Tips for Picking a First Dance Song

Choosing a first dance song seems like it should be one of the easiest wedding-planning decisions. But once couples realize how many great options are out there, the pressure can start to mount. After all, whichever song you pick will be the one that you define as "yours" for the rest of your lives together. 

But don't worry! With the help of real brides, we've compiled a few guidelines to ensure that your tune is worth replaying in 50 years. 

1. Find A Common Musical Interest

Sometimes, opposites really do attract, so it's possible that you and your fiancé don't share the same taste in music. Narrow down the selection by focusing on one genre you both do like.

Jenna Guarneri began her search for the perfect wedding song by identifying a shared interest with her then-fiancé — country music. After listening to various country albums, she heard a Lady Antebellum duet ("When You Got a Good Thing") on the radio that encompassed everything she had been searching for. 

"I played it for my husband afterward, and he had never heard of it either," says Guarneri. "He loved it just as much as I did and said that it was definitely 'the one!'"

jenna guarneri and husband first kiss as husband and wife
Jenna and her husband bonded over their love of country music by sharing their first dance  as husband and wife to Lady Antebellum's "When You Got a Good Thing."
Photo courtesy of Jenna Guarneri

Worried that the song you're thinking of using isn't typically associated with weddings? You're not alone. Carolyn DeWitt and her husband were initially skeptical about whether Diana Krall's jazz tunes would work for a first dance (she's their favorite artist). Then, they found a Tony Bennett collaboration she had done that fit all of their wedding-song needs. "Using the Internet is a great way to find more obscure songs and artist collaborations when the band or artist's standard music isn't a good fit," says DeWitt.

"Diana Krall and her music was the soundtrack to our courtship. Finding a song of hers that was so optimistic for a wedding dance was just the perfect choice."

carolyn dewitt first dance
A romantic first dance moment between Carolyn and her husband. 
Photo courtesy of Carolyn Dewitt

2. Look For Lyrics That Speak To Your Relationship Together

Finding a set of lyrics that tell your story is the difference between a sweet love song and your love song. Were you friends before you started dating? Did you spend a long time struggling with a long-distance relationship? Did you meet each other later in life with kids and a previous marriage already under your belt? Whatever your story is, there's a song that speaks to it from both ends of the spectrum. 

Emily Kleck chose UB40's rendition of "Can't Help Falling in Love" to commemorate the unexpected turns that led to her marriage. "Our first date after we met was a little rocky," she says. "And we just joked and gave each other crap the entire time."

You see, Kleck had planned to take a job in another part of Oregon, so she wasn't expecting anything more than a fling with her now-husband, Jared. Obviously, things panned out a little differently than she expected (for the better!). They found a way to make their long-distance relationship work, and after a year-and-a-half of happily dating, Jared proposed. 

"I think a lot of people were surprised, thinking it was too soon ('fools rush in...') but we are so happy," says Kleck. "When I heard 'Can't Help Falling in Love,' I teared up and immediately thought, this is our song."

emilys first dance
Jared and Emily Kleck were starry-eyed as they danced to UB40's "Can't Help Falling in Love."
Photo Credit: Mike Sidney Photography

Laura Anderson, whose happily-ever-after also caught her by surprise, chose Adele's "Make You Feel My Love" to represent her journey with her husband. Having turned him down a total of 11 times before agreeing to their first date, they found humor and nostalgia in the line 'I know you haven't made your mind up yet.'

"[The song] is a little nod to us," says Anderson. "Who we were when we first met, what we are now, and what we promise to be."

3. Pick a Beat You Can Dance To

You don't need to hire a choreographer or ballroom dance instructor, but you do need to make sure you feel comfortable dancing to the song you chose. If you have your heart set on certain lyrics but wish the song had a different rhythm, ask your band or DJ if they can prepare a customized rendition of the song for your wedding.

Yolanda Muckle first heard the song "Truly Madly Deeply" by Savage Garden during her engagement. Once she heard the words, she knew it would be perfect. Luckily, her husband Craig agreed. "It was definitely the right choice," he says. "We planned to dance a rumba and simply asked the band to play it slightly faster than it was recorded so the dance wouldn't be too hard to perform."

craig and yolanda first dance
Craig and Yolanda Muckle danced a rumba to Savage Garden's "Truly Madly Deeply." 
Photo courtesy of Craig and Yolanda Muckle

Karol Markowicz can relate to the Muckles' beat conundrum. She originally asked a talented friend to recreate Buju Banton's "Love Sponge," a song that was special to her and her husband, before switching to "First Day of My Life" by Bright Eyes at the last minute. She and her husband had a change of heart after "testing" the new song, as well as two others, on the night before their wedding. The pair had taken one dance class which, ironically, was the cause of their difficulty.

"While we had always been able to hold and sway with the best of them, we suddenly found ourselves concentrating on some kind of box step with a dip at the end," Markowicz explains. "We gave up on that and went back to just being us, two people who have danced together a million times over their 11 years of friendship and knew how to do it. No box step necessary, but maybe we'll keep the dip."

karols first dance with her husband
Karol and her husband shared their first dance to "First Day of My Life" by Bright Eyes.
Photo courtesy of Karol Markowicz

4. Don't Be Afraid To Be Unconventional

We love a sweet old-fashioned slow dance, but if shuffling along to the likes of Celine Dion just isn't your style, then choose something a little more upbeat, like bride Emily Worden did. This is a great opportunity to express yourself and your relationship with the love of your life.

"Neither one of us wanted to stand in the middle of the dance floor while people stared at us for three to four minutes," says Worden. "So we thought, 'Let's choose a really cheesy song for the opening number, play it for 30 or 40 seconds so people think we're really serious, then break into our master mix.'" Watch Emily's daring first dance with her husband: 

Deciding whether to go the traditional or funky route all depends on what you feel connected to as a couple. Bridal designer Liz Fields opted out of a classic first dance song at her wedding because it would have seemed "forced and insincere." Instead, the couple chose "I'd Rather Be With You" by Bootsy Collins. "We really wanted our wedding to feel 'real,' and our first dance song's beat, lyrics and personality matched us and made us feel like ourselves," she says.

At the most dramatic point in the song, Fields and her husband put on a skit to entertain their guests. "I pushed him away and we walked to opposite ends of the dance floor, where there was a shot of tequila waiting for us. We each took a shot, he ripped his jacket off and aggressively 'got me back,'" she recalls. Gimmicks and alcohol aside, you can take a cue from Fields and ask all of the other guests to join you at the end of the dance to make it more fun. It might also add some sentiment to have friends and loved ones be a part of this special moment. 

liz fields and husband
Liz Fields and her husband performed a humorous skit to the Bootsy Collins song, "I'd Rather Be With You."
Photo courtesy of Liz Fields

Above all, keep in mind that if you and your hubby have a personal connection to a particular song, your guests will feel the love that you radiate on the dance floor, even if it's not a "typical" wedding tune. After surviving a bad car accident with her fiancé, bride-to-be Marissa MacDonald has chosen "We Are the Champions" by Queen to represent all of the obstacles they've overcome, including postponing the wedding a number of times because of her poor health.

"Once we've [finally] walked down the aisle and vowed, in front of all of our loved ones, to love each other 'til death do us part, we intend to celebrate our great feat with one of our favorite songs," she says. "After all my fiancé and I have been through together, 'We Are the Champions' and we're one heck of a team." 

—Alyson Kaufman