests in mind as you make your plans for the first dance.
Are Father/Daughter and Mother/Son dances necessary?
No, parent dances aren’t necessary. In fact, none of the wedding traditions are “necessary.” You get to choose which ones to include that best express your family and your relationship.
Consider what the moment means to you:
- Is it just a moment to be alone with your parent during the evening and chat?
- Does it demonstrate your inclusion of your parents in your relationship?
- Would it mean a lot to your parent to have that moment with you?
- Do you want to have a moment to reflect on who you’ve become?
- Do you have a special song with your parent?
If a dance with your parent doesn’t seem to achieve the meaning you’re looking for, perhaps there’s a different way to include your parent in the reception or give them that alone time without dancing in front of a crowd.
We also love the idea of a family dance, where multiple members of the family from each side come out and dance all together, which can signify the joining of the two families.
When planning details of your reception such as a parent dances and other traditions, make sure to consider what they really mean to you. Is this something that means something to you, your family, or your partner? Or is it just a tradition that you’re blindly following? If the latter is the case, consider dropping that tradition.
If you do decide to have parent dances, make sure to consider the song choices, how long you will dance, and when the dance will occur in the evening. Here are a few tips:
1. Keep them short and sweet! Especially if you plan to include multiple parent dances, keep each one around one to two minutes to make sure you don’t bore the rest of your guests.
2. Rather than saving the parent dances and first dance for after dinner, weave the parent dances in between courses or while guests are eating so that once dinner is done, everyone can hit the dance floor without any waiting around
3. Make sure your song choices mean something to you and your parent and that they fit the ambiance of the evening. If your whole wedding is about fun and excitement, choosing a song that’s too slow and mushy can stick out like a sore thumb.
4. Consider doing both parent dances at the same time to the same song to make sure everyone has a special moment, but it stays quick and to the point.
What styles of dance do people choose for their first dance?
Most often, people don’t choose a certain dance style for their first dance. Instead, a couple will choose a song or aesthetic, and, from there, we figure out the specific dance style that works best with that song or feeling.
When a couple comes to us with a specific first dance song in mind, we get together with a couple of other instructors to come up with best plan. We’ll start by just dancing to the song, feeling out which styles fit into the song and which do not. We also explore other potential ways of moving to the song that aren’t necessarily a traditional ballroom dance style. We then take into account the speed and feeling of the song, the level of complexity the couple wants for their first dance, and the amount of time the couple has to prepare before their wedding day. Once we take into consideration the vision the couple has for the dance, what they will be able to accomplish, and the limitations of the song itself, we can come to a conclusion about what style would work best. Often, we even come up with new styles of dance that incorporate techniques from various styles to create something that fits the song and the couple perfectly. Because your first dance is not a ballroom dance competition, it’s ok to step outside the box a bit and explore other possibilities rather than sticking to a traditional ballroom form, like Waltz or Foxtrot.
Keep in mind that your guests are first and foremost looking to see you connecting with one another during your first dance. If your guests see smooth movement and smiles, the first dance is a success in their mind. The more customized your first dance is to you and your personalities, the more enjoyable it will be.
It’s very rare, but sometimes, couples come to us with a specific style of dance in mind. The most popular are Waltz, Tango, and Salsa. Sometimes this is because couples have some dance experience or have seen that style of dance and want to emulate the feeling of that dance style for their first dance. Regardless, it’s important to keep in mind that holding fast to the steps from a specific dance style may not be the best fit for your song choice or for your personalities. For example, a Waltz is pretty restrictive in terms of song choices. There are only so many songs written in Waltz timing. Often when couples come to us looking for a Waltz first dance, we end up choosing a smooth, romantic song in a more common timing and using elements of Waltz technique in the dance. That way, the dance still looks and feels smooth like a Waltz, but it also fits to the song of their choice.
Should we choreograph our first dance?
First dance choreography isn’t for everyone, but it may be a fit for you. A lot of people think that choreography means something extravagant or over-the-top, but choreography can be as simple as having a few different basic moves and putting them in a specific order.
You may want to consider choreography for your first dance if you:
* Feel most comfortable when you have a plan of action
* Have specific ideas of how you want to represent certain moments in your song
* Don’t feel comfortable just winging it
* Like to know what to expect
* Don’t like surprises
* Even if you don’t want a first dance that is fully choreographed, you can still incorporate a little bit of structure into your dance. At Ballroom Dance Chicago, we like to make sure that your first dance is personal, has a clear beginning, middle, and end (like all good performances), and that it has plenty of variety to keep your guests entertained. If you don’t want it to be fully choreographed, but still want the comfort of a solid plan, we can create a clear outline for your first dance so there are certain “milestones” to hit throughout the dance, but you still have freedom to explore and play in between those moments.
If you imagine an intricate first dance with every moment matching the music, then a choreographed dance is the way to go! Just make sure you have ample time to prepare. Starting at least six months before the wedding and taking lessons regularly (no less than once or twice per week) will put you in a great place for your first dance on your wedding day.
