The spotlight dances can be an impactful and emotional part of your wedding reception, but what is the best way to do them? Where do you place them during the evening? What types of songs do you use? How long do you dance with each person?

Today’s post covers those questions and more. We will cover the different ways your dances could look, and hopefully, it will help you put together a dance section that works well for you!

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Not everybody’s family is a Norman Rockwell Painting

Families come in all shapes and sizes, and your wedding day can be adapted to fit yours.

You may have a blended family that includes step-parents, have strained relationships between family members, or have had a loved one pass away. Each family is different, and what works for one couple’s wedding may not work for another. 

Also, depending on your family dynamics, there may be expectations for how the dances should be structured. Parents sometimes have a certain vision of what they think is going to happen at the wedding, and then if the couple doesn’t match that vision, it can cause some tension.  

As a wedding planner and DJ, we always suggest that you make sure your vendors know what they need to about your family, especially if there are important things to note that could otherwise make for an awkward moment. The more prepared everyone is, the smoother your day will go!

planning spotlight dances
Photo by Tessa Rampersad on Unsplash

Dancing with parents and step-parents

When the bride is close to her father, and also has a stepdad, I usually start with the dance between the bride and her biological dad. 

As the bride and groom are finishing their first dance, I’ll say, “(groom’s name), this is the only time tonight I’m going to ask you to step away from your beautiful bride. I would like to invite the first man in her life to join our bride on the dance floor.”

And as he’s walking off the dance floor, I’ll say, ”There’s another gentleman who is important to our bride. I would like to invite her stepfather to join her on the dance floor.” and then I’ll switch the song to the one that she has chosen to dance with her stepdad to.

Song length

For any of the dances we talk about here, don’t feel like you need to dance for a full song length. 

For example, with the dad and stepdad dance, we mentioned above, you could split one song in half and dance with each of them for half of it, or choose two different songs that reflect each relationship and just play half the song for the dances. 

Even with your first dance as a married couple, especially if you are not the type to want to be the center of attention, it’s perfectly ok to choose a portion of the song to dance to instead of the whole thing. 

I always suggest that you aim for about 2 minutes per dance. And sometimes I will start the song as you are getting up and coming on the dance floor just to get a little bit more of the song.

You might be tempted to have super quick dances and get off the dance floor in 30 seconds, but here’s why we recommend 2 minutes. You spent all of the cocktail hour posing for photos and smiling, and once you’re on the dance floor, it’s easy to feel like you should still be posing. 

But your photographer and videographer are going to want to capture the more organic shots that happen during your first dance. A 2-minute time frame gives them time to get the different angles and moments that they want. Sometimes couples find that when they get out there, they forget that anyone else is in the room, and that’s when the photographer can capture your natural smiles and the romantic way you are looking at each other!

What about choreographed dances?

The choice about whether to prepare for your first dance by taking lessons is a very personal one, and can have very different outcomes, depending on your personalities. Here are our pros and cons.


Some couples find that taking lessons beforehand helps ease some stress so they feel more comfortable getting out there. Even if you don’t choreograph a dance and make a big production of it, just feeling more confident on your feet can help a lot, especially if you don’t have much experience dancing. 

If you want to do a really simple dance but add a dip or a twirl in, it can be helpful to have practiced those moves a few times beforehand to take away the fear of dropping your partner, or being dropped! 


Sometimes preparing a dance can have the opposite effect and make you more nervous for the first dance! Choreographing it can backfire and end up robbing from the tenderness of the moment because one or both partners is so nervous about forgetting cues or steps, and some couples find that the extra pressure just isn’t worth it for them. 

If neither of you can dance and you are stressed about it, remember this: your first dance is a beautiful moment. Maybe you just get out there and stare into each other’s eyes while swaying back and forth; that’s really all you need. 

You know the two of you, your skills, and what is best for you. You can choose how far to take the preparation for your first dance, from spontaneous to fully choreographed. Either way, it will be really special because it reflects your personality.

how to do specialty dances

When do you do the dances during the evening?

There’s no right or wrong for when during the night to have the dances, but the 3 most common options are: 

Option 1: Introductions – first dance – parent dances – dinner

Option 2: Introductions – first dance – dinner – parent dances

Option 3: Introductions – dinner – first dance – parent dances

A couple of things to consider when you are deciding: 

  • How hungry are your guests? 

If you served appetizers during cocktail hour, they may be happy to wait until later in the evening to eat dinner. 

If you don’t serve food during cocktail hour, they might get hangry if you make them wait until after all of the dances to eat, and you just won’t have the same level of their attention as you would have if you waited until after dinner. 

For more on the topic of avoiding hangry guests, we have a post on making your guest experience as enjoyable as possible.

  • The energy in the room

Introductions are more of a high-energy “hooray” moment, whereas the first dance tends to be more of a tender “aww” moment. 

As a DJ, it is possible to adjust the energy as people are settling in and ask them to now direct their attention to the dance floor, as the bride and groom have decided to begin the reception with their first dance.

In some cases though, you may want a higher energy level for the first dance. For instance, if you have a choreographed dance and are looking to make it a little more of a performance, you could play off the energy of the introductions and just keep it going up right into the first dance. 

Other people ask us to have the first dance right away because they are nervous about being klutzy and possibly spilling food on their wedding attire and don’t want that to have to be in any pictures, which is a totally valid point. 

In favor of waiting until later in the timeline, there is something to be said about taking a minute to catch your breath before moving on to the dance and cake-cutting portion of the evening. 

If you’re not sure how to structure your timeline, we have guides to help here, and here!

specialty dances

Omitting specific dances

You may want to omit a specific dance for a number of reasons: maybe a parent isn’t there, or you are estranged from them. Maybe you simply don’t want to have as many dances so you need to cut some out. 

Say that you as the bride don’t want to dance with your dad, but the groom still wants to dance with his mom. If you are at all unsure about the imbalance it will cause, you have options. 

You can have the DJ announce, “The groom and his mom would like everyone to join them on the dance floor”, or simply play their slow song while everyone is dancing anyways and don’t announce it to the crowd. Because sometimes when you announce it and invite other people to join, they feel awkward, like they are interrupting a sweet moment and don’t come onto the dance floor anyways. 

One thing that does NOT work, however, is to, halfway through the dance, invite other fathers and daughters or mother and sons out onto the floor. Most guests feel uncomfortable with it, or they aren’t there with a parent for it to work well. It’s very sweet in theory, but it almost never works out the way you hope it will. 

The best way to eliminate that stress is to have these conversations before your wedding and avoid any day-of confusion or conflict. Talk through it with your vendor team and any members of the family that are pertinent so that everyone is on the same page.

On that note, if you decide to omit the money dance or bouquet and garter toss, let your planner, DJ, and wedding party know that as well to curb any confusion.

wedding specialty dances, father daughter dance, first dance

What songs should we use?

We have a ton of options for every dance combination in our Wedding Music Planner! It’s available for $30 in our shop or you can use this post to build your epic wedding day soundtrack.

If you would like some one-on-one guidance for any part of your planning process, book a virtual planning session with us and we will walk you through the options based on your unique situation! 

The important thing at the end of the day is that you and your fiance enjoy your wedding day. The people you love are there to celebrate with you, and no matter how you structure the timeline, celebrating the love between the two of you is the focus.

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Your Guide to Spotlight Dances



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