Wedding first dance – how to pick and arrange your song

The first dance at your wedding should be perfect. It’s a magical moment with your loved one and everyone is watching you. If you look for an original, non-traditional song that could work, there are a few things to think about before you give it to your DJ. Here are some tips from my own wedding.

  • Read my list of first dance indie songs [coming soon!]

The hardest thing first: don’t stress out!

Before you read on: all of the following doesn’t matter if you just love your song and it means something to you. Science Boy and I basically discovered all the little things on the way when picking our song. With ‘on the way’ I mean ‘when we tried dancing to the song’. If you need only one tip, it’s: dance to the song with your partner many times. This should be easy since you probably love the tune anyways.

Start collecting random songs now

Some people hear a song when they are 5 years old and know this is going to be their first dance. Other couples have ‘our song’ from when they first kissed or the like. I did the practical thing: I found our first dance song (Blue Eyes by Cary Brothers) by going through my iTunes library checking for emotional songs that are a Waltz. I also started noticing on the radio or during a movie when a nice song came up. For months I put random songs on post-its to have a collection available. Then we started stepping on each others’ toes when we actually tried dancing.

Not too fast, not too slow

When you try to dance to the song you’ll quickly realize when it’s too fast. Do it in a big room that is similar in size to the dance floor at your venue, and do the whole song. I danced to a few tunes myself alone at home. Only when I asked my partner to join we figured out which songs worked and which didn’t. I had picked many that were too fast, even though on my hi fi it seemed slow. (Also, your song should not be too slow, or you won’t be able to ‘flow’ elegantly through the room.)

If your heart is set on a song but the timing does not work, have it slowed down or go faster by a DJ or find a computer program to do it for you. There are ways to do this so that the voices stay the same (we did that, it’s hardly noticeable).

Three minutes can be a long time

Usually indie rock songs are not much longer than three minutes. That sounds short, but it isn’t. If the dance takes too long, people will get bored. They will have drunk a little already, might be ‘full’ from the buffet and tired from standing around.

A long song can also be too long for you, the couple. You won’t believe how long one minute can be if you only know so many moves, and everyone’s eyes are on you. We danced for 2 minutes and it really felt very long.

The perfect length

From our experience, one and a half minutes or two are quite enough. You can walk on the floor, get ready to start, do a few rounds, and end with a kiss or the like. You probably don’t want to go round 10-20 times to fill up the time. One obvious way to shorten a song is to cut it down with a music program like audacity or garage band. I personally have played around with this but I’d leave this to a friend who knows what they are doing, or your DJ if they are willing to do this for you.

Much easier is the option to let the DJ (or a friend who handles the music player for you) start the song at a certain point, and fade it out after one to two minutes or so. Ideally they and you would know when that point is so there’s no confusion. Then, the song would either be finished, or the DJ asks everyone to join and either plays the song louder again to the end, or starts a new song. This is the option we did.

Call other couples on the floor

Together with our DJ we picked a point in the song that worked for us to walk on the floor, have time to get ready, and then start dancing right when the first verse came on. Also, we told her that after roughly one minute or a bit more she should call our friends and family on the floor as well. This means that we ended our dance with a kiss, and immediately after the cheers from our friends they stormed on the dance floor. There was no awkward pause or anything. Our trick: we ‘recruited’ two couples to volunteer as the first ones to join us.

Our song: Blue Eyes by Cary Brothers

This is a great song that I’ve loved since I watched the “Garden State” movie with Natalie Portman and Zach Braff. Cary Brothers is an indie rock singer-songwriter from Los Angeles, and the soundtrack won a Grammy. Neither me nor my husband have blue eyes, but the lyrics are quite touching:

But you don’t know
You don’t know the greatness you are

Cause Blue Eyes
You are destiny’s scene
Cause Blue Eyes
I just wanna be the one

I just wanna sing a song with you
I just wanna get it on with you

Anxiety: things will go wrong

At every wedding something goes wrong. It can well happen during the dance. You might forget your steps, or it might not be all that magical because you trip, or you forget to smile because you’re so concentrated. Anything can happen – know that your friends are there because they love you and they want to share the day (and a laugh) with you. At our wedding Science Boy had brought a tiny heart pillow with him. He wanted to pull it out of his jacket at the end of the dance and present me with his ‘heart’. I knew something was coming because he told me of a surprise, but not exactly what.

