Wedding Traditions Explained: The First Dance

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During a wedding reception it is traditional for the Bride and Groom to have the first dance. This usually follows the cutting of the cake, and signifies that the dancefloor is now open.

While some couples love holding the spotlight for a few minutes, even choreographing a dance, others would prefer to stay in the side-lines. So why do we do the first dance, and where did it come from?


When someone refers to ‘the first dance’ nowadays we automatically think of the opening dance at a wedding. However, this was not always the case. In Western culture the first dance also referred to a Lady attending her first social gathering, usually at a ball.

The phrase became more popular in the era of grand balls, but people have been dancing for centuries. There are Egyptian tomb paintings of dancers from 3300 BC, and similar images in the Indian Bhimbetka rock shelters. Dance has been used to pass down stories, as part of rituals, to heal and to celebrate long before the written word.

Guests Dancing at Chester Zoo Wedding

Guests of Honour

In the days of formal balls the guests of honour would open the event by performing the first dance. Depending on the event this either meant that they took to the dancefloor much as we do now, or they were first to go down the set in a barn dance. The guests of honour would be the people of the highest status (royalty or high nobility). At a wedding, the Bride and Groom become the guests of honour and therefore open the evening reception.

Where did first dance come from

Modern Day

Today a first dance is an expected part of a wedding reception, but it isn’t for everyone. Many couples are now dancing to the first verse and chorus of their favourite love song together before asking their friends and family to join them.

For the couples who do enjoy their full dance alone, the style of dancing has changed dramatically. Rather than performing a waltz the modern way is a slow, intimate dance where the newlyweds have the chance to talk and reflect on the day so far.

Whatever you choose to do with your first dance, remember to enjoy it!

Next in our Wedding Traditions Explained series we’re looking at the Wedding Cake.