The first dance as a couple can be exciting or as stressful as the rest of the wedding planning combined, depending on who is in your lives as a couple. Between divorces, remarriages, death of a parent, and other family dislocations, the first dance can be riddled with drama, tension and stress .
Traditional etiquette, according to Diane Warner’s Contemporary Guide to Wedding Etiquette, says dancing isn’t required but if you have dancing, here is the traditional dance order for a wedding reception:
- The bride and groom dance the first dance, usually to their favorite song
- The bride dances with her father
- The groom dances with his mother
- The bride dances with her new father-in-law and the groom dances with his new mother-in-law
- The bride dances with the best man, and the groom dances with the bride’s honor attendant
- The bridesmaids and groomsmen join in, dancing with each other
Who decides and how to decide about the first dance involves your values around etiquette, family of origin, and marriage, as well as your sensitivity to the feelings and values of others involved in these sticky situations. Even if you agree easily as a bride and groom, once family members start disagreeing, things can get ugly in a hurry.
There are many potential creative solutions to these problems, but here are few principles we offer on managing the complex family dynamics of wedding planning.
Operate from your values. Knowing what values underlie your decisions allows you to resist falling back on etiquette that may not apply here or giving in to the demands of loudest person. Communicate why you have made the decision to those who may be upset, but stick to your decision because it’s based on your values.
When there is conflict, blood talks to blood. When a decision has been made and people are still upset, you do not cross family lines. If the bride is furious about a decision made by the groom’s mother, it’s the groom who should approach his mother. Similarly, if the groom’s mother is upset about something and approaches the bride, who often gets the brunt of all wedding related problems, the bride needs to send her future mother in law back to her son to resolve the tension. Why? In-law relationships are fragile, particularly before a couple is actually married. You are setting the stage for the rest of your married life on how you deal with disagreements as a couple and with your families. Tread these rough waters carefully.
When people threaten to boycott the wedding if they don’t get what they want, reaffirm the values behind your decision and how you want them to be present even if they are unhappy with your decision. If they chose to boycott your wedding it is THEIR decision and you have not let them pull you into past grievances and emotions that have little or nothing to do with you and your wedding.
For some couples, the first dance is just that—a dance that comes first at the reception. But for others the first dance is very symbolic and important. Much care should be given to decisions when the etiquette checklist doesn’t fit your family structure. For more advice on managing the people stress around wedding planning or to share your stories, check out our book or DVD on our website.
All our best for your first dance and beyond.
Submited by: Elizabeth Doherty Thomas
- Elizabeth Doherty Thomas, is a co-founder of The First Dance, along with Marriage and Family therapist father Dr. William J. Doherty. The First Dance was a Modern Bride Trendsetter award winner in 2007 for taking on the complex family dynamics of wedding planning. Visit The First Dance for more advice on working through the people stresses of wedding planning as a couple, with your families, and how to strengthen your upcoming marriage through this enormous first task of married life.