If you feel like dancing

September 1, 2008

This is a sequel of sorts to my previous post on jukebox etiquitte, but with the twist that while it is possible (and proper) to dethrone the tyranny of the clown who picked several consecutive selections from Nirvana’s Nevermind, it’s impossible to stop today’s topic of discussion once it has begun.

I’m speaking, of course, of wedding dance songs. While the overall playlist for a wedding reception is also open to debate (except the inclusion of the Chicken Dance. There is never a right time and place for that crap), what we’re going to focus on today is the criteria for choosing a song for the first dance between you and your beloved. As with the jukebox stuff, there are many different facets to consider.

  1. This should go without saying, but obviously the fact that I’m saying it means that that can’t possibly be true: pick a song that’s actually danceable. Example: you can’t do anything to the complex, if beautiful, compositions of Sufjan Stevens. No matter how much you like To Be Alone With You or Vito’s Ordination Song, there’s no sustaining backbeat that allows you to dance like anything other than a limp cod.
  2. The aforementioned Vito’s brings us to another point. Pick a short song. People didn’t buy you a blender so that they could watch you enact an entire three-movement dance performance. Three and a half minutes, MAX. This (for me) rules out the otherwise-perfect South Texas Girl by Lyle Lovett, which clocks in at over six minutes. If someone tried to force you to watch them dance for even four minutes, you’d be running for the buffet pretty quickly, and by minute six, you’d be seeing if you could take those Wuesthoff knives back to Williams-Sonoma. Don’t antagonize your guests.
  3. Pick something that’s not completely obscure. This KILLS me, but as much as I’d totally try to find an acoustic arrangement of the Cabin’s Dance With Me, my indie-ness would be my downfall as my grandmother falls asleep and anyone who is a staunch 94.5 The Buzz listener wonders why I didn’t use a Three Doors Down “ballad” instead. Pick a classic, new or old; I don’t care if it’s Michael Buble or Dean Martin, so long as it swings enough to meet #2’s requirements.
  4. Do not pick You Are So Beautiful by Louis Armstrong. That is a father-daughter dance, you sicko.
  5. All of this has been built on the assumption that you’re going to dance. Dance. Dance whether you’re any good or not, or even if you’re Baptist. Just do it. Especially if you’re Baptist, because if you’re not giving your guests booze, they should at least get some entertainment out of watching your goofy “waltz”.
  6. Don’t pick anything intstrumental, unless it’s so completely well-known that everyone in the room, including your aunt who only watches the public broadcasts of city council meetings, will recognize it. Speaking to the dudes: you need to whisper the lyrics to your new wife. All of them.
  7. You need to have a big finish, so pick a song that actually finishes. If it fades out at the end, no dice. How else will you know when to dip the bride?
  8. Watch out for awkward lyrics. I watched an A&E special where Lyle and the Large Band were playing live, and taking requests from callers. One couple called in to say that they’d danced to Nobody Knows Me at their wedding; Lyle gently reminded them that it’s a cheating song. So many great love songs (particular the great R&B classics) are about unfaithful partners promising afresh that they will always be true. Awwwwwkward. Keep your love songs straigh forward. This same principle applies to any songs that get even borderline raunchy; nothing against raunchy, but it’s a simple moment for simple pleasures. Translation: probably skip Marvin Gaye.
  9. If it’s a song that could also be played at a funeral, forget it. I’m looking at you, Wind Beneath My Wings.
  10. Finally, pick something you like. Weddings are not performances, they’re parties for you. Don’t pick a song because anyone other than you and your intended think it’s cool.

So why am I obsessing about this? Eh, it’s been on my mind for a few months now, and I’ve been to enough weddings over the past decade to choke a horse. More importantly, what is my choice? After hours of research, I’ve found it: Come Rain or Come Shine, as sung by Ray Charles. Classic voice, classic song, only 2:45 long. Perfect.  But then again, this decision should be democratic, so discussions are ongoing.

I needed to get this down on paper before I introduced y’all to my fiancee. I love you, Mich; you’re my smile. Everybody else, block off some time next year and bring your dancing shoes.

My smile

She's my smile



  1. I’m surprised you missed an opportunity to take a swipe at Etta James’ “At Last”. It meets all of your criteria above (at 3:00), but I believe you’ve felt it a bit cliche in the past. Maybe this engagement stuff is making you soft.

  2. Re: 2, If you have a DJ capable of fading a song out, songs longer than 180 seconds are acceptable, if you keep it close to 3-3:30 and you can do so so that the ending isn’t awkward.

    A bit over 3:30 is cool if the intro takes a little bit to get warmed up. “A bit” means 8 bars, not an “Inagaddadavita” drum intro of 4 minutes.

    This is one of the reason we used George Strait’s “My Love is Deeper” at 3:40. The introduction and the room’s polite applause took up the amount we were over the hallowed 3:30 mark.

    Some of these guidelines are flexible if you’re only doing first dance and father-daughter.

    Honorable mention:
    * Thirty Five named Dances.
    First Dance, Father-Daughter are required. Mom-Groom is nice if the mom likes to dance, but don’t do a named dance for every variation of the above. We don’t need a half-hour of just the head table on the floor, culminating with a Great-granny of the groom and head usher. That crap gets on my nerves.

    * YMCA, the conga line, anything from Grease.

    Once again, congrats, bub.

  3. I think I can fit a keg in the Mustang with a bit of maneuvering. If not I’m stealing the Charger.

    (And she is quite lovely!)

  4. First off, congratulations!

    Second, while I may be somewhat biased on the matter, I have to disagree with you on #4. And not simply because you think it’s a father/daughter dance, but because your facts are totally wrong.

    The most popular version of “You Are So Beautiful” was recorded by Joe Cocker in 1975. Louis Armstrong died in 1971. And while an earlier version was recorded by Billy Preston in 1974, the album it appears on (The Kids and Me), contains such songs as “Tell me you need my loving”, “Struttin”, and “Sister Sugar”.

    Now, this doesn’t necessarily preclude it from being a father/daughter dance. The lyrics are rather ambiguous in this regard. However, I’d also argue that given the company on the album, it was clearly written as a love song.

    By the way, this song comes in at a tidy two and a half minutes. The only place I see it falls short is on #7.

  5. I just noticed you tagged this post “mawwidge”. Nice.

  6. Now that hunniford has broken suit on Joe Cocker, I trump in with this. Not sure if this counts as rickrolling.

  7. Nice call on Joe Cocker. My only thought about this is that one shouldn’t write: “you” ought to do this and not that when we all know at whom the finger is really pointing. 😉

  8. and i thought i overthought this by picking the song the day of the wedding! ours breaks many of your “rules” but i still look on it fondly and every time i hear that song i almost melt. fold you wings by kevin welch

  9. Yay!

    You know I’ve already got the dancing shoes.

  10. #9 had me cracking up.

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