Entertainment alternatives to dancing at wedding party?
January 18, 2006 11:46 AM   Subscribe

We're getting married in October. We've always avoided drinking and dancing at other people's parties, and we'd like to avoid having our own wedding consist primarily of drinking and dancing. What are some entertainment alternatives for a fun party?

There will be about 40 guests - about 30 family, 10 friends. No children. Don't even think about suggesting a murder mystery.
posted by dmd to Human Relations (47 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
It depends on if you want to not have these things here at all (religious reasons?) or if you just dislike them. Dancing, especially, is pretty common at wedding receptions and it might be easier to allow it if there's no strong objection. Make sure your families agree with or are at least apprised of your decision.

That said, where is the wedding? a group outing to a local and dignified tourist destination or scenic area might be an idea. Make sure you have the wedding and reception in the morning/early afternoon, and keep the reception short.
posted by By The Grace of God at 11:52 AM on January 18, 2006

It's your wedding, don't worry about what your family wants, unless they're paying for it.

What about a clambake by the ocean?
A brunch reception?
A luncheon at a nice restaurant/hall with a good view?

There is no reason why a wedding reception must be an incredibly lavish affair. You could hold a wonderful, delicious sit down meal in a restaurant after the ceremony, so that everyone can eat and talk and celebrate your wedding. It's a small group, so this could be a really nice way to go.

Or you can rent a B&B somewhere and hold a picnic if you want to do something outdoors.

The sky's the limit. You don't need to follow any tradition of what a wedding reception *should* be. Do what you will enjoy.
posted by catfood at 11:57 AM on January 18, 2006

Response by poster: I personally can't drink at all for medical reasons, and my fiancee just doesn't like alcohol. As for the dancing - we're both very shy introverted people. We don't like dancing. When other people have parties that involve dancing we go hide in a corner. It's just who we are. We don't want to have to hide in a corner at our own party.

We don't mind if there's dancing. We expect it, we understand that the guests expect it. We just don't want it to be the main focus of the party.
posted by dmd at 11:58 AM on January 18, 2006

posted by Faint of Butt at 11:58 AM on January 18, 2006

More details - indoor, outdoor, dinner, afternoon, night? Do you want classy, or classic, or down-home, or low-key?

The most fun I've ever had at a wedding that wasn't my own was at an apple orchard, in the afternoon. It was a big barbecue, with apple pies. We played cards and horseshoes, there was music and dancing, activities for kids, a beach nearby -- very low key, very fun.

I've also been to a family wedding that was at a cousin's house on a lake. Lots of food, swimming and lake activities, cards and board games, generally a good time.

Come to think of it, we have lots of parties that are fun that aren't weddings - like our family christmas parties. Again with the various games for people who want to play, and people who just want to hang out and talk to each other.

[also, she, whether that's you or your finace, is absolutely stunningly beautiful, and so is that ring]
posted by dpx.mfx at 12:00 PM on January 18, 2006 [2 favorites]

Are you keeping it quite small? The more people you have there, the more people will be looking at you as the centre of attention. That's unavoidable at your own wedding. If it is small it's much easier to just have the whole thing as a sitdown meal in somewhere you both like. For example, I recently saw some people get married dressed up Bavarian style at a local registry office and they all just went off and had a big meal at a local pub.
Other idea: If you're anywhere near the sea how about hiring a boat and having a meal on there?
posted by biffa at 12:03 PM on January 18, 2006

An easy way to avoid drinking and dancing is to have the wedding earlier in the day. If you're in the Northeast and you're getting married in October, having some sort of fall themed activities might be a way to go. Find a local farm, get some sort of specialized tour, chartered ride through some of the beautiful foliage, maybe some sort of water-based hang-out-and-look-at-nature sort of thing. This way you can spend quality time with family and friends and then later in the night you can either have a friends-only get together, or just ditch everyone and spend some alone time with your new bride.

I've been considering this question myself because I'd like to have a wedding that's a little more free of the drama of nighttime heavy drinking that goes on in my family and my SOs family.

