How can I get over the fear of (or get OUT OF) dancing at my wedding?
April 29, 2011 9:34 AM   Subscribe

Getting married in two months. GF and her family love dancing and will do a lot of it at the wedding. I want to make her happy, but I'm a terrible dancer and the whole thing is making me very anxious. What to do?

My GF's family is from the countryside, and I'm from abroad. A big part of their custom involves lots of dancing and singing; they break into it at every social occasion.

Our wedding is being held in her local town. It won't be a traditional one, largely because of our different backgrounds and obligations, and a desire not to conform to standard wedding spec. Her extended family will be there, a lot of whom I'll be meeting for the first time.

My family is more shy, conservative. I know they will enjoy themselves at the wedding... but the problem is me. I am VERY self conscious about dancing (two left feet, only when drunk) and just don't share the urge. I'm more a dinner party-talker sort of guy, and I hate clubs. However her family and a lot of the guests will clearly expect me to dance until dawn and I'm freaking out!

My GF and I have laughed together about this problem, but as the wedding approaches I don't think she realises how deeply it's affecting me. I don't want to end up dreading the wedding because of it, but I can see that happening.

I have no problem performing in a way that I feel comfortable with, so I've proposed compromises like reading something out, or SOME performance to satisfy that requirement. Because this won't be a typical wedding, there's some room for maneuver... But I don't think I'll be able to get out of dancing so easily. Or at least her family will end up thinking I'm weird. (Oh, and getting really drunk isn't wise since our families will be watching us and it will just make me feel more uncomfortable.)

Our different backgrounds have never presented a problem before; quite the opposite. I don't want them to spoil our wedding.

Help me find a solution MeFi. Sorry for the rambling message.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (29 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Talk to your fiance about this and let her know just how deeply anxious about the issue you are.

After that, try to relax. I've seen some bad, and I mean really bad dancing at weddings. I've done a lot of it myself. Everyone has seen horrible dancing at weddings. Never in my life have I ever heard "Oh the reception was fabulous but oh my god this one guy's dancing...". It's a wedding. People dance, some poorly. Whatever you do, just do it 100%.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 9:38 AM on April 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

You can actually take dance classes. You can find a dance instructor who'll work at your own pace.

That said, no one actually will be put out if you dance badly. If you look like you're having a good time, no one will look at your feet.

You don't have to impress anyone at your own wedding. You already got the girl.
posted by musofire at 9:39 AM on April 29, 2011 [7 favorites]

Take the time & the effort to learn one or two dances. As a dancer paired with a non-dancer, it means the world to me when he does dance with me. On the other hand, BECAUSE he is a non-dancer, I'm actually happier long-term dancing with someone else. So, show her how special she is to you by doing something she knows you hate at least once, then give her your explicit blessing to go have fun with better dancers. If you can find it in you to acquiesce to another later in the evening, that would be nice.
posted by Ys at 9:39 AM on April 29, 2011 [4 favorites]

Choose one dance, one song, practice/learn the heck out of it, and dance that at the wedding. The retire to the sidelines while the GF's family dance.

Also, dancing in general is 'way more fun once you realize that no one really cares if you screw up. Think of it less like being on stage and more like, say, a casual game of frisbee at the park.
posted by hattifattener at 9:44 AM on April 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

What do you mean by dancing? Is this formal, partnered dancing or just moving around to music on a dance floor? if the latter, seriously do not worry about it. A bit of jiggling vaguely in beat will do the trick. If the former you need to specify what sort - waltzing? Lindy hop? Flamenco? If any of these just learn to dance to one song with your partner, along with the basics you can apply to the kind of music you'll be listening to. Dancing is not a big mystery, and like others have said no-one will be offended if you're not great at it.

Alternatively you could take matters into your own hands and arrange for a square dance type situation in which you hire a wedding band with a caller so everyone is instructed in the steps on the fly. This can be great for non-dancers and dancers alike because no-one needs to be know the steps beforehand, and all the bumping around is lots of fun.

