For Better or For Worse - New Trends for the First Dance

Jean Neuhart

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There comes that magical moment at every wedding reception where all else stops, and all eyes gaze toward the center of the dance floor. It is empty except for the bride and groom as they prepare for their first dance as husband and wife.

The first dance is an age-old tradition – originating with formal balls in Europe where the person with the highest social position, often the Emperor or King, would have the first dance, thereby signaling the official start of the event. For events of lesser nobility, the host and/or hostess would have the first dance.

Formal balls have become a thing of the past. Gone are the once common knowledge and skills of ballroom dancing, but luckily not completely forgotten thanks to dance studios and instructors. Many couples, in the desire to avoid showing their friends and family that they each have two left feet and possess a distinct lack of rhythm, have opted for at least a few dance lessons so they can gracefully twirl around the dance floor with a more polished look on their wedding day. And if they prefer to practice solely in the privacy of their own homes, dance instruction videos and DVD’s are available.

However, a new first dance practice is suddenly emerging. No longer are couples simply doing a foxtrot, waltz, or that old stand-by, the old “high school sway. " In its place is a professionally choreographed routine rivaling something you’d see on a theatre stage during a musical. This trend is becoming more common, as couples across the country reenact scenes from “Dirty Dancing, " Michael Jackson’s “Thriller, " and the opening sequence to “The Spy Who Loved Me, " complete with pantomimed gestures along with the carefully practiced dance moves. Some couples have even gone so far as requiring their entire bridal party to take several dance lessons, and wear silly costumes. The trend in elaborately choreographed first dances is getting so popular that some of these routines are frequently viewed on YouTube, and even show up on the national news.

So, why is the simple first dance of old heading in this theatrical, dramatic direction? Why are more and more couples trying to put on a show? A definitive answer is hard to come by, as there are many different hypotheses. Many claim that it is the fault of an “all about me" society. That many couples desire to “one up" other couples, so they choose to be as elaborate and showy as possible, so they become the focus of everyone’s attention. Some think that the media is to blame. With so many talent style programs on these days – ‘America’s Got Talent, ’ ‘American Idol’ and ‘Dancing with the Stars’ – perhaps they just want to get into the act. Another thought is that this trend stems from the fact that we currently live in a culture that is just less traditional than ever before, including weddings. Since today’s brides and grooms are making less traditional wedding choices, why should their first dance remain traditional? Isn’t the wedding day all about the couple and what they want anyway?

Sure, a wedding ceremony and reception is about the couple, there’s no denying that. After all, they, and the celebration of their new life together, are the reason for the day’s events and the gathering of friends and family. On this day, all eyes are going to be on the bride and groom anyway, regardless of what they are doing, or how they are doing it. So the bride and groom need to carefully think about what these eyes are going to see. They are the host and hostess, and as such, should put careful thought into what they are providing for their guests.

Like the hundreds of thousands of other wedding guests across the country, their guests will witness many “traditional" formalities, including the cake cutting, tossing the bouquet and garter, and the couples’ first dance. However, these traditions were first implemented centuries ago, and their meanings and symbolisms have changed significantly through the years. Today’s bride and groom have to decide what meanings, if any, these formalities hold for them. What do they hope to achieve as they plan on participating in these formalities? Is it to follow tradition, to become the center of attention, or something else entirely?

Would they be more comfortable with something sweet and traditional, or is something dramatic and entertainment-like more suitable? Again, there is no definitive answer. Like any other planning decision, it really depends on the style and formality of event the couple wishes to have. As the first dance has the power to set the tone for the event, making an appropriate choice is very important. Do they want classic and formal? Then holding to the traditional ways may be best for them. On the other hand, if they want something more modern and contemporary, than why not an energized, choreographed routine?

However, like many things in life, the “what" isn’t as important as the “why. " What are they doing? Dancing – following either tradition or the current trend. But why are they doing it? Is it to signal the dancing portion of the event, to set the mood for the rest of the evening, or to get their guests more involved? Or is it an attempt to show off and say, “Hey, look at us, aren’t we great?" Just remember, there won’t be any Tony awards given out at the end of the evening for best performance, and Sunday’s paper won’t be listing any reviews. However, what does come away from the event, and in big part the first dance, are the memories to be enjoyed for years to come. What do you think most guests would want to remember – a couple of show offs or a fun, enjoyable event?

Jean Neuhart is the owner of Weddings From The Heart . As a Professional Bridal Consultant, she helps busy brides and their fiances plan creative, personalized and stress-free weddings. Your questions and comments are always welcome.


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