What Is the First Dance Etiquette at a Wedding?

March 25 2021 – Mike Yarbrough

Bride and groom first dance

Bride and groom first dance

It's always fun to delve into the history behind traditions we tend to take for granted. Weddings have so many associated customs and traditions but we don't always take the time to wonder about all of them. For example, it's customary for the bride and groom to share the first dance at their wedding, but where did that tradition come from? We did some digging and discovered the origins of this tradition and we're excited to share our findings.

If you're planning on getting married soon, you might also be wondering about first dance etiquette. Some questions you may have could be:

  • When are you supposed to dance? 
  • Who dances with who? 
  • Do you even need a first dance at your wedding? 

We have the answers!

The Origin of the First Dance Tradition

The tradition of a first dance goes back to 17th-century Europe. This was a time in which formal balls were popular, and it was customary for a guest of honor (typically the person of the highest social standing in attendance) to lead the first dance. 

If there was a member of the royal family present, for example, they would almost certainly have the first dance. The host or hostess would announce the opening of the ball and the first dance would begin, led by the guest or guests of honor. 

This was prior to the popularity of ballroom dancing. The dances of the time were long country dances more like a line or parade. The first couple wouldn't be the only ones dancing throughout the first piece of music; rather they would lead the other couples down the set. 

First Dance Etiquette

While the modern-day tradition of a first dance can be traced back to 17th-century Europe, it has changed plenty since then. As recently as the 1920s, it was considered good etiquette for the newlyweds to let their guests dance first. These days, the bride and groom usually share the first dance, often to a song the two of them have chosen specifically for that purpose. Once the first song is over, there are various ways the evening can proceed.

bride and groom first wedding dance

Some brides and grooms invite all of the couples out onto the floor after the first dance has ended. If you want to go a more "traditional" route, there is a generally-agreed-upon etiquette when it comes to the ordering of the dances: 

  1. The bride and groom share the first dance.

  2. The father of the bride then dances with the bride. The groom may also dance with the mother of the bride.

  3. Next, the bride's mother and father dance together. The groom dances with his mother, and then the groom's parents dance together.

  4. The dance floor then opens up to the bridesmaids and groomsmen. At many weddings, the groomsmen take turns dancing with the bride and the bridesmaids take turns dancing with the groom.

  5. After that, it's a free-for-all. Everybody out on the dance floor!

While some couples may find all of the above to be a little stiff and old-fashioned, many others still enjoy the traditional ordering.

First Dance Alternatives

An increasing number of couples these days are choosing to have weddings that blend the traditional with the alternative. How you choose to observe the first dance tradition can be part of that. Here are a few ways to put a different spin on the first dance:

  • Choose a unique (or unexpected) song for the first dance. Make it a song that really says something about the bride and groom. You could swing-dance to your favorite country tune, or headbang your way through a beloved metal song.

  • Invite all the couples onto the dance floor at once. This is a great option if you don't want to be in the spotlight, or if you really want to celebrate the togetherness of your family, friends and community.

  • Sing the first song. Not into dancing? Switch things up and have karaoke at your wedding reception. The bride and groom can have the honor of dueting on the first song.

  • Have a Wedding Party Dance. Ask the bridal party and/or groomsmen out onto the dance floor for a wedding party dance. This can take a little pressure off the bride and groom. Some wedding parties even come up with a choreographed dance routine

The first dance at your wedding can be as traditional or as unconventional as you want it to be -- and so can your wedding! Take our wedding style quiz to find out which wedding style is best for you and get some inspiration for how you can combine the traditional with the unconventional.

Tagged: first dance, wedding planning