Blogs by Djs and other wedding professionals often suggest first dance songs for couples who haven’t come up with their own and need ideas. As a dance teacher, I have a somewhat different perspective. A recent post in wine country wedding magazine lists five songs that are their top picks. Their first pick, At Last by Etta James, is also the first pick for many of my students. If they have a particular relationship with the song, if they picked it because of it’s special meaning for them, I can make it work. But if they picked it because they saw it on a blog like this one, or just thought it was a good choice because it’s slow and romantic, I’ll steer them away from it.
It’s part of my job to educate my students about what makes a good dance song. At Last, and in fact the number two song on wine country’s list, Elvis Presley’s Cant Help Falling In Love, are both ballads. Ballads are great if you don’t know how to dance and want to spend your first dance rocking back and forth in a clench like you did in high school.
When people come to me, however, they want to learn how to do a real dance and for that you need something with a beat. The beat in a ballad is so slow that by the time your get to the end of a measure you can’t remember when it started. For all intents and purposes, it has no beat. A perfect song for a real dance, a waltz, foxtrot, or nightclub two-step, say, has a clear easy to find beat.
A good dance song has clear measures and an easy beat. You can tell if it’s in 3/4 time (a waltz) or 4/4 time (practically everything else). The beginning of each measure is clear and didn’t happen so long ago that you’ve lost track by the time you get to the next one.
Many people who go to wedding blogs for song ideas are not dancers and are not taking lessons. A ballad is ideal for these people. A song with a beat is hard to dance to if you just want to sway to a romantic mood. The confusion is when they come to a dance lesson with song in hand, and it’s a ballad. If you are learning to dance for you wedding, get your ideas from your teacher, not your DJ.
I encourage my students to come with as many different songs as possible if they are considering more than one. That gives me an opportunity to help them select one with a good dance beat. If, however, they want “At Last” and only At Last will do, the way to work around it is to forget about the measures and dance to it as it it’s just a series of slow beats, like a techno song. Then I teach them waltz steps so they can step on every beat. It’s too slow for a combination of slow and quick steps, and no one will notice that it’s not a waltz because they don’t notice the measures anyway.
If they have time for a more challenging dance, Blues Dancing can be done to a ballad as well because it can be adapted to the mood, rather than the beat, of the music. It’s a much more challenging dance to learn to lead, however, so they can choose, dependent on their time and budget. The bottom line is, any song can work, but if you’re a beginner, make it easy on yourself. Pick an easy song if you have a choice!
by LaurieAnn Lepoff
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