Men have a complicated relationship with dancing. We don’t talk about it with our buddies. We don’t admit that we like it. On a Saturday night, we would never guzzle our beers, wolf down burgers, and then say with a rush of excitement, “Hey guys. I know. Whattya say we all go dancing!!!” It just doesn’t happen. It’s like drinking piña coladas, reading Us Weekly, watching Sex and the City reruns, or using the word “treat.” Fun things that guys are not supposed to like.
The wedding is your one exception. You may dance with impunity. You may practice. You may talk about it. And you may—in fact, you must—think very, very carefully about the dreaded “first dance.”
See also: Wedding Band or DJ?
There’s more at stake than your ego, your dignity, and your ability to impress your fiancée. The first dance establishes the tone of your party. It’s a statement. Once the cocktails and appetizers are over, your reception is at a crossroads. Subdued or upbeat? Mellow or festive? Everyone looks at the empty dance floor and wonders… what kind of party will this become?
It’s a big moment. Here are 10 ways to not screw it up:
1. Keep the Mood Upbeat
You know how most weddings have a first dance that’s slow and sentimental? Not yours. Instead, go with something unexpected and invigorating. For the first dance at his own wedding, one Plunge staffer did a merengue. It was surprising and fun and bursting with energy. When the band invited everyone up the guests leapt from their seats—young and old. Everyone spilled onto the dance floor and it was on. Don’t get boxed in by a clumsy foxtrot.
2. Take Lessons
Dance lessons? Really? Five reasons to do it: 1) You’re less likely to humiliate yourself; 2) You score points with your fiancée; 3) You’ll have more confidence when you dance at future weddings; 4) It’s actually fun; and 5) It’s a rare wedding-planning-activity that’s structured to bring you together, not pull you apart.
3. Respect the Lactose-Intolerant
If you decide to ignore our advice and go with a weepy-song? Fine. That can still work. But if you pick a song with extra cheese, The Plunge reserves the right to film your dance and use the footage as blackmail. Never pick “Wind Beneath My Wings,” “I Will Always Love You,” or “Lady in Red.” For a full list of cheesy songs, refer to our must-read Do Not Play List that you can simply print out and give your DJ or band.
4. Coordinate with the Band
Do it right. If you have a band, make sure they know the song, and make sure they can play it well. For any song, there will be slight timing differences between the studio version and the band version; this can throw you off. So if it’s at all feasible, actually listen to them perform it. (Or see if they have a recording you can use.) Practice to it. Then practice some more. Your friends are expecting nothing more than an awkward, homecoming-dance-style shuffle. Just some basic practicing will blow everyone out of the water.
5. Use the Ringers
Employ your groomsmen and bridesmaids. Tell them it’s not optional; they must dance. And if your crowd is particularly fossilized, then slap the groomsmen/bridesmaids with a recruiting quota: they must each personally drag two guests up to the dance floor. That guarantees an insta-crowd of 20ish people, which is all the critical mass you need to get the rest of your guests onboard.
6. Learn From Karaoke
It’s the classic karaoke mistake: you think a song would be fun and then you realize that it’s looooooonnng and you’re up there, onstage, singing by yourself for what feels like six hours. If you’re using a slow song—again, not our recommendation—cap your dance at 150 seconds, then invite everyone up. Otherwise it’s uncomfortable, tedious, and feels like a first date gone bad.
7. Keep It Personal
Make no mistake: the primary goal is to be upbeat, energetic, catchy. But, if possible, the song should have a personal connection. Example: two friends of ours bonded over a mutual love of Johnny Cash, so their first song was “Walk the Line.” Staying personal helps you dodge the obvious.
The wedding-industrial complex will give your fiancée’ seven pages of rituals you must follow on the “sequence of dances” (bride/groom, father/daughter, etc.). If you can get away with it, skip this and have the obligatory dances at the tail of your first dance.
If she insists, however, you can easily broker a compromise. Begin with something upbeat that gets the crowd shaking (back to the merengue example) and then, once everyone’s relaxed, briefly slow the tempo for the Ceremonial Dances. Bonus: slotting the father/daughter dance after the faster kick-off will make it even more poignant, as it’s less expected and less cliché.
9. Keep It Going
Whether you realize it or not, you are providing the wedding its character, energy, and overall ambiance. Your first dance is not your last dance.
10. Vet the Lyrics
Remember that episode of Arrested Development, when Michael and his niece sing a duet of “Afternoon Delight?” They think it’s a nice, sweet family song. Then, as they’re singing, they realize to their horror that they’re cooing about having a quickie with each other. (“Thinkin’ of you’s workin’ up my appetite” and “The thought of lovin’ you is getting so exciting.”) So actually listen to the lyrics, double-check here, and avoid anything like “Gold Digger” or “Every Breath You Take.” For more songs to avoid, check out our Do Not Play List.
Your next obligation in the wedding planning: arranging for transportation. (Fun, we know.)