Sure, most weddings involve attendees boogieing down on the dance floor. There’s hardly a better way to celebrate a new union. But many weddings also include special, traditional dances that spotlight honored guests. There's the first dance, where the couple takes their first spin on the dance floor. During the parents’ dance, the couple enjoys a special moment with the people who raised them. Lesser known is the anniversary dance, which salutes couples who have been married the longest and the money dance where guests surround the couple and slip cash to them.
Even couples who love to dance can find it intimidating to think through traditional dances. Should they wing them or perform a choreographed routine? Will older guests cherish the anniversary dance or feel put on the spot? We asked Reba Browne, who helps run a wedding choreography business, to answer your most pressing questions.
Meet the Expert
Reba Browne is the Assistant Director at Ajna, a New York City-based dance company that specializes in South Asian dance and helps couples and their family and friends prepare their wedding dances.
Read on to find out how to pull off the wedding dances seamlessly.
Steps to Planning the Wedding Dances
Choose your wedding dances.
Not every couple opts to stage every wedding dance at their reception. Decide which ones are important a few months in advance so there is enough time to prepare.
Book your choreographer.
Many couples want to perform a unique routine designed by a professional. “While it’s obvious that everybody has a different learning curve, we always recommend starting early since things can get crazy as the weddings get closer,” says Browne. “We also want people to feel confident and comfortable performing which comes with practice. We recommend starting 2-3 months before the big day.”
Reach out to involved participants.
If you want the parents’ dance or the anniversary dance at your wedding give involved participants ample time to practice and choose their music.
Choose your music and prepare your band or DJ.
Choose the music you want for each different wedding dance, then make sure your band or DJ is equipped to play it for you.
“I hate to say it but the most important thing is to practice,” said Browne. “The less you have to think about the steps and remembering the choreography, the more you’ll truly enjoy performing and adding in the extras like smiling.”
“On the day of the wedding everyone’s there because they love you and are celebrating your big day,” says Browne. “So at that point don’t worry about the steps and just enjoy performing. No one else knows the choreography but you, so as long as you smile and have fun, you’ll be a hit.”
Wedding Dance FAQs and Etiquette
How many traditional wedding dances are there?
There are four main ones: the first dance, the parents’ dance, the anniversary dance, and the money dance. Different cultures and religions also have their own customs like the hora, a traditional circle dance performed at Jewish weddings or the raas garba, a night of folk dances that takes place before Indian weddings.
Who participates in traditional wedding dances?
There are some general rules. The first dance, for example, is performed by the couple. The parents’ dance is performed by them and their parents (the traditional father-daughter dance now usually includes both parents, hence the name.) The anniversary dance can include the longest-married couple in attendance or all the couples married over a specified number of years. The most inclusive wedding dance is the money dance; all wedding guests are invited to participate.
Browne has seen couples include wider groups in their traditional dances. “We've seen a trend that includes a slow dance by the couple that turns into a high energy Bollywood/Bhangra performance that includes family and friends and the bridal party,” she says.
When do the wedding dances take place?
While some couples like to start the reception with the first dance and the parents’ dances, others opt to spread them throughout the reception. The money dance (also called the dollar dance or the apron dance) is usually performed at the end of the reception. That way guests can symbolically send the couples off into a happy future.
Regardless of when the wedding dances take place, the key is to keep them short and sweet. “You want to leave your audience wanting more,” says Browne.
Is it required to do all the wedding dances?
“They are definitely not mandatory,” explains Browne. “But we think couples should at least consider incorporating dances since they are vibrant and festive and bring joy to the celebration.”
What do guests do during the dances?
Some of the wedding dances invite participation. All guests, for example, can join in the money dance, and many older couples can show off their moves during the anniversary dance. During the parents’ dance and the first dance, it’s customary for guests to watch as spectators until they are invited to join on the dance floor.
Browne has seen more guests get involved in traditional wedding dances. “With more interracial and mixed weddings, we've seen lots of couples opt to include dance lessons to kick of the festivities but also teach their friends and family some Bollywood and Bhangra dance moves that they can perform or just use when they're on the dance floor,” she says. “It's a lot of fun.”
Do the dances have to be choreographed?
Absolutely not. While some couples like to have a choreographed routine for the first dance (also some parents like to have it for the parents' dance), it is not obligatory. It can be just as meaningful to watch a freshly married couple slow dance slowly together than have them twist and turn and leap. For Browne, regardless of whether the dance is choreographed, it’s important to remember that “less is more,” she said. “Make sure to create choreography that suits your personal style and is not overly complex or daunting.”
What music is played during the wedding dances?
The couple and the people they are dancing with get to choose the music. Some people pick songs that are meaningful to them (perhaps it was playing during their first date or a father used to sing a song to his daughter when she was younger?) Remember to keep it tasteful and a song to which you are comfortable dancing. Pick a song you really connect with,” suggests Browne. “You’ll have to listen to it a million times over the course of your lessons.”