Early Considerations

Mike & Elena Haugen Sept 2013 copy copy

Early Considerations for Dancing at Your Wedding

Your First Dance — The Tradition 

People have been dancing at important events, ceremonies and rites of passage the world over, since time began. The details differ from culture to culture, but the tradition is universal and persistent.  In this country we’re most familiar with customs and traditions stemming from western European wedding customs and traditions, many of which have now become American custom. 

In their first dance the wedding couple are presented to their family and friends in their new relationship as married partners.  Their first dance is symbolic of their love and the promise of their new life together, while dances with other family members symbolize and usher in new and changing familial relationships. The wedding party and guests contribute their own blessings and add to the joy of the occasion when they dance, as well — as everyone celebrates the new family that has just been created.

Dancing at Your Wedding 

While it’s true, in this day of “design your own wedding” you don’t have to dance at your wedding.  It’s your wedding, after all, and you can create it any way you want.  If you don’t know how to dance, the idea of dancing in front of all the most important people in your can be pretty scary.  On the other hand, these people are your family and closest friends.  Of all the people in the world, these people care the most about you and will be the most touched and most supportive of your dance.  This may be a good reason to learn — something you’ve always wanted to do, anyway.

Most couples do decide they want to dance at their weddings and there is a simple solution to the scary part.  Learn to dance.  It’s actually easy to do, not terribly time consuming, doesn’t have to be wildly expensive, could be amazingly fun, and you might discover a new hobby or passion!

Take some lessons — a small group class of general dance lessons, a specific class for engaged couples —  or take some private lessons.  You’ll learn more than you ever knew you didn’t know and you’ll feel more confident and comfortable dancing at your wedding. 

With dancing in mind, here are some things to consider as you plan your wedding:

Dress And Shoes You Can Dance In

Choose a dress that really fits you

At your wedding you’ll be doing much more than just standing in one place like a porcelain doll.  You’ll be standing and sitting, reaching up and reaching down, walking, eating and dancing, and you’ll want to be able to do all these things comfortably.  So when trying on dresses, test them in the bridal shop dressing room.  

Does it fit?

Walk forward and backward, sit, lean over, twist side-to-side, bring your elbows up to shoulder level and push them forward, reach overhead, reach down toward the floor.  Pay attention to how the dress moves and how it allows you to move.  Does it allow you to move in all those directions comfortably or does it bind?  Does it move with you or can you move around inside it while the dress stays in one place?  A well fitting dress should not only look beautiful, it should be comfortable and allow you to move, and yet stay with you while you move.

Check the length

In order to move about with grace and comfort, and especially in order to dance, your dress needs to be at leasttwo - three inches off the floor in the lowest heeled shoes you’ll be wearing  with it.  You’ll be moving forward, backward and side to side, possibly bending your knees a little, likely in the arms of a partner who will be moving right along with you.  A dress that touches the floor can be easily stepped on — by you and by your partner.  That 2-3 inches will save you both the difficulty of struggling to avoid that disaster while you’re dancing, and the possible misfortune and embarrassment of tearing your dress — while at the same time allowing the toes of those darling little shoes you bought just for this occasion, to peek out.

Long dresses with trains can usually be bustled or adjusted after the ceremony to make them danceable.  Check this with your seamstress.

And speaking of shoes

Whatever you choose to wear on your feet for the ceremony, there are some things you may want to think about for the reception and dancing. (You can always change to different shoes for the reception.)

The shoes you wear to dance in should be comfortable, they should support your foot, stay on whether you’re walking forward or backward, and they should be easy for you to walk in.  They should also have smooth soles, preferably leather or some other material that does not stick to the floor, and depending on how accomplished you and your new husband are at dancing, you might want to consider close-toed shoes for dancing to help protect your toes.

If you’re an accomplished dancer you probably already know what kind of shoes are right for you to dance in.  If you have strong ankles and wear high heels regularly, and if you’re used to dancing in heels, go right ahead and wear heels to dance in.  There are some beautiful ballroom dance shoes out there just begging you to buy them for gliding across the floor at your wedding.

However, if you’ve never danced before, if you’re a beginner, or even if you’re a novice with a little dance experience, do yourself, your feet and your dance partner, a favor and choose a cute pair of lower heeled or fairly flat shoes for dancing.  There are lots of beautiful, stylish, sparkly, satiny, gorgeous, just-right-for-you, shoes out there with lower heels. You’ll be more stable during your first dance with your new spouse, your feet will be more comfortable, you’ll have better balance, you’ll be able to dance better, and you’ll be able to happily boogie the evening away, free from pain.

This goes for the groom’s shoes as well.  They need to be comfortable and have smooth soles that aren’t sticky and don't leave black marks on the floor. The groom will need to be able to glide/slide easily across the dance floor, too.  

Just a note: wedding and dance venues frown on dancers leaving black marks.  They are difficult, and may be costly to you, to clean off.  So check your shoes by scraping the soles and sides of the soles on the floor (in the shoe store before you buy them, or at home — it’s often shoe polish that leaves the black marks.)  If you polish your shoes, be extra careful not to polish the sides of the soles/heels all the way down to where they meet the floor.  If they do leave black marks, you can try to clean the polish off the sides and heels of the sole before the wedding.

