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

Bride dancing with her father during the father-daughter dance at her wedding

Photo by Forged in the North

Ah, the father-daughter dance. It's that moment during the celebration when the bride honors their father, and it represents the gratitude they have for their father's love as they enter 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 at many, if not most, weddings. The father-daughter dance (similar to the mother-son dance, which usually follows) is a way to shine a spotlight on the person who helped guide the newlywed through life.

As you consider integrating the tradition into your wedding, questions will likely arise, such as: When does the father-daughter dance take place? How long should it last? What song should we choose? Where did the tradition come from, anyway? Well, we have answers to all those questions and more. We spoke to Alicia Mae, owner and lead wedding planner of ILÉ Events, about everything pertaining to the father-daughter dance.

Meet the Expert

Alicia Mae is a New Jersey-based wedding planner and the CEO of ILÉ Events.

Read on to learn everything you need to know about the father-daughter dance tradition.

The History and Meaning of the Father-Daughter Dance

As many wedding traditions do, the father-daughter dance stems from our patriarchal history. Back when most marriages were arranged and social, political, and monetary alliances were what led to unions rather than love, the father-daughter dance served as a sort of final demand by the bride's father before their husband became the most important man in their life. After this dance, the bride would be able to dance with their new spouse, whom they had likely only met recently.

Nowadays, the father-daughter dance doesn't carry the same meaning and seldom comes first, at least in American wedding culture. "Initially, in the previous era, the father would have the first dance with his daughter and then 'give her away' to her husband," Mae explains. "As culture evolved, many couples opted for the first dance to be theirs. Now, you will find the father-daughter dance taking place right after the newlywed's first dance."

Since love is the primary driver for marriage these days, most traditions rooted in gender inequality have been reclaimed as special moments between two people who deeply care for one another. The father-daughter dance is regarded as a beautiful moment between a bride and their father and symbolizes their appreciation for the love and guidance they received throughout their life.

Father-Daughter Dance FAQs

When should we have the father-daughter dance?

Most brides have the father-daughter dance right after their first dance with their spouse. If you don't want to have it after the first dance, other good times to squeeze it in are following the toasts and before the cake cutting.

What song should we dance to?

You can talk to your father about what song they 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, 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. If you have a few people you'd like to honor, they can take turns cutting in to share the dance.

Raised by two fathers? Pick two songs, shorten them to about two minutes each, and dedicate a special dance to each of your dads, one after the other.

How long should the dance last?

A lot of the time, the dance will last as long as the song does, granted it falls in the three-to-four minute range. Some people recommend, however, playing a shortened version rather than the full one, since guests' 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 brides can go about making the father-daughter dance their own. First, it's important to acknowledge that some brides might not have a relationship with their father or, sadly, may no longer have them in their lives. In this case, one might choose to dance with their mother, another family member, or someone else who played an important role in their life 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," she says. "Instead of a father giving his daughter away, the two families became one."

As always, whether you stay classic, 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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