I've been to weddings where all the guests went out to see a show at a local theater, and ones where after dinner there were desserts served and people got to walk around the grounds where the wedding was being held which seemed like a ncie compromise. People who wanted drinking and dancing got it and people who didn't had perfectly acceptable alternatives.
posted by jessamyn at 12:06 PM on January 18, 2006 [1 favorite]

Dance Dance Revolution
posted by rxrfrx at 12:07 PM on January 18, 2006

Whatever the activity, I highly suggest a chartered boat ride on a scenic location. There will always be something to talk about -- just look out the window. What's more -- boat rides END. The boat has to come back to the dock and everyone has to leave. Nothing worse than a wedding party that just seems to drag on, making people uncomfortable.
posted by frogan at 12:19 PM on January 18, 2006

Response by poster: We'd definitely like the option of it being outdoors and in sunlight if weather permits. We're entirely nonreligious, so ceremony and reception can be in the same place.

We're trying to figure out a way to balance our desire for what we want (quiet, bucolic, arboreal) with what 75% of the guests (her family) expect (polka and hard liquor). We won't be giving them any polka or hard liquor, but we also don't want completely grumpy guests...
posted by dmd at 12:19 PM on January 18, 2006

Someone suggested Dance Dance Revolution -- it's a great idea. I'll throw in the game Guitar Hero, as well. Same general "performance game" idea, but surprisingly fun.
posted by frogan at 12:20 PM on January 18, 2006

omg, frogan, please don't suggest that to my fiance, he would be all over that. A Guitar Hero wedding. Sigh!

I looove the suggestion for a chartered boat. For the # of guests you are suggesting you are planning to have, that would be perfect!

Some places have "Progressive Dining" where you charter a boat that takes you to one foofy restaurant for hors d'oevres, one foofy restaurant for appetziers, one for dinner, and one for dessert. That could be fun, different, and gorgeous.
posted by catfood at 12:23 PM on January 18, 2006

Some of my friends recently got married at dawn, and later reconvened with guests for a casual-attire picnic type event where board games were the main event.

But people do like to dance....

I think lots of the suggestions for alternate wedding events are good ones. And I think for the most part people will appreciate the variety. What I would vigilantly avoid is an evening dinner in a typical wedding venue without dancing and alcohol. For veteran wedding-goers, the lack of drinking and dancing might be too apparent.
posted by Amizu at 12:26 PM on January 18, 2006

As for the dancing - we're both very shy introverted people. We don't like dancing. When other people have parties that involve dancing we go hide in a corner.

People expect dancing at weddings. Sorry. Fair enough if you don't want any, but if you secretly would like to astonish everyone, book a Ceilidh band. Ceilidh bands make dancing easy. And you could even get practice in in advance if need be.
posted by ascullion at 12:27 PM on January 18, 2006

When we got married my wife and I rented a big country house for the weekend and just had a big party. The house had a swimming pool, jacuzzi, tennis courts, game room, etc. and we told people to wear what they like. Some came in suits, some came in shorts and t-shirts, etc. After a short ceremony in the garden, we just let everyone enjoy the house and do what they wanted for the day. Some swam, others were inside playing pool, some were in the hot tub, etc. and caterers kept everyone happy with food and drink. It was totally relaxed and my friends still tell me it was one of the best weddings they've ever been to.

Do whatever you want and don't feel like you have to follow any of the traditional wedding formalities.
posted by gfrobe at 12:28 PM on January 18, 2006

With my first marriage, we hired an improv troupe for our reception. I was good friends with about half of the performers, but they were entertaining and charming and made sure that our guests had a great time.
posted by ursus_comiter at 12:32 PM on January 18, 2006

One fun idea that some friends of mine had was to put Trivial Pursuit cards on all the tables, then invite the guests to come up to a microphone and ask the newlyweds a question. If they got it wrong, they had to kiss. In my friends' case, it was mostly done as an alternative to the banging of the glass, but it provided entertainment besides dancing. The fact that the cards were already on the tables also encouraged some discussion among those of us at the table, which was great because most of us were geeky introverts.

