Wedding Traditions / Why is there a first dance at a wedding?

June 29, 2015

Where do wedding traditions come from? Why is there a first dance at a wedding?

This interest has continued through my life to a point where I love finding out about the whys and wherefores of all parts of our life today and how things came about. This is also true when it comes to looking at wedding traditions. By looking at how these traditions began it feels likes it’s bringing the past to life. Why is there a first dance at a wedding? Just as interesting in my day to day working life is how couples choose to make the traditions their own, to reflect their own uniqueness in such wonderful ways. Some choose to stick to the traditions, some add their own take to them and some ignore them altogether in favour of starting their own new family traditions! There is no right or wrong way, just the right way for you. This is what makes photographing weddings such fun and so personal.

I’ll admit it…I have a bit of a fascination with history and learning interesting (or useless) facts. It probably comes from the fact my mum was a History teacher and brilliantly managed to bring the past to life with stories of dodgy monarchs, gruesome diseases and everything in between. Now my son loved watching the series Horrible Histories for the same reason.

Today I want to talk about the first dance a newly married couple does and the symbolic meaning of the first dance. The first dance can come together in all sorts of ways – it can be surrounded by loved ones watching you, it can include your wedding guests, it can involve confetti bombs (I love this!) but it usually signifies the beginning of a good ole’ shindig that is the wedding reception. After the first dance the evening party kicks off and it’s time for everyone to relax and have a lot of fun.

gay wedding first dance with all guests joining in wedding first dance at a teepee wedding wedding first dance, confetti bombs at brocket hall wedding first dance close up of hands holding wedding first dance at preston court

I love the first dance, however it happens, and it’s particularly wonderful when it’s fun and heartfelt. A bit of action is always good to see, but a sweet dance between two people who are lost in the moment with each other is equally as lovely.

Related: How to make your wedding as unique as you are

But how did the tradition start in the first place? Well, the common reason is that, just like the formal balls of days gone by, the guests of honour would open the dance. In this case, at a wedding, it’s the married couple. But actually, sources I found tell me it dates back further to the days when the groom used to steal his bride and would show off his new wife to his friends by dancing her around the fire before the celebrations could begin. This evolved into the era when brides were bought from their fathers and the first dance would be a sort of fertility ceremony. Whereas now it’s generally considered a romantic moment, a continuation of a couple’s marriage vows to one another.

Related: How get two looks from one dress for your wedding day

Some couples find it a bit strange to have everyone stand and watch them dance, so often invite other couples to join in after the first verse and chorus. Usually, this is members of the wedding party or parents of the bride and groom. Sometimes the couple skips the first dance altogether and everyone hits the dance floor together. Sometimes the couple has been secretly (or not-so-secretly) practising and has a pre-choreographed dance to perform. After all, it’s not every day that most of us waltz or ballroom dance around the bars is it?!

wedding first dance in the style of pulp fiction wedding first dance happy and fun, drayton court hotel wedding first dance preston courtwedding first dance ceilidh wedding first dance groom swinging bride off her feet

It’s not uncommon for the bride to dance with her father, connecting with the idea of being given away, and so too the groom dance with his mother. Some etiquette experts suggest that the bride and groom should dance with their in-laws too, to symbolise the new relationships started with this marriage. Halfway through the first dance, other couples are asked to join the wedding party on the dance floor so that no one is left out!

I love that the dancing captures the joy and celebration of the wedding day. However it’s done is up to you, it should represent you in whatever way you wish (even if that means not having one at all or having everyone involved) and that’s what I love about the couples whose weddings I photograph.

wedding first dance swing dance moor park mansion first dance wedding first dance with all guests wedding first dance close up bride and groom

Thanks for popping by. Now you’ve had the party, it’s on to the tradition of what happens after the party here. Maybe you’ll choose a sparkler exit like this?

If you want to read more of the Wedding Traditions series, you can find out about The Ceremony, The Wedding Party, The Dress and more. Enjoy!

Fiona x

Here are the weddings featured in this post:

Same Sex wedding at Hatfield House Hertfordshire

Wedstock wedding at North Hill Farm Hertfordshire

Autumn wedding at Brocket Hall Hertfordshire

Butterfly And Bee theme wedding at Preston Court Kent

Wedding at Drayton Court Hotel London

Putney Riverside Wedding London

Elegant Wedding At Coworth Park Ascot

Wedding at RSA House London

Elegant Moor Park Mansion Hertfordshire wedding

Spring Wedding At Oaks Farm Surrey

Hedsor House Buckinghamshire wedding

Elegant Wedding At Woburn Abbey



Very gorgeous wedding, I like it so much 🙂

thanks so much for the lovely comment

Hi Fiona,

I loved this article, as well as your photography. I agree with what you said and appreciate the clarity and heart in your writing style. I’m a wedding dance choreographer based in portland, or. I’m sharing this article to my pinterest page. Thank you!

Mari Rose
The mating dance maker 😉

Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts. It’s so great to hear you loved reading it. Thanks for sharing!


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