What Makes a Good First Dance?

So you’ve started your wedding planning and decided to do a first dance at your wedding. Congratulations!As a celebrant, dance teacher and all-around dance-enthusiast, I am excited for you both!To answer the question posed in the title, “what makes a good first dance?” Let’s consider the question “what makes a good wedding?”

WHAT MAKES A GOOD WEDDING?

I have attended a lot of weddings in my life, both personally and professionally. My all-time favourites are the ones where the wedding vibe perfectly represents the couple: from the ceremony, the outfits, the music, the selected venue and the speeches, just to name a few things.

There are so many elements to this, but you get the idea.

“A good wedding….. where the wedding vibe perfectly represents the couple: from the ceremony, the outfits, the music, the selected venue and the speeches, just to name a few things.” Image: Diana Abeleda Photography Celebrant: Robyn Paterson

Now, back to the first dance. What makes a good first dance is exactly the same as what makes a good wedding: a first dance that perfectly reflects the couple who are dancing it.

So, what does this mean for you and your spouse to be? Whether you are seasoned rug-cutters or your first wedding dance is literally your first ever dance, the following tips should help you plan and absolutely smash it on the day.

These tips are also applicable to a father daughter dance or any other sort of special dance at your wedding.

Celebrant: Sarah May AlexanderImage: Adam Finch Photopgraphy

STEP 1: PICK A SONG

Always start with the song choice. This will help to set the tone of what the first dance will look like. Pick something that you will both enjoy dancing to. With the vast variety of first dance songs to choose from, you really need to think about a song that also holds a special significance to you both. You can absolutely be selfish here! It’s not about your wedding guests, it’s about you and your partner standing in the middle of the dance floor experiencing a special moment together.

If the song is longer than approximately 3 minutes, I’d advise cutting it down. Alternatively, you could consider getting your guests to join in halfway through the song. The halfway point can be announced by the MC (if you have one) or coordinated in advance with the bridal party who start to join in and encourage others to do so.

With so many first dance songs to choose from, I thought I’d put together a short list of a mixture of traditional and contemporary songs:

  • “All of Me,” by John Legend
  • “The Way You Look Tonight,” by Frank Sinatra
  • “At Last,” by Etta James
  • “Give Me Love,” Ed Sheeran
  • “That’s When I Knew,” by Alicia Keys
  • “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” by Elvis Presley
  • “Make You Feel My Love,” by Adele
  • “Hold Me,” by Stevie Wonder
  • “There Will Be Time,” by Mumford & Sons feat. Baaba Maal
  • “Dreams Are More Precious,” by Enya
  • “Never Let Me Go,” by Florence + The Machine
  • “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic,” by Sleeping at Last

STEP 2: DECIDE WHERE YOU FIT ON THE FREESTYLE TO CHOREGRAPHED WEDDING DANCE SPECTRUM

Image:MJ Carlin Wedding Photographer

Consider this spectrum in the same way that you would consider making a speech: from completely winging it to burying your head in a printed document and reading it word for word. Like a well performed speech, a good first dance sits somewhere in the middle – you have prepared enough to be comfortable with the content even if every move at every moment is not planned.

If you do go down the path of a fully choreographed routine, make sure that you are both comfortable with the choreography – even if it’s a traditional slow dance. This involves time to practise, maybe even dance lessons, and knowing your limits as a dancer because dancing in front of a crowd can be scary enough without having to remember an entire routine.

If you want to avoid complete choreography but you don’t want to freestyle, then what does that look like?

Sitting somewhere in the middle of this spectrum involves learning a few different dance moves that can be strung together in a sequence of dance moves, which can be inserted into your first dance song whenever you choose. Without diving too deep into music structure theory, most songs have well-defined phrases and performing a sequence of dance moves within one phrase of a song just feels really nice.

Bear with me as I use the Macarena as an example.

The choreography takes one phrase to complete before it repeats itself. When started at the right time in the song, the butt-wiggle followed by the 90-degree jump turn at the end is a lot more satisfying than it would be if done at any other part in the song. If you do go down the semi-choreographed path, use dance lessons to learn how to put individual moves into a sequence and how to start that sequence so that it ends in a satisfying place.

Then there is the completely unchoreographed first dance, this could be a fast or slow dance, but it’s where the couple simply does what feels right given the song choice and their dance style. The plus side to this is it definitely doesn’t require any dance lessons.

STEP 3: CONNECT WITH EACH OTHER BEFORE PERFORMING TO GUESTS

Image:Naturally Jek Photography & Soluna Photo

Your first wedding dance is not Dancing With The Stars, but Dancing With The Star-Crossed Lovers. Use the connection you have as a couple, who love each other dearly, as the basis of your dance partnership. If you do this then you won’t need to keep remembering to smile, because it will happen naturally whilst you share the special moment in time together.

When coordinating your first dance, consider your dance style and how you and your new spouse would like to dance and lean into it. Feel comfortable with your choice and let your connection as a couple shine through. Just remember that you have invited guests, not an audience, to your wedding and they’ll be cheering for you regardless of what you end up doing for your first dance.

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Author Bio

Jeanne-Clare Storace

Jeanne-Clare Storace is a Melbourne-based Marriage Celebrant, Emcee and dance teacher. She began her formal dance training at the Heidelberg and District Ballet School in 1993 before venturing into the world of partner dancing in 2007. She has been teaching since 2016 and loves seeing others find joy in dancing..

Through her business, Ardent Celebrations, Jeanne-Clare now “marries” her skills as a celebrant and dance instructor to offer couples first dance lessons in addition to officiating their wedding ceremonies.