The first dance: what you need to know
Our advice: a series of regularly updated articles written by band leader Mike Paul-Smith, detailing everything you need to know before booking live music for your event.
Thanks to Kevin Potter from Potter's Instinct Photography for this fantastic photo of Jemma and Andy during their first dance.
It's time to tackle the big one; the one part of the wedding day that causes sleepless nights and lots of unnecessary anxiety - the first dance. Here I'm going to discuss what you should do for the first dance, what music you should pick, and indeed whether or not you should actually have one.
- Am I going to have a first dance?
- Shall I learn some choreography, or do an “old fashioned slow dance”?
- What song should I dance to?
- Should I ask the band to play the song?
Step 1: am I going to have a first dance?
I spend a lot of time talking to couples about their first dance, and planning it out in great detail. The odd couple have an exhibitionist streak and can't wait to show off; however, for most people the idea of a room full of people watching them dance (even if only for a few seconds) fills them with dread.
If you can't bear the thought of having a first dance, then my suggestion is simple - just don't have one.
It may sound obvious, but I've lost track of the number of couples who only have a first dance because (a) they think they should, or (b) because a relative has told them that they should. It ends up causing genuine anxiety and stops people relaxing on their wedding day. When I suggest to some couples that they skip the first dance, they look at me as if I'm mad (although to be fair, many also have a look of relief on their faces when they hear the news).
More and more often, I'm encouraging couples not to have a first dance - it's very unlikely your guests will notice at all, and even if they do I promise you that by the time the band is playing the second song they will have forgotten about it and instead will be dancing themselves.
Step 2: shall I learn some choreography or do an "old fashioned slow dance"?
The answer to this question is really up to the couple. Sometimes, first dance choreography can be absolutely amazing and can really set things up for a great party; at other times, it can be stiff, awkward and embarrassing for everyone involved.
I think if you're going to have some choreography, it should have an element of fun - there's nothing worse than watching a wedding couple paralysed with fear trying to learn moves, but a fun dance that isn't taken too seriously can be great.
We work with lots of dancers and choreographers, and can put you in touch with people who can help you learn some great moves. A traditional swing dance (Lindy hop or Charleston) is a great way to go - it's fun, easy to pick up a few moves, and fits the majority of the music that Down for the Count perform perfectly. You could also have your choreographers teach a swing dance lesson at your event - check out the Vintage Swing Collective for more information!
Don't be afraid of the "old fashioned slow dance" - its cliché but for many couples it's the right thing to do, and we can always invite your guests onto the dance floor after 30 seconds if you're shy.
Nick and Erin met ballroom dancing at Oxford University and performed a jive routine to Natalie Cole's "This Will Be (An Everlasting Love)"
Step 3: what song should I dance to?
The main rule here is that there are no rules. If you have a song that means something to you as a couple, it makes sense to choose that for your first dance; if not, then take a look down our repertoire list for some suggestions. Here are some very popular choices for first dances, all of which we can perform.
Most requested first dances - top 10
1. L-O-V-E (Nat 'King' Cole)
The most popular first dance request in the past two years is a classic from Nat 'King' Cole and we're not surprised; the song isn't too slow, you can do many different types of dance to it (swing, ballroom, "old fashioned slow dance" etc), the words are appropriate to wedding receptions, and the orchestration and arrangement are both great. Here's our version of this classic tune!
2. At Last (Etta James)
In the number two spot is At Last - the song suits the "old fashioned slow dance" perfectly and it's a tune that everyone knows.
3. Let There Be Love (Nat 'King' Cole)
Nat 'King' Cole is also in the number three spot - another song that you can do lots of different types of dance to (and the fiendishly difficult introduction keeps piano players like myself honest, which is never a bad thing...)
4. My Baby Just Cares for Me (Nina Simone)
5. It Had to Be You (Harry Connick Jr.)
6. Just the Way You Are (Billy Joel)
7. All of Me (John Legend)
8. Make You Feel My Love (Adele)
9. Cheek to Cheek (Ella Fitzgerald)
10. The Way You Look Tonight (Frank Sinatra)
If you choose a song that we don't perform, just get in touch to see if we can play it for you. The answer will often be yes, but it does depend on the song in question - let us know your request and we can go from there.
Step 4: should I ask the band to play the first dance?
We're nearly there - the final thing to decide is whether you'd like the band to play the first dance, or if you'd prefer to dance to the recording you know (and, probably, have practiced to).
There are advantages and disadvantages to both: firstly, a band will never be able to re-create a recording with 100% accuracy. There may be small variations in tempo, instrumentation and musical cues, so if you've learnt some choreography and rely heavily on these cues, you might be best sticking with the recording.
However, doing your first dance to live music does really add a special touch, and can be very memorable both for you, for your guests, and also for us.
If you have any questions about your first dance - or if you have any top tips you'd like to share with other couples - please don't hesitate to email me or call me on 07855 488 462.