So he gave the heart to his brother to keep it until the dance. But he forgot to take it back. At the end of the dance we look in each others’ eyes, and I’m curiously expecting something. But he just gave me a kiss, and I’m not sure if people saw that I was a bit dazzled that this would be ‘the surprise’. I asked my Maid of Honor later – she said no one else noticed!

Stepping on the dress

One of my main worries was that I or my partner might step on my dress. I had a very long, romantic dress with layers of lace (see picture on the right). My seamstress refused to shorten it because it would have looked ugly to cut a lace in the middle. She told me repeatedly that when you dance and swing around in circles, your dress will be lifted and you won’t step on it. I was very anxious about that, but she was right. The dress fit perfectly between the two of us, neither of us stepped on it. Men usually wear slim, fancy shoes so there’s less ‘foot’ available to ‘put’ on something. The dress just softly followed my body movements.

How much money to spend on DJ and dance lessons

There are lots of tips on websites of brides magazines that urge you to invest in a DJ and dance lessons. It’s more important to spend time on picking a song and trying it out. Have a musical friend help you. We paid for a DJ because our venue had no hi fi system and most friends traveled from abroad and could not bring any equipment. We asked a dance teacher (of a course we did anyways before even being engaged) to give us two lessons to time the song. That was it, and it would have worked without that just as well.

When is a Waltz a Waltz

There are great indie and acoustic songs that can work as a Waltz. Obviously it’s up to you want kind of dance you like. Some songs sound like a Waltz, (count um-da-da, um-da-da or 1-2-3, 1-2-3). But they might actually be on 6/8th time (that’s when you count 1-2-3, 4-5-6). The tiny distinction just means that the feel of the song could be different, with the 6/8 sometimes seeming like there’s no real pause after 1-2-3 like in the Waltz. Our dance teacher pointed this out to us when we picked a 6/8 song and wondered why we couldn’t properly do the Waltz on it. This does not have to be the case. Just try to dance whatever Waltz you can dance on the song and just check if it feels right. Also, when it’s an indie song, not a classic Waltz, then the song could have a rhythm change in between, like for a bridge or chorus. It’s important to listen to the song from beginning to end, and then dance to it several times to get a feeling for it.

Helpful sources

  • I wrote a post with a list of indie songs [coming soon!].
  • Youtube is an amazing source. You cannot only hear the song (sometimes bad quality), but also see how it works for the couple on the dance floor.
  • List of pop songs, not all Waltz
  • A comprehensive list on picking and performing the first dance from a Canadian wedding DJ
  • Tips on arranging a dance with a band
  • Great tips for preparing the first dance
  • Tips about the dress and shoes
  • Some ideas for those who want to take dance lessons
  • Couples talking about their first dance

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7 thoughts on “Wedding first dance – how to pick and arrange your song

  1. The heart story is not complete – it was even worse: On the morning of the wedding I actually went to a magic shop to buy some flowers I could pull out of my sleeve as the highlight of the dance. But, no!, they had run out of flowers. That shouldn’t happen in a decent magic shop. Anyhow … I later spotted the heart shaped cushion on the gift table and saw an opportunity. The problem was that I only remembered it again when I saw my brother waving it at me while we were already dancing. Ah … would have been nice. But as Nici said – no one noticed something was missing.

  2. I really appreciate all the information you share on your blog. Much more detailed than I. Great job!

  3. What an awesome post to help couples put the magic into their magic moment. Well Done! I am going to share it with our viewers.

  4. Sue and malcom on said:

    This is just fantastic. Possibly the best advice iv ever read. Are reach arounds a common move on the first dance?

  5. This is just incredible. Perhaps the best advice iv ever read. Are reach around a common move on the first dance?

    • Thanks! Our dance teacher made up the moves, and I’m sure we were not the first ones he suggested it. It’s a nice way to make a great entry, show off your dress and get ‘into’ the dance.

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