I personally would not be offended if you didn't have dancing, but (see above) I'm a geeky introvert like you guys. You could skip it altogether and spend the time mingling with out-of-town guests that you don't get to see that often. Alternately, you could have the dancing in a different area away from the bridal party/newlywed tables. My cousin's wedding had one main room be for food and guest tables, and there was a side room for the dance floor. The music could still be heard in the main room, but dancing was not the focus.
posted by sarahnade at 12:35 PM on January 18, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks for the tip about CĂ©ilidh bands - we knew we wanted some sort of live celtic band, but didn't know the right terms to search on.

Also, the boat ideas are very good - even if we don't use that, thinking about where boats go removed a mental blind spot. We're in Philadelphia ... I'd been looking mostly at venues out along the Main Line area, and had completely forgotten the whole Bucks County area. New Hope, etc...
posted by dmd at 12:40 PM on January 18, 2006

At ours we had a real band (Hawaiian swing) rather than a wedding band so that the music was good to our ears. My husband and I didn't dance at all, not a first dance, not a parent dance. Other guests did dance. We had a photo booth and fortune tellers and dinner and everyone was well entertained with those.
posted by xo at 12:47 PM on January 18, 2006

I don't know your friends and family. But there's a long tradition of people pulling pranks on the couple being married, or doing noodge-ly harrassing things to them. Also, there are people who just think they know better than you do about what's fun for you. So (unless you know otherwise because you know the people), there's some danger that if there are other people dancing, people will be cajoling you into it even (or maybe especially) if they know you don't want to. I think that the other responses here saying that you'll only "have to" do one dance, or that dancing is To Be Expected, are indicative of this blinkered perspective, and should serve as a warning.

To say that my bride and I don't like dancing would be an understatement -- close to the truth that we find dancing (in public anyway) loathsome and detestable, way up there with a nice tooth-cleaning on the fun-o-meter.

Our response was to make it simply not an option, which is what I'd recommend to you. The only way to be sure you won't be dragged onto the dance floor is not to have one.

We had our "reception" ahead of time for boring immigration-legal reasons, and we were careful to have it in a place (a small pub for us) that absolutely did not have enough bare floor space for anyone to dance. After our wedding, we just had a nice lunch at a nearby restaurant. People seemed to enjoy it, and it seems to me that this approach is more friendly than having to tell Uncle Fred and Aunt Velma and three other people to, no, really, fuck off about getting us on the dance floor because we still don't like dancing, dammit.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:47 PM on January 18, 2006

A friend of mine had karaoke at her wedding. Let me tell ya, there's nothing quite like watching a bride belt out "Livin' On A Prayer." It was fun, and the older people got to sing some sentimental hits of their youth. Highly recommend it.
posted by Sara Anne at 12:48 PM on January 18, 2006

A high school friend of mine had her wedding reception at a bowling alley and ordered in pizza. It was fun, lots of laughter, something to do, but no dancing.
posted by raedyn at 12:59 PM on January 18, 2006

Although people expect dancing, you really don't have to for long. My husband and I danced for exactly 10 seconds before we got someone to interrupt on the microphone and invite everyone up there with us. It was the only dancing I did the whole wedding, which suited me fine.

Of course 10 seconds may be 10 too long for you, but it was a reasonable compromise for us.

I have been to many very different weddings and enjoyed most of them. One which stands out for being low-hassle was an outdoor wedding at noon, which then adjourned to restaurant for lunch. The restaurant had tables outside on a patio and lovely grounds. After lunch, people wandered around the grounds, and then left. It was nice and relaxing. The people that wanted to turn it into a party then relaxed for a few hours, reconvened and went out.
posted by gaspode at 1:00 PM on January 18, 2006

No real advice (except to say, It's Your Wedding, so Don't Dance if You Don't Want To), but that ring is gorgeous, you're a beautiful couple, and I wish you both many happy returns.
posted by muddgirl at 1:03 PM on January 18, 2006

If you don't want grumpy guests, one thing you must let them know in advance is that the wedding will be dry (or dry-ish). Nothing worse than a suprise dry wedding for anyone involved. You may end up with guests packing flasks though.
posted by true at 1:12 PM on January 18, 2006

+1 what true said
posted by exogenous at 1:18 PM on January 18, 2006

Let me admit upfront that I didn't read any of the other comments. Call me lazy. I deserve it.