If you imagine a simple dance that you’re able to lead and follow, you still might want some level of choreography. Check out our video about whether or not you should have a choreographed first dance for more info! And, if you’re still unsure about what’s best for you, feel free to contact us for a complimentary 30-minute consultation so we can discuss your goals and figure out what would be the best plan for your first dance.
What if one of us already knows how to dance?
If one of you is already familiar with any type of movement, that’s a great advantage for you as a couple! However, it’s important to remember that learning to dance together is new to both of you. Even the individual who does have more experience will still have a lot of details to learn, so it’s important that you still take lessons together in preparation for your first dance.
So why is it so important for you to take lessons together?
1. During your wedding planning, you need quality time with your fiancé. First dance lessons are a great way to make sure you have a date night worked into your otherwise busy week. Whether or not your partner is the most experienced dancer you know, you’ll find joy in learning something together. It will strengthen the bond you have and help you connect in a new way. At Ballroom Dance Chicago, we offer a comfortable, relaxing learning environment. We focus just as much on making your lessons a valuable experience to you as a couple as we do on the dancing itself. Your dance lessons together will undoubtedly be a fond memory to look back on after your wedding day.
2. The first dance is about expressing who you are as a couple, not about being professional dancers. Even though a first dance can be a big show with tons of exciting moves, spins, lifts and dips, the most important element of the first dance is your connection to one another. That means you also have to practice connecting with one another while moving together. Even if one of you is a seasoned dancer, as a couple, it’s necessary to get some coaching on how to feel and appear connected throughout the entire first dance. An instructor who specializes in first dance preparation will be able to make sure you have the best possible first dance.
3. Even if one of you is a strong leader or a strong follower, you should still take some time to get on the same page. In any type of communication, verbal or nonverbal, certain messages can be misunderstood or perhaps a different communication style would be more effective with a certain individual. To make sure your communication styles match when it comes to dancing, take time to work with a professional. We will be able to help you make sure your cues and signals are always communicated to your partner clearly, ensuring that you have a comfortable and beautiful first dance.
4. Having your fiancé teach you how to dance is not ideal. Even if your fiancé is a trained professional swing or salsa dancer, the tension that can arise from having your fiancé also be your dance instructor could get a little messy. Do your relationship a favor and seek assistance from a third party professional dance instructor to make sure the learning process goes smoothly and that you can spend time enjoying each others company rather than telling each other what to do.
5. If you start taking first dance lessons together and you find that the less experienced dancer could use more personalized attention, he or she can absolutely take some lessons solo to get more focused information. However, make sure that you are concurrently taking lessons together to make sure that you are on the same page and that you’re spending time connecting throughout the process of learning your first dance. We believe the more time you spend dancing together and focusing on your connection with one another, the better your first dance will be!
What if we're the worst dancers ever - should we still take lessons?
Since it's your wedding, you definitely should feel comfortable with all of the traditions you choose to include! The first dance is simply not one of the traditions you want to skip out on. Here’s why:
1. You’re throwing a party that’s all about you as a couple. Everyone wants to see the way that you connect to one another and that’s what the first dance is all about – demonstrating how you move together and connect as a couple.
2. The first dance sets the mood for the reception and inspires your guests to keep the dance floor filled all night long! If you picture a dance party at your wedding, do not leave this detail to chance.
If you feel like you’re a terrible dancer, that’s an even better reason to take first dance lessons and get some experience under your belt so you can feel more confident on your wedding day. Everyone can dance, and everyone can be taught to move comfortably with their partner. What we have found is that this question, “should we take lessons?” is actually the front for many other questions, like:
- I’m so busy with work and wedding planning and the rest of life and all I want to do is the minimum requirement. How much time do I have to dedicate to learning to be an adequate dancer?
- I’m not a dancer and I’m fearful that I won’t be good at dancing. What exactly do I have to do in order to at least have some semblance of understanding and control?
- I think that dance lessons will just make me look stiff. So if I spend less time learning I’ll look more natural, right?
- Money, money, money! We’ve been hemorrhaging money since the day of the engagement. We’re so financially spread that we need to cut corners wherever we can. What’s the least number of lessons we can take to look OK?
- We want to be really good. Like, standing ovation good. I’m thinking lifts and spins and dips and maybe some other death defying moves. What’s the minimum number of lessons we can take to do that?
- What it all comes down to is that most people hesitate to dedicate time and/or money to learning to dance because of the fear that the time/money commitment won’t be worth the end result (i.e., the end result won’t meet their expectations). So, in essence, people are asking if taking lessons for their first dance is worth it. And the answer is a resounding “yes.”
Regardless of how much time or money you are able to dedicate to dance lessons, a little bit of instruction is much better than none at all. You rehearse your ceremony to make sure you have a plan, right? The first dance is just another moment of the day when you’ll be in the spotlight with all eyes on you. It will make you feel so much better to have a plan going in so you know what to expect.
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