In any case you should let your fiancee know how you feel, she might not realise exactly how worried you really are if you've only 'laughed about it' together. It might help if you have a clearer understanding of what her families actual expectations for 'dancing' will be.
posted by freya_lamb at 9:56 AM on April 29, 2011

I was going to say something different, but on preview, I think Ys has it.
posted by small_ruminant at 9:57 AM on April 29, 2011

I'm a firm non dancer (didn't even dance at my own wedding), but you should probably learn one dance that you can do with your wife and then retire to the sidelines. If anyone asks you to dance you can laugh and say "Hey, I do only one dance. Two dances would just be spoiling you guys. One and done" and leave it at that.

But I think you should (a) do one dance with your wife (b) make sure that she's okay with an understands why that's it and (c) be happy that she's dancing out there with other people.

Or, on preview, what Ys said.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 10:00 AM on April 29, 2011

First off, I would let your girlfriend know how deeply it's affecting you. This is great practice for future, more serious, issues in your marriage. Let your partner know how you're feeling and get her working as your ally, not as part of the problem. Then, I'd think this is a classic case for compromise -- be prepared to do a couple of traditional dances right up at the top (or maybe spread out through the night, depending) and then your girlfriend can help keep her family fended off when they try to drag you into other dances.

(And on preview, what Ys said as well.)
posted by fuzzygerdes at 10:00 AM on April 29, 2011 [3 favorites]

I like to dance (although I don't do it all that well) but my husband HATES it. At any event where lots of people are dancing, he dances a slow dance or two with me but otherwise just sits back and watches me having fun. This includes our own wedding. We actually tried not to have a dance floor but people got up and danced around the dinner tables anyway. You cannot prevent dancing at a wedding. It is rare that EVERYONE is dancing - there are always some people holding back or taking a break for that particular song. So mingle with them and get to know those people! Be gregarious, work the room, dance a slow dance or two (just the swaying back and forth kind) with your bride and everyone will be satisfied.
posted by misskaz at 10:01 AM on April 29, 2011

So, two things. First and foremost, you need to come clean to your fiancee about this. Let her be your ally and your support. That is the best thing about finding a partner to travel through this life with -- someone to help you with your struggles. Tell her how serious a problem this is, and make sure she knows how best to help you with it. Second, people will expect you to dance, at least a little bit, at your own wedding. No other "performance" will satisfy, as this is not about you performing (though you may be expected to do other little performances as part of the reception, like kissing your bride when guests clink their drinking glasses), it is about you DANCING.

Now, that said, with your fiancee as your ally, this is quite easily conquerable. You two should take some dance classes together so you can do one well-rehearsed dance at the very beginning of the event. After that, you can get away from the dance floor for a while (you will likely have to, to spend some time greeting all of your guests). Eventually, people will being to clamor for you to get on the dance floor. Allow your (now) wife to run interference -- she can tell everybody how much you hate dancing and how bad you are at it, and will buy you some time. At some point though, the demands will being again, and at that point, take to the dance floor begrudgingly and flail about like an idiot for one song. After that, no one can complain that you are NOT dancing, so you can refuse all further requests.
posted by Rock Steady at 10:04 AM on April 29, 2011

I know that in some cities there are people whose job it is to teach couples dance for their wedding. After seeing two known non-dancers put on a great show at the reception, I was impressed by the results.
posted by adipocere at 10:07 AM on April 29, 2011

I've proposed compromises like reading something out, or SOME performance to satisfy that requirement.

You are misunderstanding the purpose of dancing. People dance at weddings because they enjoy dancing, not because there is some obligation for public performance to be fulfilled. The "compromises" you are offering seem misguided and irrelevant.

If you don't enjoy dancing, that's fine. Talk to your fiancee and explain that you don't enjoy dancing and that it's really an issue for you. You'll probably discover that this is going to be much less of a problem than you think it is.

(Also, get used to communicating about issues and potential conflicts with your fiancee, because you're going to need to do it a lot over the years. Now's as good a time as any to learn how.)