Where will your reception take place? If you're in California in October, it's one thing, but if you're in Seattle, it's another.

My wife and I were married (by a judge) in the summer of 1993. Our reception was held on the campus of the university from which we had graduated two years earlier. We were granted use of the campus cafe (which my wife had managed for a year), and use of the grounds. She and I did all of the work (with the help of two stalwart friends). We served cake — not traditional wedding cake, but delicious gourmet cake. We made appetizers. We had no alcohol.

For entertainment, we set up a volleyball net, put up a set of makeshift soccer goals, and had a wide variety of board games. We had upbeat music playing, but no dancing. (If we had known a band, we might have paid them to play.)

From my experience, people will view this as a happy, positive time, and mostly they'll want to sit around and chat with each other. Provide some good food and some fun, light pastimes, and they'll have a ball.

Best wishes!
posted by jdroth at 1:21 PM on January 18, 2006

What Xenophobe said. If you don't like public dancing (and, God, I can sympathize with this), pick a reception venue that pretty much rules it out. It's up to you to set the tenor for the evening, and choosing the right space is a good -- and subtle -- way of doing this.

We decided that really good food and mellowness were our priorities, so we booked out an inner-city cafe where we were semi-regulars; got them to cater; put on a small bar-tab; and this produced the low-key, intimate, conversational vibe we were after. And, as an added plus -- no dancing.
posted by Sonny Jim at 1:33 PM on January 18, 2006

We didn't have dancing at our wedding, and none of the 80 people has in the subsequent five years given us any shit about it. This idea that dancing is required for the marriage to be legal is a myth.

As was recommended, have it early in the day; also, have the music come from something undanceable. We had a string quartet and a harpist. Another bonus: you can hear people speak.

I'd say you only have to supply explicit diversions (e.g. Guitar Hero) if many children are coming, which as you say, they aren't.

posted by Aknaton at 1:54 PM on January 18, 2006

dmd, if you're thinking of having traditional Irish music, you may want to see if there's an Irish-American Association nearby that can point you towards the right sort of musicians. Failing that, look up Irish dancing schools in your region - Irish dancing competitions all require live music, and lots of it, so dancing schools undoubtably know who the good local musicians are as well. However, are either of your families Irish? At weddings on my mother's side of the family, there's always ceilidh dances and such, but they work in part because there are so many people who know how to do at least a little Irish dancing. If none of your guests have that kind of background, you might want to look into having someone who does know how around to direct things. [Again, contact your local Irish-American organization or Irish dancing schools, or perhaps local Irish pubs that have a ceilidh night.]
posted by ubersturm at 1:54 PM on January 18, 2006

My wife and I had a very small wedding, and we had a very specific reason to want to avoid dancing; my family is Jewish, and we wanted to avoid the whole chair dance thing. (I'm not sure I can explain for anyone who's never been to a Jewish wedding, but the general idea involves being held up on chairs and danced around).

To avoid it, we had the reception at a nice local restaurant where there was no room for dancing and no band.

Problem solved. We served wine, but no other alcohol, and no one seemed to mind. In fact, my grandmother-in-law seemed to enjoy the wine perhaps a bit too much. She's a funny woman, though, and everyone maintained good humor when she told my wife to be careful so as to not have a child in 9 months....
posted by JMOZ at 2:01 PM on January 18, 2006

You could always search for a location for the reception that doesn't allow alcohol. At my wedding, we didn't want alcohol and it ended up that the hall we used (at a church unrelated to where we had the wedding itself) didn't allow alcohol, so problem solved.