Occasionally it’s actually the material of the sole of the shoe rubbing off on the floor that leaves a mark.  In that case, choose a different pair of shoes or cover the sole with duct tape — the REAL stuff by Scotch/3M that’s silver colored and has threads running through it.  *Do NOT use black duct tape.*  It leaves horrible black marks and will come off your shoes on the first turn.

Dance Lesson Considerations

Classes vs. Private Lessons 

Classes — If you have the time — like you’ve thought of this at least six months before your wedding, classes are a great way to get started.  


  • Are less expensive than private lessons, 
  • You’ll have more practice time as classes are usually scheduled once-a-week for 4-6 weeks, 
  • You’ll learn in a group and you’ll learn from the group. 


  • You may have to wait several weeks until the next session starts, 
  • You’ll have to go on the day and time the class is offered 
  • You’ll also have to learn whatever dance the class is offering.  But that may not really be a disadvantage since what you learn about dancing in general will carry over to whatever your first dance is. 

 We teach classes classes in several places in Seattle, a couple of times a week.  Click here for details. If our classes don’t work for you, our friend, Angela Fleagle teaches classes specifically designed for engaged couples and wedding parties at “Our First Dance” http://www.ourfirstdance.com.  Angela is a good friend, a beautiful dancer and an excellent teacher. She comes highly recommended by everyone who knows her.

Private Lessons — If you don’t have the time or the inclination to take classes — like your wedding is in the next few weeks, your schedule doesn’t allow you to take regularly scheduled classes, you just feel more comfortable learning one-on-one — then private lessons are the best solution.  

Private Lessons: 

  • Learn in less time
  • Start whenever you’re ready
  • Schedule lessons to fit your schedule
  • Learn more in fewer hours of instruction 
  • Have the undivided attention of the instructor 
  • Get help choosing your song
  • Focus specifically on learning to dance to your chosen song


  • Private lessons cost more than classes, per hour of instruction.

I teach private lessons for engaged couples, parents of the wedding couple, members of the wedding party and others.  For more information, click here.

Choosing the Song

Unless you are an experienced dancer, choosing the song for your first dance can be a bit daunting. Here are some things to consider in choosing the song for your first dance:

Do you Like the Song?  Does it speak to you?

Your song should be something that you both like.  It may be your special song but it doesn’t have to be.  It may simply be a song that you both like and can agree on.  It may be a song that portrays an energy or sentiment that you want to express, or it may just be something “comfortable” that you feel confident dancing to.  It doesn’t really matter what song you choose or why, but it does help if you both like it and agree on it.

The Beat

Can you hear a distinctive beat-beat-beat of drums, or other strong instruments?  The easier it is to hear the beat, the easier it will be to dance to.  It doesn’t have to be a crashing, throbbing techno rock song — unless that’s what you like and want to dance to — but it really shouldn’t be something so ethereal and “floaty” that you can’t easily discern a beat or rhythm.

Rhythms and some of their dances

Rhythm is the pattern of sounds the beats make, that invites movement.  Some rhythm examples are — 

  • A straightforward walking rhythm like 1-2-3-4-1-2-3-4.  Dances: One step, blues.

  • A straight, even combination of stronger and weaker beats that can invite a sense of slows and quicks, in rhythms you hear as S-Q-Q-S-Q-Q,  S-S-Q-Q-S-S-Q-Q,  or Q-Q-S-Q-Q-S.  Dances: Foxtrot, salsa, rumba, nightclub and country 2 steps and others.

  • A round feeling rhythm — 1-2-3-1-2-3. Dance: Waltz, different styles at different speeds.

  • A combination of straight beats — an even pulse (1-2-3-4-1-2-3-4) and syncopated beats (•-&-•-&-•-&-•-&) which make many different rhythms, such as (&1-2-3-&1-2-3), (1-2-&3-4-1-2-&3-4) or (1-2-3&4-1-2-3&4) and others.  Dances: Swing, lindy hop, cha-cha, hustle and more.

How to choose a song, a dance style?

What’s your dance level?

Never danced before?  Only danced a little?

If you’ve never danced before, or only danced a little, the straightforward walking rhythm of a one step dance will be the easiest to dance to.  It’s also the most forgiving.  There’s “nowhere anyone has to be on the ‘1’” — which basically means you can do no wrong.  If you’re an absolute beginning dancer, look for a one step — they’re everywhere — a song with an easy to hear, even pulse, that you can walk comfortably to — not so fast that you feel rushed and not so slow that you feel like you’re dragging to the next step. 

Go dancing occasionally, or taken a few lessons?

If you do some dancing, or have taken some lessons, you night want to choose a song that invites the kind of dance you know, or it may be possible to adjust the moves you already know to another rhythm. For example, you might borrow some of the salsa moves you learned in a class to a more swing-like rhythm of your wedding song. This can be done for any number of dances and rhythms.

Experienced dancer?  — an accomplished athlete or a musician? 

If you’re an experienced dancer — any kind of dance — an athlete, or a musician, you might want to choose a song with a more complex rhythm, again, not too fast or too slow, just a comfortable walking tempo.

Song Ideas

There are lots of song ideas with a description of dances you can do to them here.

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