For many modern couples, it’s out with tried-and-true wedding traditions and in with trends: doughnut walls instead of tiered cakes, Mason jars over champagne glasses, colorful gowns and pantsuits in lieu of bright white dresses.
One wedding ritual, however, has stood the test of time: the first dance.
It was the most popular wedding tradition of 2016, with nearly 90 percent of couples incorporating an inaugural spin into their festivities, according to a survey by WeddingWire. It beat out the ceremonial cake-cutting, the bouquet toss and, yes, even the ubiquitous wedding hashtag.
But choosing a song for your first foray onto the dance floor as a married couple — finding a track that has the right tone, pace and lyrics to fit the setting and that appeals to a range of guests (from grandma to college pals) — can be daunting.
“For many couples, it’s the thing they sweat the most,” says DJ Heather Femia, who has been spinning in the District for about 12 years.
It also doesn’t help that there are seemingly endless options, thanks to music-streaming services such as Spotify. It can be fast or slow. Acoustic or electric. Current or classic.
“It is something you should pay attention to and not wait until the last moment,” Femia says. “You don’t want it to feel like you’re counting down the minutes until it ends.”
Whatever song you choose doesn’t have to be timeless or perfect, or even mention the word love. In the end you both just need to love it. “It can be something really special, if you allow yourself the time to explore it, and enjoy it,” Femia says.
So, whether it’s Al Green or Green Day, here are ideas and suggestions on how, and where, to find first-dance inspiration.
Pick something significant and sentimental
Take a trip down memory lane and come up with a list of songs that are meaningful to both of you and to your relationship. Maybe it’s the song on the radio during your first date or the encore to an unforgettable concert you attended. Even if one song doesn’t emerge as the winner, a list will help you formulate an idea for what genre and lyrics you both gravitate toward.
Listen to your music libraries on shuffle
Pause Netflix for a night and instead play your favorite iTunes or Spotify playlists back-and-forth for each other on shuffle. Make sure to pause and note particularly dance-worthy tracks. Like the song but not sure whether it’ll fit the mood of the evening? Try giving your partner a spin in your living room. If the pace seems too fast or the lyrics don’t seem to fit, nix it.
Call a friend or family member
The people who know you best have probably seen, or at least heard about, your significant other since the beginning. If you trust their input — and musical tastes — consider asking them to suggest a song that reminds them of you and your partner. Even if you don’t wind up selecting one of their choices, it might be fun, and enlightening, to see what songs they come up with.
Use your venue as inspiration
Getting married in a century-old barn in the country? Consider an acoustic, country or folksy track, such as “Home” by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, or “Easy to Love” by Ivan and Alyosha. For a more formal evening in a museum or historical building, consider a classic, such as Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World,” