Everything You Need To Know About the Father-Daughter Dance Tradition

father daughter dance

Photo by Forged in the North

Ah, the father-daughter dance, aka time for guests to Instagram their cocktail hour photos #BenandHeatherForever. It's a moment at the celebration where the bride honors her father, and it can represent the gratitude she has for him as she enters a new phase of life. At best, this dance can provide a sweet moment of family connection; at worst, it can feel a little antiquated. Either way, it's a staple of many weddings.

The father-daughter dance is very similar to the mother-son dance. One is usually followed by the other, and both are a way to shine a spotlight on the person who helped guide you through life.

As you consider integrating the tradition into your wedding, questions will likely arise: When is the father-daughter dance? How long should it last? What song should we choose? Where did the tradition begin anyway? Read on to learn more about this storied tradition and for answers to every question you can think of.

Meet the Expert

Alicia Mae is a wedding planner and CEO of ILÉ Events.

The History and Meaning of the Father-Daughter Dance

"Initially, in the previous era, the father would have the first dance with his daughter and then 'give her away' to her husband," wedding planner Alicia Mae explains. The father would demand a final dance before giving their daughters to their new man (often a stranger). Then the bride and groom would have their first dance. "As culture evolved, many couples opted for the first dance to be theirs," Mae says. "Now, you will find the father-daughter dance taking place right after the newlywed's first dance."

Father-Daughter Dance FAQs

When should we have the father-daughter dance?

If you don't want to have it after the first dance, another good time to squeeze it in is following the toasts and before the cake cutting.

What song should we dance to?

You can talk to your father about what song he would like to dance to but, ultimately, it's up to you. "Some brides choose a heartfelt song that leaves the crowd in tears while other brides option for a song that brings laughter as Dad boogies," Mae says. Whether fast or slow, it should be something that speaks to your relationship. Thankfully, there are a bunch to choose from.

Should we choreograph the dance?

If you're dancing to a more upbeat song, it's not a bad idea. If you're sticking to a traditional slow dance though, it might not be necessary, and you can just opt for a couple of dance lessons instead.

Can I also include my stepparents?

Of course. You can always switch partners and songs midway through, or if you have a couple of people you'd like to honor, they can take turns cutting in to share the dance.

How long should the dance last?

It can last as long as the song does, though some people recommend playing a shortened version rather than the full one, given the fact that guest's attention spans tend to wane.

Tradition Alternatives

Wedding traditions are not one-size-fits-all and should not be treated as such. There are many ways to go about making one like the father-daughter dance your own. First, it's important to acknowledge that all brides might not have a relationship with their father or, sadly, may no longer have them in their lives. In this case, they might choose to dance with their mother, another family member, or someone else who played an important role in their lives growing up.

Mae says that she's seen many creative ways in which couples modernize traditions, which helps to put a unique spin on a wedding. "One of my favorite experiences was watching the newlyweds have their first dance while the bride and groom's parents dance alongside them," Mae recalls. "It was an extended first dance that exemplified the love between each family. Later in the song, other married couples joined in on the fun. This unique twist presented the feeling of family and unity, compared to the old tradition. Instead of a father giving his daughter away, the two families became one." 

As always, whether you remix the tradition or forego it altogether, the choice is yours. "Individually and collectively, the message or traditions you want to begin as a couple rely entirely on you," Mae says. "Starting and sticking to that truth will help you pick what is most valuable to you while wedding planning." 

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