Why cut the rug?
November 6, 2007 12:51 PM   Subscribe

Why do people want to dance at a wedding reception?

My fiancé and I do not go dancing. My friends do not have dancing at their parties. Out of a guest list of around 80, I would say maybe 5 make an effort to go dancing in their regular lives. So why are we expected to provide "Brick House" and a smooth surface because we are getting married? OK, I know we don't HAVE to do this, I just want to understand why everyone wants and expects dancing at a wedding when dancing is totally off the radar the rest of the time.
posted by slowfasthazel to Society & Culture (42 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
You must provide dancing because almost everything else at a wedding ceremony is rigid, scripted, seated, and incredibly, mind-numbingly boring. After that long in a seat, people want to imbibe, move their bodies, and freely enjoy the company of their wives, husbands, or other single people.

It's a source of fun and relief. If the wedding was all about you and your wife, you wouldn't need guests.
posted by fake at 12:55 PM on November 6, 2007 [2 favorites]

Our oldest historical records indicate that since the beginning of time, men and women have loved to shake their booties.
posted by dead_ at 12:55 PM on November 6, 2007 [5 favorites]

Well, dancing is fun. When I get together with my friends we're likely to move the furniture aside and . . . dance.

BUT that's me, not you. I think you should have the type of wedding you want. One role that dancing provides in a wedding is the opportunity to show off the newly wedded couple and show them with their parents: the first dance, the bride dancing with dad, etc.

But if you don't want to get your groove--and to fake's point, don't think your guests do either--then just don't have a dance floor and a DJ.
posted by donovan at 12:56 PM on November 6, 2007

You've obviously never danced the Hava Nagila.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 12:56 PM on November 6, 2007

It's tradition, it's fun (for some people) and it works well with celebrating and alcohol. It's also a good symbolic way to show the joining of two people as one, in my opinion.

But you don't have to choose Brick House or any other songs you don't want to listen to. I went to a wedding a couple weeks ago where they refused to play any of the typical 'wedding reception' songs. They opted for 40s and 50s (Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, etc) and contemporary country. I hung outside with the smokers when they started playing country, but I enjoyed dancing with my husband to Dean Martin.
posted by mitzyjalapeno at 12:56 PM on November 6, 2007

Dancing is a form of celebration. It's been a way for people to celebrate for ages. A wedding, really, should be a celebration, and it's a way for people to express joy in ways that they might not usually. Further, it's an opportunity for people to step out of their usual "box" and simply be silly. We aren't given the opportunity enough to be silly in our every day lives, so give the opportunity, people...well, people do the chicken dance.

Of course you don't have to do it, but I think it's a fun way for people to "let go" and celebrate in ways that they usually don't.

(FWIW, I am one of those people who goes out of their way to dance on a regular basis, so I might be biased.)
posted by plaingurl at 12:57 PM on November 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

It's also a form of group bonding.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 12:59 PM on November 6, 2007

Perhaps dancing is required at weddings precisely because nobody goes dancing the rest of the time. People like dancing and just need a reason to make a commitment to do it.

People with large families and lots of friends may attend several weddings a year. People that go to enough weddings can get in their annual dancing quota without having to seek out other dance venues.
posted by crazycanuck at 1:00 PM on November 6, 2007

There was no Dancing at my wedding. There was no drinking either. Shockingly our guests did not storm out in a huff. People still had a good time.
posted by French Fry at 1:00 PM on November 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

Not to be too blunt about it - but many things that happen at a wedding are totally off of the radar the rest of the time, and you can just include dancing as one of them (think tossing a bouquet or garter belt, kissing in front of your whole family and a JOP/priest/captain, saying vows etc).

Most of my any my wife's friends and family don't make dancing a regular part of their life, but during the wedding the dance floor was full and all were having a great time.

Personally I think it just adds to the celebration that is happening. I have been to weddings that both have it dancing and don't, and the ones with it generally are more memorable. It was not always due to the dancing itself, just something that I have observed. Really you should do what you and your fiance will be happy with.
posted by cftarnas at 1:00 PM on November 6, 2007

Good question! I'm wrestling with this myself right now for my upcoming nupitals. We never go dancing, so having a dance doesn't really speak to us as a couple. I was thinking about having a local indie rock band come and play, if possible. But then I think that a lot of the older guests wouldn't like that... but what audience am I trying to serve? Isn't this supposed to be about us and our relationship? But then again aren't we trying to make sure our guests have a good time?