FWIW I'm a two-left-foot kind of guy too, but since we were going to do the traditional "bride and groom start the first dance" thing we took a few dance classes ahead of time, learned the steps to the lindy hop, did that to start things off, then mostly retreated from the dance floor and spent the party chatting with our friends and with each other.

Following a standard dance form was much more comfortable for me than trying to awkwardly improvise; you don't have to think about whether you look weird or not knowing what to do with your arms, you just follow the steps you learned.
posted by ook at 10:31 AM on April 29, 2011

First, talk to your fiancee and tell her how much this is stressing you. She can't help you with it if you don't tell her.

If it's like a structured dancing, take lessons for one or two specific dances and get comfortable with those, and the rest of the time go talk and socialize. If it's just move around dancing, no one is really *good* at that - if you move around with some confidence, then that gets you by.

Worst case, you're really a tragic dancer - keep a sense of humor about it, and realize that if it's really important to your finacee and her family that you do some dancing then they will appreciate that you tried and care about that more than the skill.

People are more likely to remember the spirit you have when you do something - if you're the best dancer ever but you have a shitty attitude, that's far worse than being not very good at dancing but obviously loving your wife and being willing to give it a shot.

I get that the dancing and singing doesn't sound like a lot of fun - doesn't to me either - but to some extent you've just got to go with the flow and keep a willing spirit.
posted by mrs. taters at 10:40 AM on April 29, 2011

I'm going to disagree with the 'one and done' suggestion. I think at a minimum you need to dance with a) your bride, then b)your new mother-in-law, and maybe c) your mom. These are often a formalized part of a wedding reception where the bride and groom dance with the parents as a way of recognizing and thanking them. You run the risk of offending or disappointing some very important people if you forgo this. More importantly, it will be a great opportunity for you to connect with these people semi-privately after one of the most important moments of your life.

In terms of dancing and performance anxiety: yes, go to some private dance classes. Or, heck, practice shifting your weight from side to side while holding your arms in the right position. No-one cares how well you dance. They just want to dance with you.
posted by bq at 10:45 AM on April 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

I could very well be writing this question in a year, so I completely understand where you're coming from.

I think the first thing to do is to decide if you're going to dance. The worst thing you could do would be to do nothing, and hope there will be some way to avoid dancing that you will figure out on the day of your wedding.

It sounds like there will be dancing, and I think it's a bad idea to not participate at all. Can you see it as doing it to make your girlfriend happy? She (and you) will be so excited by having just gotten married she probably wouldn't care if you fell on your face, she just wants to share the occasion with you. Can you view it as part of your duty as a good host? A great way to put your guests at ease is by dancing so badly they feel comfortable getting up and joining in without worrying what they'll look like.

So I'd recommend you dance, but again, decide soon. Then take some steps to make it better! (If you decide to dance, take lessons; if you decide not to, try to figure out what else you'll be doing).

And realize at the end of the day you'll be married, and this cannot ruin your wedding. Congrats!
posted by _Silky_ at 10:46 AM on April 29, 2011

There are going to be lots of times in life in your life when you have to do something you don't want to do. This will be one of them. If you stop fighting the idea that decorum sorts of dictates at least one slow dance with your new wife, you can stop worrying about the need to dance and get on with the actual learning how to dance. And really, any drunk idiot can slow dance, and you will be neither drunk nor an idiot, so this is not something you can't handle. Pick your first dance song ahead of time, and then recruit your bride-to-be for practice. Slow dancing with somebody you love is fun, I recommend practicing a lot - you don't necessarily have to tell her when you think you are ready to quit with the practicing :)
posted by COD at 10:48 AM on April 29, 2011

A couple coping strategies, if you must dance:

-The John Travolta "Pulp Fiction Twist" is pretty easy and works with a lot of "oldies" songs. You don't even need to lift your feet off the ground. For country songs, you can always do the "stomp and clap" while standing in one place.

-Pick an elderly family member (her grandma, your great-aunt) and dance with her. It will be sweet and you should be able to take slow, small steps.

