What Wedding Dance Style Is Best for Your First Dance?

Discover what dance style might be the best fit for you and your new spouse's first spin during your reception.

Engaged couples spend a good amount of time selecting their first dance song, but have you ever consider the wedding dance style you’d like to perform for this very special moment?

Photo: Jimmy Bui Photography

Engaged couples spend a good amount of time selecting their first dance song, but have you ever consider the dance style you’d like to perform for this very special moment? What dances are popular at weddings?

Of course, the dance style of your first dance will not only depend on the first dance song you've selected, but also your skill levels. Do either of you have dance experience? Are you willing to take more than one dance lesson? We – along with our featured couples – highly recommend taking at least one dance class before the big day whether you just want to learn a few simple steps or choreograph an entire routine. While not essential, taking dance lessons with your future spouse will absolutely pay off – and it'll make for a fun date night!

One of the real wedding couples we featured on InsideWeddings.com had an incredible first dance that has reached nearly 3 million views on YouTube! Be inspired by their dance, as well as their wedding décor, in the video below!

For more inspiration and to find the wedding dance style that's right for your first dance, we’ve listed some of the most popular wedding dance styles to help you decide:

The Sway

This is the typical, go-to move for those couples looking to spend little to no time preparing for their first dance and focus energy on other aspects of wedding planning. Think of this as the “slow dance” you know from the high school dance floor – a simple sway back and forth with arms wrapped around one another. It can be performed to a variety of slower songs chosen for their personal meaning. This allows for light, sentimental chatting between the pair, and a chance to relax after your “I dos.”

The Slow Dance (or Nightclub Two Step)

Many people wonder how to slow dance, but it's actually pretty simple! This is a more formal version of “the sway,” as it includes a certain “hold” – right hands held together and left hands placed on either the shoulder/upper back or the waist – side steps on particular counts with the music, and some pivots. This wedding dance requires a touch more preparation than “the sway” in order to make sure you and your love are in agreement with certain moves on the dance floor, and the song choice will be similar to that of “the sway” as well. Adding in some slow spins, dips, and lifts is a popular way to customize this form of dance.

The Classic Waltz

Contrary to popular belief, a Waltz is slightly faster than a traditional slow dance. There are a few different forms of a Waltz, including American, International, Country Western, Cajun, French, and Viennese. This style will require a bit of choreography – either by the couple or by a professional at dance lessons – as there are specific moves that make it into a Waltz: it involves a set of box steps and turning patterns. Song selection will likely be drawn from a sweet, modern ballad.

The Swing

A variety of different styles fall under this category, including the Lindy hop, jitterbug, jive, boogie, East Coast, and West Coast swing. If you’re looking into this wedding dance, be wary of your attire and make sure you feel comfortable – it’s quite fast-paced with more than a few lifts, fast turns, and leg kicks. It’s a fun, lively way to kick off your marriage – especially if you have a flair for vintage details. We recommend a professional choreographer!

Ladies might consider changing out of their wedding gown and into a shorter, flowy dress with shorts underneath and comfortable shoes. Gentlemen should be wary of their shoes and take the time to remove a tighter suit jacket.

The Foxtrot

Lying somewhere between a Waltz and a swing, this wedding-dance style is fantastic for a pair with access to an instructor and a desire to incorporate a tune with a medium tempo and playful moves. In fact, a wide variety of classic and contemporary songs would work well with this form. As with swing dancing and the Waltz, the moves can get complicated, so we recommend taking a class on the subject before you hit the dance floor. The best news? Most modern wedding outfits will work nicely for a Foxtrot.

Dramatic First Dance in New York

Photo by Brett Matthews Photography; Bridal Salon: Bridal Reflections; From Real Wedding: Traditional Ceremony + Glamorous Reception at Landmark Venue in New York City

The Rumba

This Latin style is excellent for a couple looking to evoke a sensual vibe from their special dance in wedding attire. It requires a lot of hip work and fluidity from both partners, but it’s much easier to learn than other Latin styles, such as the salsa and mambo, but will definitely require some practice before the wedding day. There is a smaller selection of melodies available that will fit this form, but they’re easy to find and very enjoyable for the dancers and guests alike. Shoes may need to be changed, and ladies may want to check out how their dress handles hip movement and turns before she takes the floor.

Mambo & Salsa Dance

Though technically different, the salsa and mambo share a few key characteristics. Both are more fast-paced than the rumba and incorporate some complicated steps. The mambo is a touch more staccato while a salsa is fluid and rhythmic. If you want to bring a certain sensual, but up-tempo, flair to your first dance, either of these styles is an excellent choice. Select a song that reflects the style: it doesn’t necessarily have to be Latin in origin, but those are always excellent tunes for this form.

Work with a professional to make this performance all it can be, and note that a costume change into more appropriate clothing for this ballroom dance will likely be a requirement. Note: a tango dance on wedding dance floors might also be an option, though it is a touch more sexual and serious than these two options and may not go over well as a dance at wedding events.

Hip-Hop Dance

If you and your beloved are more inclined toward modern music than the classics and you’re looking to get the party going right off the bat, a hip hop dance number would do the trick. As a popular dance style of only the last few decades, there are many different moves from hit songs to choose from. Depending on your dedication, a change of attire may be necessary to get into this wedding dance.

The key to hip hop is fun and you won’t need a choreographer to make up your routine – typically, you can form one out of the moves you already know. Most modern hip-hop, rap, or R&B songs will create the perfect atmosphere for your dance. This form of wedding dancing makes a great transition into the celebration and will be enjoyed by wedding guests.

Free-Form or Mash-Up

If you’re looking to include a variety of different songs or moves, the possibilities are endless. You can pick and choose your favorite dances and pair them with different tunes to expertly match your personal style. No need to hire a professional – unless you’d like to make it a truly incredible number – you and your love can coordinate the routine yourselves and just dance – wedding guests will love the genuine feel of love in the room. This style’s appeal is customization: decide if you’ll do a quick change, who you’d like involved, and in what order your moves take place.

Flash Mob

As a phenomenon only prevalent in the last two decades or so, a “flash mob” requires the participation of other individuals as well as your partner. If you’re unfamiliar, a “flash mob” is a choreographed dance that begins with only a few people, and overtime, more and more gradually add in. By the end of the song, a whole mess of loved ones are doing the moves.

Traditionally, these are used in public as a surprise to passersby, but your guests will be just as stunned as your routine grows with the addition of bridal party members, friends, and family. Add your own personal touch, spotlight certain members, have sections of song wherein just part of the group dances, and more. Similar to a mash-up, any song selection or style will do, but it requires will participation from others and far more preparation than the other forms! 

Opening photo by Jimmy Bui Photography; From Real Wedding: Elegant, Edgy Wedding Inspired by Disney at Vibiana in Downtown LA