Aaaarrrrggghhhh.... I just don't know.
posted by Jupiter Jones at 1:01 PM on November 6, 2007

Because it's fun. I'm not a dancer and my crowd doesn't go out dancing at all, but you'd be surprised which people want to tear up the floor at a wedding.

That said, I went to two weddings this summer, both good friends, and one had an awesome bluegrass band, while the other had no real dance floor and no dancing to speak of... both were great. Do what you like! Have some music though, one way or another.

Unless you hate music too.
posted by Pantengliopoli at 1:03 PM on November 6, 2007

I went to a wedding without dancing. It was fine, and thankfully, it ended earlier as a result.
posted by ignignokt at 1:05 PM on November 6, 2007

what the hell else are you going to do at a wedding reception? Talk to the people you came with for a while, talk to acquaintances awkwardly for a few minutes and think about what you can say to strangers but not actually do it. Dancing pads it.

Weddings are lame enough without giving you something to do once you're drunk.
posted by Mayor Curley at 1:05 PM on November 6, 2007

I'm another non-dancer. I say it's your wedding and you do what you damn well please. You do not HAVE to provide "Brick House and a smooth surface" if you do not want to. If you want your wedding sans dancing, do it, and the guests can jolly well suck it up or not attend.

If I ever get married, it will be a non-dancing wedding and everyone can like it or lump it.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 1:05 PM on November 6, 2007

Where else can people of all ages get to do the Macarena, dance to the Chicken Song and be a Cowboy, Indian, Contruction Worker, Motorcycle Cop, Leather Dude or Army Man for just one dance?
posted by ericb at 1:09 PM on November 6, 2007

because weddings are just about the only time lots of people will dance, or have the occasion to dance. not many middle aged people would ever consider going out to go dancing, and the idea of going to a club would probably never entire a lot of people's minds. most young people i know don't even go out dancing. it's too closely associated with picking up men or women and the whole meat market thing. so weddings provide pretty much the only opportunity when even old ladies can boogie and still remain respectable.
posted by buka at 1:11 PM on November 6, 2007

I just want to understand why everyone wants and expects dancing at a wedding when dancing is totally off the radar the rest of the time.

For many people, weddings are their outlet. Think of it. You're an older couple. You like to dance but where are you going to go? Certainly not to a club or even a ballroom filled with war veterans.

What about a place where you already know people? Filled with kids and family and loved ones? A place you can let loose a little bit without feeling silly - because its a comfortable safe environment. Thats what you're providing.

Music and dancing is also historically part of celebration in many cultures. Presumably, if you're having a wedding at all its because you buy into this too - into culture and tradition. Well, this is part of it.

I may be biased. I come from a culture (Latin) where if music, live music in the form of a 10-piece Salsa band, wasn't provided there would be horrified people all around. Everyone gets out there - grandma, uncles, grandkids - laughs and enjoys themselves. Its community. Its celebration at its most raw. Thats why people do it.
posted by vacapinta at 1:17 PM on November 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

I don't expect dancing, but I expect something fun, and very often, it is dancing. If something else fun was provided, that would be fine, too.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 1:18 PM on November 6, 2007 [2 favorites]

Because sometimes arrhythmic, out-of-shape, middle-aged white guys need an excuse to make a fool out of themselves.
posted by pardonyou? at 1:22 PM on November 6, 2007 [2 favorites]

It's not just weddings, it's banquet/gala type events in general. I've been to about a zillion celebratory galas / end of year dinners / fundraisers / conference dinners / etc that had music and a dance floor (actual dancing was less common) after the dinner. Wedding receptions often fall into that particular dress up, eat, drink, be merry such that dancing is appropriate. They have the added benefit that the people at weddings generally like each other, and are generally well balanced in terms of gender numbers, which is more than can be said for many other events.
posted by jacquilynne at 1:24 PM on November 6, 2007

Don't let anyone pressure you into doing something or having something (or someone) at your wedding you don't want. This day is for you and your fiance and all your friends and family are supposed to be there to be supportive and wish you well. It's not your job to provide entertainment in exchange for the toaster.

My wedding was in the middle of the afternoon on a weekday. Very small, music provided by a friend with a guitar, the reception was carrot cake there in the park immediately afterward, and then we few all went our separate ways.