-Or, pick a little girl (like the flower girl) running around the dance floor--there's always a couple--and dance with her for a song. The kid will be thrilled and everyone will go "awww." You won't have to do anything really but step back and forth and let her twirl once in a while, or just jump up and down excitedly if it's a fast song. Again, super cute, and can be repeated if you have other young cousins or nieces asking to dance with you.

-If you have willing groomsmen or friends, surround the bride and serenade her for a song. Bad, comedic singing is acceptable and expected. No dancing required, just swaying back and forth.

Hopefully that will buy you at least three songs. Good luck!
posted by castlebravo at 10:55 AM on April 29, 2011 [3 favorites]

Help me find a solution MeFi.

I think the solution, regardless of how well you dance, is to give up worrying and anxiety, and just to do it because you love your partner and wish them to be happy even if you feel a bit uncomfortable. To lessen the discomfort, take lessons and practice, but that's treating the symptom not the cause.
posted by anadem at 11:22 AM on April 29, 2011

You don't have to dance dance for it to count as dancing at a wedding, really.

You can fist pump a little*, high five every grandma you see, do a little impression of a bootie shake a couple times for some aunties, stomp and clap in rhythm, throw your arm around your buddy's shoulders and sway and whoop and grin. That's totally sufficient.

No one expects anything more than that. They don't want to see you foxtrot as much as they want to see you embody happiness.

* I can't believe I just endorsed fist-pumping, but you have to admit it serves some purposes when it comes to universally signaling celebratory intention
posted by sestaaak at 11:29 AM on April 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Your original post suggests that you and your bride to be are not American (unless I'm crazy mistaken) Would you be willing to divulge which culture she's from so we can better advise you? If the two of you aren't American, the Americanized wedding protocols that many people are referencing above don't apply to you.

Ultimately, though, I sympathize with you. I don't dance, and the thought of dancing at my wedding in any fashion at all other than waltzing makes me hyperventilate. Definitely speak to your girl and ask her for help. She loves you. She'll help you cope and I'm sure a compromise exists.
posted by patronuscharms at 11:33 AM on April 29, 2011

Recognize that you are going to dance badly. Also decide to accept help from her family.

Remember, your new in-laws are as desperate to make a good first impression as you are. They're not hoping to win you over with their performance skills -- they would like to make a personal connection with you. Being good natured about your poor dancing and letting the family help you out will be a much better bonding experience than putting on a perfect show.

People like to help. It's a great ice breaker.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 12:02 PM on April 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Well there are three options:

1. You just dance however, as numerous people have noted upstream, it doesn't matter how you dance, the first dance is generally a slow dance anyway and is essentially walking around holding someone else. That's the only one that "matters". The rest of the time there will be so many people on the dance floor noone be bothered.

2. You simply take dance lessons or just practice a very specific dance together with her beforehand. It's very hard to imagine, if you are getting married to a dance-a-holic, that your discomfort with dancing hasn't been brought up already and it would be surprising if she didn't agree to this.

3. One of my friends got married to a guy who was so phobic of dancing that he actually didn't dance at all at the wedding - she did her first dance with her father. Everyone seemed to be cool about it and 5 years later they are still together so it didn't seem to reflect any major underlying issue.
posted by inbetweener at 1:17 PM on April 29, 2011

I am not a very good dancer. In fact I probably make myself look very silly most of the time. But it makes my girlfriend laugh when I do silly stuff, so if I focus on the fact that it makes her happy I find I don't feel nearly as self-conscious.

Also watch the double dream hands video for inspiration on awesome moves.
posted by beepbeepboopboop at 1:18 PM on April 29, 2011

Remember that at your wedding, everyone there either already likes you, or is meeting you for the first time and wants to like you. You'll have an appreciative audience for anything you do as long as you are a good sport and are gracious to your bride. Bad footwork? Nobody cares, it's a charming thing. When you are holding your wife, you should look radiantly happy ("I'm the luckiest guy in the world"), and everything else will be forgiven.