In terms of "games" or "events", I mean, don't most of the people get along reasonably well? Give time for people to talk and most people will, well, talk. They'll figure out ways to be amused. We had no games; no events beyond the two "first dances" since her parents wanted to do a daughter-father dance.

We had music playing off of a laptop (through some speakers) and let people dance if they wanted to. Some did, some didn't. A few of our friends left after an hour and half or something to go drink. And that may happen to you if you don't have alcohol, but, big deal. The best receptions I've been to--beside my own--were the ones with the fewest "games" and "events". Alcohol, as well, seemed to have little connection to how much fun people had.

Ours began in the early eveing and it went fine. I haven't heard any complaints and received a number of complements (even from one family member that was bugging us about the lack of a DJ, games, alcohol, not enough food, too informal a wedding and so on. And she's the one that now tells everyone it was the best wedding she's been to.)

Not everyone likes the same things though, so you'll have to balance what you two want and what the familes want. But remember, as others have said, it is your wedding. Not theirs.
posted by skynxnex at 2:07 PM on January 18, 2006

You could rent out a small restaurant (that you both like a lot). There would be no room for dancing. You could handle the alcohol by having the restaurant pour wine or beer, but not a lot of either. You could all have a nice meal with a few speeches at a microphone.

This is what we did for our rehearsal party, and in some ways it was more fun than the event itself.
posted by Mid at 2:24 PM on January 18, 2006

This must be a regional thing. Most Southern weddings I have gone to just have hors d'oeurves, punch and cake. Now that we have more Northerners in our church some weddings have full meals (tho buffet.) I have only been to ONE wedding that had any dancing at all.

(Of course a lot of weddings I have gone to have been at little Southern Baptist churches which may explain the no dancing. )
posted by konolia at 2:44 PM on January 18, 2006

We also wanted a mainly dry wedding, for both financial reasons and not wanting a family fight to break out. We opted to have our reception in a very nice restaurant that had a bar adjacent to the dining room. The bar was available if someone wanted a drink, but they had to go next door. Very few people took advantage of this. We had a nice small (30 people) conversational dinner with family we don't see very often. It was mainly quiet and not terribly chaotic, which was what we really wanted.
posted by renyoj at 2:52 PM on January 18, 2006


I'm in Philly as well (and at first I actually thought you were the fiance of an acquaintance of mine).

I'm going to assume that you really do want to enjoy your time with these people. If that's not the case, add in some limiting element: scheduling, the conclusion of a performance, the closing of an establishment, your band leaving, etc. Running out of booze is a wonderful limiting factor (they can't dance and drink forever if there's nothing to drink).

October's a pretty good time of year around here, so I'd be looking for something outdoors. There's some really pretty country around here. If you book a state park facility, you'll have an excuse for not serving alcohol.

(A note on the alcohol: while you and your fiance might not enjoy it, many people do like drinking. What's more, damn-near everybody I know would feel seriously disappointed to show up at a party and discover that there wasn't so much as a can of beer to sip.)

Rent out the space, have the ceremony there, and then have a barbeque (remember your vegetarian friends, please!). Pumpkin pie, baked beans, the bounty of the harvest, wonderful time, fabulous, a toast with cider (hard or soft, your choice), Irish music. The sun's gone down, we have no more firewood (don't bring that much), let's go home.
posted by Netzapper at 3:58 PM on January 18, 2006 [1 favorite]

Oh, also +1 to renyoj's drinking solution. Go someplace with a bar, and let people buy their own drinks. The drinkers are happy to have a pint. And unless they're rich, they won't be getting too drunk.
posted by Netzapper at 4:01 PM on January 18, 2006

The only wedding I've been to that didn't make me want to slit my wrists featured Karaoke.
posted by coach_mcguirk at 4:03 PM on January 18, 2006

I wouldn't do a party on a boat. I've been on them. You can't arrive late and you can't leave early.
posted by ShooBoo at 4:19 PM on January 18, 2006

I barely drank at my own wedding, but the guests did, and there were no problems arising from that.