My brother got married at 8 a.m. one Saturday with cake and punch following. This was for the express purpose of not having a dance or alcohol.

I didn't encounter the concept of a wedding dance until I was halfway through college. Shocked me right down to my soul -- especially that insipid, hideous, damned chicken dance.

It's your big day; do it your way and enjoy.
posted by bryon at 1:26 PM on November 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

Are you looking for no dancing or no music of any kind? I'm not much of a dancer either, but I think I'd probably go with something like having good music, and an area where, if people wanted, they could push a couple chairs aside and dance.
That way, you don't have a big empty space at a wedding where you, yourself don't intend to promote dancing, but at the same time, others can do it if they are moved to do so.

Also, just another point... 80 people isn't a lot. I'm going to guess from that, that you're mostly inviting people you know well. That might make for an environment that works fine without a lot of crazy dancing. The standard stuff, like dancing, is more important when a lot of people don't know each and have to hang on to expectations to get by.
posted by frufry at 1:27 PM on November 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

We had a Polka band both coming from slavic roots. It was fun, non-standard, "and no brick house" , and got everyone from the youngsters to the oldest of the old up at one time or another.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 1:34 PM on November 6, 2007

I know this doesn't answer your question directly, but we didn't have dancing, and a lot of people said they appreciated that. We had our wedding in the afternoon, outside, so the vibe was more bbq-esque.

I think some people go for the dancing to get people to mingle, but we both have unusually gregarious friends and relatives, so that never seemed like an issue. Everyone did a ton of mingling.
posted by miss tea at 1:37 PM on November 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

Because people need something to do if they're going to hang out for 3-4 hours. Didn't you see what happened in Footlose? There's only so much milling around, talking to extended family while sober most people are willing to do. It's supposed to be a celebration of familial bonds, and th idea of being stuck with each other goes down easier when people loosen up and have some fun together. Doesn't have to be dancing, but good luck.

That said, you definitely don't have to have Brick House or the chicken dance. My wife presented our DJ with a color-coded Excel spreadsheet (play, ok to play, ok if someone asks for it, do not play) of songs to choose from and a clear indication she wasn't fucking around.
posted by yerfatma at 1:48 PM on November 6, 2007 [3 favorites]

People should have dancing, or not have it, because they want to and think it's fun or boring, respectively.

If you don't like to dance, and you're pretty sure your guests don't, then don't do it. And I certainly wouldn't structure your reception around the idea of dancing. If you want to do the whole thing outside, or in some cool venue that you like but is totally unsuited to dancing, do it there. The hell with the dancing.

Personally, I've always found dancing at weddings to be spectacularly awkward. But then again, I find dancing in general to be awkward and unnatural -- it's just not my cup of tea -- and I hang out with and am related to a lot of very un-rhythmic people (the kind of people who create all those 'white people can't dance' stereotypes). If you're in a similar situation, I'd applaud your efforts to save everyone the embarassment of feeling socially pressured to dance and looking totally stupid while doing it.

Your wedding reception should be a good time. If that involves dancing, fine. If it involves drinking beer and playing Nintendo Wii, all the better.

Don't feel compelled to buy into traditions that you don't value. That's how dumb stuff gets perpetuated.
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:49 PM on November 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

What else can you do to keep people amused for hours? Speeches? Watch a movie? Dancing is a sport that everyone can participate in. Otherwise weddings would be over in 15 minutes, and you'd get no presents.
posted by blue_beetle at 2:09 PM on November 6, 2007

A lot of people meet a new partner at a wedding (all the groom's single friends/workmates meet the bride's for the first time) and dancing is a way of showing off/flirting and getting close to someone.

There's also the celebration and ritual aspect to it.

Oh, and no wedding would be complete without the Embarrassing Uncle.
posted by essexjan at 2:09 PM on November 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'm not a dancer but my wife and I danced at my stepson's wedding and thoroughly enjoyed it. (I didn't mind wearing a tux, either, which is definitely something I don't do in real life.) It's a special occasion. Don't have dancing or music if it bothers you, obviously, but lots of people enjoy it for good reasons.
posted by languagehat at 2:19 PM on November 6, 2007

Sometimes it's cultural or ethnic too. I have yet to go to an Italian wedding where they don't dance the Tarantella and I've been to a few Jewish weddings where dancing is key.