Seconding that you can take dance lessons that focus on getting the two of you ready for the big day, and that I've seen plenty of people who have had very good results from those lessons (and it's a fun couple thing to do). Maybe having a set routine for the dance would help alleviate nerves. Also, it gives the bride's family something nice to talk about during the dance ("they did dance classes, isn't that sweet?").

If you're in the US, it makes sense to do the first dance with your wife, a dance with your mom, and a dance with your new mother in law. The key is to talk to the DJ and select SHORT songs for all the dances. People want to see you on the dance floor with bride and mom, but they don't need to see you dance for 5 minutes. (Also when you talk to the DJ, make it clear that you are not up for any humiliating "games" or antics that wedding DJs sometimes pull. "Do not make the groom the center of attention" should be clear; your bride may need to insist on this too, since for some idiot reason wedding workers pay more attention to the wishes of the bride than the groom.)

And then you can spend the night working the room with your excellent conversation skills (you are lucky to have these skills! many grooms would have the reverse fear, how do I talk to all my relatives?). Every so often, just come on the dance floor, hug your wife and "dance" (stand still and bob your head, while smiling and laughing) intermittently through the night, for a few minutes here and there before being called away to talk to Great Aunt Gertie, or other out-of-town guests. Your company will be hotly in demand at the reception so you won't have to be on the dance floor for very long at any one time.

Don't get drunk, it's a night you want to remember happily and you'll have a short time to see and chat with a lot of people you care about and don't see regularly.

Have a talk with your bride and figure out a compromise you can live with, and be sure that you will form a united front: if you are willing to do a few dances (smiling, doing your best to enjoy them, not grumbling), she needs to be willing to defend your choice to relatives if anyone asks ("he's being such a great sport about the dances, he's doing them because it means a lot to me, but mostly he is not much of a dancer, so let's not give him a hard time").
posted by LobsterMitten at 1:42 PM on April 29, 2011

Mirror, boom box, closed room.

Dance a lot.

After a couple of weeks show off your moves with the fiance.

You'll have to get through the traditional wedding dance for sure, which is the simple back and forth, not too hard thing.

bite the bullet.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:57 PM on April 29, 2011

I was nervous about giving a toast at a wedding until I realized that a wedding is the friendliest audience you will ever get. Everyone is jacked up on goodwill and high on happiness, bad dancing just won't put a dent in this.
posted by Wood at 3:43 PM on April 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

My GF's family is from the countryside, and I'm from abroad. A big part of their custom involves lots of dancing and singing; they break into it at every social occasion.

I'm guessing that this dancing is a regional or national folk/traditional/ceremonial/religious/social dance of some sort. Most of the answers above are assuming you will be following standard US wedding dancing customs, and will not steer you the right direction if that is the case.

First, you need to ask your girlfriend, or whoever else would be appropriate, what the usual and traditional dances done _at weddings_ are in the area. Be sure to ask about any etiquette as far as if the bride and groom are supposed to dance with or avoid dancing with any particular people. Find out if there are any particularly appropriate or inappropriate times for the groom to dance, if you are expected to dance with the new bride, etc. Customs are likely to be at least somewhat different than what you have seen at other social occasions.

Step 2: Now, you find some dance classes in the style of dance you will be expected to do. If there are any dance schools that teach the dances (and perhaps the singing also?) of this custom, you can probably arrange to take private lessons -- you will probably feel less self conscious, and it will be faster to learn. If there's trouble on the scheduling, mention that you are getting married and want to learn their local dances to impress your wife's family, and ask if anything can be done.

If there are no dance schools teaching the local dances, call up any sort of legitimate dance school and ask if they know of a teacher you can hire. If that doesn't work, ask one of the best dancers from your GF's family to teach you the basics. If someone seems to like explaining the dances to the children, you might ask them. It might be important for you to ask a man, either due to gender contact customs or if men dance in a different way or have a different "part" in the dance than women. Do make sure to learn a dance that is appropriate for your gender, age, and position in society.