At one wedding I went to, it was no booze, no meat, little dancing and less fun. Now, I don't even eat meat, but it all seemed a bit much, bordering on using the host position to preach to/control the guests. Make sure you don't go that far.
posted by NortonDC at 5:02 PM on January 18, 2006

We all went horseback riding the afternoon after my aunt's (rather informal) wedding, which worked well enough. We also considered going whitewater rafting--an idea that I ended up using for my bat mitzvah a few years later. The wonderful thing about it was that it's very hard to argue and fight (which my family likes to do) on a raft. It'd be similarly difficult to drink or dance...

(I'm not sure whether these activities would scale up to 40 people, though--we had under 20 at each event.)
posted by needs more cowbell at 5:46 PM on January 18, 2006

I went to a Baptist wedding once - the reception was dry, of course, and featured such traditional party games as "pass the parcel" and a lucky dip, interspersed with the usual speeches and punch toasts. It then went on to become a progressive dinner, alternating between the houses of the two families.

Sounds boring, but was actually quite fun and friendly. And afterwards, we heathen alcoholics amongst the guests went on a pub and club crawl from one end of the city to the other, and back again...
posted by Pinback at 2:23 AM on January 19, 2006

We had a brunch reception. Didn't lend itself to a wild party. We had booze, but it was like champagne and wine, not liquor. There was a little tiny dance area (the foyer of an old mansion) so we did our first dance there, but that was it! No more dancing.
Our rehearsal dinner was at a Japanese steakhouse, where everyone sat around and enjoyed the cooking and eating. Of course we had time to do little toasts and stuff, but the main attraction was the food.
How about an afternoon dessert reception with one of those chocolate fondue fountains, an ice cream sundae bar, cupcakes, fresh fruit, etc? Serve coffee and that awesome 7UP and sherbet punch.
Bottom line, do whatever you want--it's your wedding. Lots of people don't drink and it's really no big deal. But time of day will really dictate what people are expecting, and you should consider that in your planning.
posted by FergieBelle at 5:43 AM on January 19, 2006

I second (third?) the suggestion to have a morning wedding. I did that for my first wedding. While the immediate family had no problems with alcohol, many folks in the extended family were religion-based teetotalers, and would have been uncomfortable at a "party" reception. The ceremony was a typical church thing at 11:30, then the reception was in an attached parlor setting. We had lots of great food, with some light background music. After we left for our honeymoon, the party crowd (consisting of members of both families)adjourned to my parents' house and whooped it up all night, without us.
posted by MrMoonPie at 7:11 AM on January 19, 2006

It doesn't matter what time of day, where it is, etc. If you don't like drinking, and don't want people getting drunk, then simply don't have alcohol at the reception. It's YOUR wedding - you shouldn't spend any time at all worrying about what others want/expect/etc. This is the decision my wife and I made - we don't drink either, and both have families full of alcoholics, so we simply didn't have alcohol. Some of our family members were disappointed, but I really don't care. We told them that it's OUR day, and that if they want to get drunk, they were welcome to go to a bar after the reception. If they want alocohol at their wedding, they are welcome to do that, to.

By the way, the really nice side effect of this is that an alcohol-free reception cost a lot less than one with alcohol.
posted by robhuddles at 8:34 AM on January 19, 2006

robhuddles, the poster states that he's looking to put together "a fun party." Sure, it's his day, and he can specify that all guests must wear pink tu-tus and talk backwards, but if he's looking for a fun party, he should, at least to some extent, anticipate and cater to his guests' expectations.
posted by MrMoonPie at 8:47 AM on January 19, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks so much everyone for all your responses! This has been a huge help.

I'm not going to tag anything 'best answer'; nearly everything posted was helpful.

This was incredibly great. Thanks a million!

- Daniel and Sarah

posted by dmd at 3:55 PM on January 19, 2006

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