Put me in the column of people who don't make it a point to go out dancing, but always dance at a wedding with friends and family and have a great time doing it!
posted by NoraCharles at 2:21 PM on November 6, 2007

Just to be cranky:

I hate dancing with the gamma-ray heat of a billion quasars. Dancing is not fun, it is embarrassing crap that other people drag you into and that it's often not socially acceptable to refuse. It's not a source of relief, it's a source of anxiety and discomfort. Luckily, my beloved more or less agrees with me on this, so we had our reception-equivalent in a small pub with a big pool table such that dancing was impossible. Suck it, dancers.

Why do they want it: because it's comforting, ordinary, and unsurprising to them. It means that they're not expected to engage in arcane arts like "conversation with friends" for unheard-of lengths of time like two or three hours. It is the festivity equivalent of Wheel of Fortune, and people like it for the same reason.

If you do not enjoy dancing and do not wish to dance, I really suggest choosing venues such that it is impossible. If it is not physically impossible, some asshole is going to fire up a boom-box with Whitesnake and expect you to dance.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 2:39 PM on November 6, 2007 [4 favorites]

The best weddings I have ever been to have had no dancing. One was a sit-down dinner with a cocktail reception afterward. One had the same sit-down dinner with a big backyard bbq (mainly so the bride and groom could keep the ceremony guests under 40 people). At the barbeque, everyone could come and bring friends, talk and chat and mingle. There was a tiny, itty bitty dancefloor set up that could allow maybe 4-5 dancers at any time. Perfect! Dancing wasn't the central focus, the older folks had an accordian player dude so they could have some tunes as they took a little turn, and no one felt pressured into dancing. It was wedding-attending bliss.
posted by SassHat at 2:39 PM on November 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The wedding is a rite of passage. I learned in my undergrad course "Anthropology of Religion" (what a great course, it changed the way I view the world) that such ceremonies, which occur in all cultures in some form or another, have a more-or-less common structure: the beginning, where the participants are separated from their previous social state; the middle, also called the "liminal period", where things are all mixed up and the participants are neither in one state nor the other but are instead in limbo, and the final stage, where the participants rejoin society in a new social state..

In a wedding ceremony, the liminal period is the time when you are no longer engaged but are not yet married. It would be the period of time when you are standing at the altar. It provides incredibly heightened emotions for both the couple and the guests, who are in fact participants in the ceremony. Liminality has this property in general (heightened emotion) -- some anthropologists believe it is a deep-seated human need.

The wedding reception represents the final or post-liminal stage of the ceremony, where the society (your guests) welcomes you back into their circle in your new form (a married couple). FInal stages in rites of passage are when the curtains come down, the tension dissolves, and everyone celebrates together.

So, why have dancing at a wedding when you don't dance at a party? A wedding is more than just a party, it's a ceremony. Ceremonies are special; they have rites and traditions that go along with them. For whatever reason, that's dancing, and it's mutated over the years to it's common form of "Brick House". In fact the reception and all the traditions that come with it is a very real part of the marriage ceremony itself. If you were to run off and elope, your friends and family would likely find it jarring and feel some cognitive dissonance until they got used to the idea that you were married - legally you might be married, but socially it would feel like you weren't because you hadn't gone through the rite of passage. Likewise I imagine a wedding with no reception would feel strangely incomplete to many of your guests. Depending on cultural expectations of your guests, a quiet, non-festive reception might produce the same reaction.

You are of course welcome to not have dancing at your wedding. But you would be well-advised to provide some outlet for you and your guests to release all this pent-up emotion and tension. (have fun.)
posted by PercussivePaul at 2:41 PM on November 6, 2007 [25 favorites]

Well, for tradition I think the symbology is that it represents sex. It's the opportunity for the couples to be couples and for everyone to get loose, feel happy and sweat. At the beginning of the day you don't see each other at all, then the groom sees the bride behind a veil, then after the vows they kiss - etc - all the little traditions increase the intimacy - the garter belt and the first dance are like further representations of that closeness, and opening the dance floor to all the guests includes everyone else in the same notion. If, of course, you want to promote an ideal of coupledom, which most wedding traditions do, by nature.