Now, if you keep it a secret from her family that you are learning this, and pop it out as a surprise at the wedding, it's likely (not knowing what culture and custom this is!) that it will go over quite well -- but you must keep in mind, even if you do it "badly" and they laugh (and their reaction will have more to do with their culture than with you, they may clap and cheer instead), this generally makes a good impression for being a good sport and putting in the effort to learn -- think of it as you would learning a few basic phrases in the local language of a new place you might travel to. It shows respect to their custom.

Even if there will be more of a modern nightclub type dancing at the wedding, you might make a better impression with taking a stab at the traditional style -- you won't be expected to be good at it as someone from abroad who they haven't seen dancing at any other occasion.

Don't drink much at all before the wedding dance, demonstrating new motor skills is not helped by drunkenness.

You should talk this over a bit more with your GF, and make sure she knows that it's a private conversation. If you follow this plan, go over it with her, as there may be some sort of bugaboo regarding the local traditions/culture that I'd be quite unaware of.

Lastly, some countries (I know of some in the Middle East, probably not where you are if you'll be drinking, but for all I know there may be others) have laws relating to dancing that you might need to be aware of, both what the laws are and what the practices around skirting the law are -- people carry on their old traditions in private even if they are made illegal.

(I have no idea if it won't be a typical wedding in that it doesn't follow western traditions, or if it won't be typical by prevailing traditions in your locality -- knowing nothing about the etiquette there, I haven't any idea if it would be appropriate for you to simply forgo dancing. I know how you can get out of it though -- break your leg.)
posted by yohko at 9:07 PM on April 29, 2011

Oh, and feel free to send me a mefimail if any of that is unclear or if you want to provide any more info. Let me know if it's something I should post or reply to privately.
posted by yohko at 9:11 PM on April 29, 2011

I was the same as you. Dance was clumsy and mortifying. I decided to take some ballroom dance lessons just so I at least had a slightly more rounded education, and would have something to fall back on at events involving dancing.

Walking alone into a dance studio (a DANCE STUDIO!) was very intimidating. But I did it. And I started taking some lessons and classes. I was very self-conscious.

But something really weird happened - as pieces started to click together in my head, I discovered I was actually having fun. I was still clumsy, but it was... fun.

And because I was having fun, when my course ended... I kept going.

Fast forward a few years, glamorous balls, travel to exotic locations for dance competitions, awesome company, and... going to night-clubs! I love it now! (I've even been enjoying priority treatment at clubs around the world - even though I avoid the superficial clubs that go for "A-list" pecking order BS)

Something I learned is that I'm not a special snowflake - it's common as dirt for people to believe that dance is something they can't do, and simple fact - that dance instructors see every day - is that you're simply wrong.

If you bet $100,000 against a good dance instructor that you can't dance gracefully and beautifully, they'll take your bet, and they'll retire $100k richer. And you'll dance gracefully and beautifully. I'd bet my own money against you winning that bet :-)

Dance is like anything else - it takes effort. Lots of people look like it just comes naturally to them, but again you're wrong. They rock out in their bedrooms to their favourite music. Or they bounce to their headphones in the supermarket. Or they go clubbing. Or any of lots of ways to find your groove.
Dance instructs know from firsthand experience that anyone can look great. People with disabilities. People overweight. People who are dyslexic and cannot tell left from right literally. (In all three of these cases, I know such people who actually became pro dancers!)

My point is, you have the potential to be a really good dancer, you just don't know enough about dance yet to understand how that could be possible.

So my suggestion is firstly, if you have some time, take your woes to a professional. Two weeks isn't much, but it's something.
And secondly, if you like the abstract idea of a you that is a good dancer, or a you who enjoys dancing, then be open to the idea that maybe you should keep working with an instructor for another few weeks after the wedding, until you can decide if you're starting to like it.

You're marrying the girl. This wedding is going to be the start, not the end, of the dance-filled events that you'll spend with her family. Why not transform fear into fun, for all time? :-)
posted by -harlequin- at 12:27 AM on April 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

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