Jenna Johnson and Val Chmerkovskiy are currently competing on a new season of Dancing with the Stars, but just a few months ago, they were preparing for another important moment: Their first dance as a married couple!
In April, the stars married in a glamorous California wedding that included a five-tiered wedding cake, a Vera Wang dress for the bride, and a 200-person guest list packed with DWTS pros. But aside from the couple revealing their first dance song, "La Vie en Rose," they left many of the night's dancing details a secret. That is, until now: We sat down with Jenna to chat about all the big moments from the couple's surprisingly not (!!) choreographed first dance to the reception playlist and musical surprises from both the bride and groom.
Keep reading to see the couple in action with wedding photos by Duke Images and a video by KFilms Video—then, take notes on Jenna's top tips for nailing the first dance, making the perfect playlist, and creating a dance-filled night to remember, below.
DWTS Pro Jenna Shares Her Wedding Dances – Plus Tips for Engaged Couples
On Choosing Their First Dance Song
Jenna and Val have Amazon's "Alexa" to thank for their first dance song. “I remember we went on a date one night and we came home and Val was like, ‘Alexa, play our favorite station,’ and the first song that came on was ‘La Vie en Rose,’” Jenna recalls. “We sat there and we kind of just stared at each other and then we were like, ‘This is the song for our first dance.'" As Michael Bublé’s take on the romantic French tune played, Jenna says they began to slow dance in their kitchen, describing the moment as “very sweet.”
Fast forward to April 13, 2019, when the couple exchanged a kitchen for a ballroom to sway to the same song—this time as newlyweds on their wedding day. Perhaps surprisingly, Jenna and Val opted to do more of a spontaneous slow dance rather than a choreographed routine for their first spin as husband and wife. “I think everyone expected us to do a big, extravagant first dance,” Jenna says. “We really wanted to steer away from that because that’s what we do for a living as our job. We wanted this to be in the moment, special for the two of us, and we just wanted to be real humans and not dancers.” That said, Val did plan something: He interrupted their first dance with a surprise performance, breaking into a violin serenade midway through the tune. “I had no idea! I hadn’t ever heard him practice this or anything in the house so it was a shock to me,” she says. “That was really special and kind of made our first dance memorable forever for me.”
On Choreographing a (Surprise!) Father-Daughter Dance
Jenna, too, had a surprise planned—with her dad! When it came time for the father-daughter dance, they danced to “The Way You Look Tonight” by Frank Sinatra...that is, until the music suddenly transitioned into "Uptown Funk" by Bruno Mars, her father’s favorite song. They put on sunglasses and jumped into a choreographed routine, which came as a surprise to most everyone given Mr. Johnson’s reserved character. “He just likes to sit back and watch other people shine and so never in a million years would he do this,” she says with a laugh.
But Jenna, who was the last of her sisters to get married, was able to convince him. The idea first occurred to her not long after her June 2018 engagement, when she visited her family in Utah to show off her new cushion-cut diamond ring. “My dad and I were by ourselves, and we were talking about something and [‘Uptown Funk’] came on, and I kind of looked at him and was like, ‘Could you imagine if we did this?’ He laughed and brushed it off and didn’t think it was a real thing,” she recalls.
But Jenna was serious! Ahead of the wedding, she flew to Utah for a few days to choreograph and rehearse the routine with her dad. Then, after the rehearsal dinner, she even snuck into her parent’s hotel room for a final run-through. “I told Val I was getting a spray tan,” she adds with a laugh. Despite plenty of practicing, Jenna admits that her father almost didn’t go through with their plan on the big day. “He wanted to focus on doing a good speech, so he was like, ‘I don’t think I can do this’ and backed out like 10 minutes before the reception started,” she says. “Luckily, he had a change of heart during the reception and the plan was back on.” It was a success. “Everyone just started cheering and freaking out,” Jenna recalls of moment. “Val like stood up so confused. He had no idea what was going on. It was amazing!”
On Curating a Family-Friendly Playlist
Val took the lead on the rest of the night’s music. “There were very few things that Val was specifically in charge of and one of the things was the band,” Jenna says.
About three months before the wedding, the couple began Skyping their band to ensure the night’s playlist included all their must-have songs and favorite music genres. On the list? Classic hits, hip hop, and upbeat and fun salsa songs (for dancing, obvi!). “Our band, Eli’s Band, wanted all of the songs and all of the music and the whole vibe to be curated for us and to our liking,” Jenna explains. “We kind of went through with them and told them our favorite styles of music and what we wanted the guests to enjoy.”
Looking back, Jenna says that some of her favorite memories occurred on the dance floor, notably when she saw her family grooving along to a salsa beat. “All of a sudden, my arm was being pulled, and it was Val. He was like, ‘You have to come see this,’” she says. “My whole family—my parents, my siblings, their spouses—were all on the dance floor just jamming out. My brothers are not dancers, and it was amazing to see them out there really embracing the night and dancing the night away!”
On Sharing Her Been-There, Done-That Advice
Although she’s been Mrs. Chmerkovskiy for several months now, Jenna says wedding planning is still fresh in her head. In fact, she says she wishes she “could relive that day over and over again.” With that, we asked the pro to share her advice for couples planning, and she revealed four no-fail tips for nailing the first dance and creating a dance-ready playlist. (Hint: Time to take notes!)
Choose a first dance song with meaning. “When they announce you as husband and wife for the first time, it’s very surreal,” Jenna recalls. She recommends choosing a song that means something for the first dance, whether it triggers an important memory or is specific to you and your relationship. “I think choosing a song that is special to the both of you is really important,” she says.
Be comfortable on the dance floor. Choosing the best song for your first dance is one thing, but choosing how you want to dance to that song is a whole other feat. For Jenna and Val, that meant not “overthinking” a traditional, unchoreographed slow dance. “I think that I wouldn’t have been able to take in all those feelings or emotions that I was feeling so I really got to enjoy that moment and be super present,” she admits. But Jenna also realizes that not all couples feel the same way and knows from her experience teaching that some couples, in fact, do better with choreography. “Sometimes learning simple little steps kind of gives couples a pattern that they can follow, and they feel a bit more confident," she says. "I literally melt every time I help a couple with their first dance, and they’re not dancers.”
Decide if a band or DJ is more your style. When it comes down to entertainment, Jenna says it can be difficult for couples to decide between a DJ or live band. For Jenna, a live band was a no-brainer. “They really helped the energy of the night with live singers and interactions with the crowd,” she says. However, she says a DJ can be great for couples who don’t want anything unpredictable on their big day. “A DJ is nice and secure to have where there’s a set playlist that you can kind of create yourself and then you know for sure what you’re going to get,” she says.
Create the environment you want your guests to remember. At the end of the day, Jenna says wedding guests will remember three things: the personal touches like the vows and toasts, the food, and the music. So, when it comes to curating the wedding playlist, she leaves us with this: “Think about the energy that you want to bring and create for everyone and stay true to that,” she says. “At our wedding, we wanted everyone to enjoy the party and dance!”