But I wouldn't necessarily assume no one likes to dance... I never go dancing or even think of it, and when I have parties people just hang around and talk. I remember being surprised a few years ago when I went to a party of a member of a book club I had become part of - I'd been to their house many times for games, book club meetings, and poker nights, and had met a lot of their friends. They were all intellectual, NPR listening, New Yorker reading types, so I was kind of thrown when I went to this party one night & at a certain point, the lights went down and the music went up and the furniture got cleared away (I was lucky to be there with a friend who also wasn't into dancing, but we were the only two sitting out...)

So just because no one goes out to clubs doesn't mean they don't want to git down now and then. And weddings are a special occasion to begin with where you have to provide some form of entertainment - they've come out for a party, but it's a formal party with all attention focused on you, with generic food (since it's the same for everyone) and often boring ceremonies (no offense). You have to try to provide some opportunity for the guests to have a little fun; dancing is just one of the simplest and most universal forms. Although not everyone likes it, a lot of people are just self-conscious and would be happy to have the chance to enjoy it if given the excuse (like ritual dancing where you have to follow certain rules, which means in a way you can't mess up and you're 'stuck' doing it - but then you're freed to just enjoy bouncing around without worrying if you look silly).

Basically, if you are going to have a dance floor, but not dance and act like it's dumb to dance and sort of look down on friends who might want to dance, then definitely don't have a dance floor to start with. Only do it if you can see it as a freeing, fun, let-loose, go a little crazy, relax and feel good type of activity. If it just seems retarded to you, then it is probably going to feel that way to your guests, and they won't enjoy it.
posted by mdn at 2:55 PM on November 6, 2007

I think if you do nothing else in your life the way you want to do it, you should do your wedding the way you want it. It's one event that is actually -- about -- YOU.
posted by loiseau at 4:55 PM on November 6, 2007

(This is from a non-romantic, wedding-hating dysfunctional child of acrimonious divorce. People should be happy on their own wedding day.)
posted by loiseau at 4:56 PM on November 6, 2007

We didn't have dancing. We had drinking and good food. I hate wedding dancing, and wedding bands and djs skeeve me the fuck out. I just considered the day more like a cocktail party with legal ramifications.
posted by bibliowench at 5:00 PM on November 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

It's one event that is actually -- about -- YOU.

I see this come up again and again in marriage threads and I must say I strongly disagree. If it was only about them, I think many people would be happy to skip the whole thing altogether. As PercussivePaul points out, its actually about family and community. Its about THEM and YOU.
posted by vacapinta at 7:12 PM on November 6, 2007 [2 favorites]

Do you have an idea of what your guests would enjoy at the reception? They might not go dancing in their regular lives, but they may be looking forward to dancing at your wedding.

I'm a bit biased because I do love dancing. I am pretty disappointed when I attend a wedding with no dancing. Here are some reasons:

- I dressed myself up especially for this occasion in a lovely dress and heels, and it'd suck if I had to hide them by sitting at a table all evening.

- I am not much of a social drinker, and I'm not the best at casual conversation with strangers. So schmoozing with people at weddings is kind of awkward to me, and dancing gives me some way to interact with them that doesn't involve talking.

- After all of the tension of getting ready for the wedding, sitting through the ceremony, and sitting through dinner, I really appreciate the physical release.

- Again, I do like dancing, and dance music at a wedding gives me some way to celebrate and participate myself doing something I enjoy. I can't be in the ceremony itself, and chitchat with relatives and the couple's friends during the reception feels shallow. Dancing is something that's active and that I can actually contribute to and really enjoy myself - participating, not just watching as an observer.
posted by cadge at 1:41 AM on November 7, 2007

We didn't have dancing at our wedding. It was 30 of our closest friends and relatives, in a room in a brilliant wee restuarant in Edinburgh. We ate an amazing meal, did the speeches, then pushed the tables to the side and all got drunk together. Loved it.

posted by Happy Dave at 3:37 AM on November 7, 2007

There is definitely something to the "source of fun and relief"/breaking up the day comments. I just got back from a family wedding which from arriving at the church to the bar closing was about 13 hours. Even half of that is waaaay too long to have people watching formalities, chatting at the bar, fixing their makeup and smiling for photos. It also provides an activity for the extended family, work acquaintances, etc who may feel less comfortable and have more "and how are you related to the couple?" small talk to do than the inner circle at the wedding.
posted by jamesonandwater at 11:27 AM on November 7, 2007

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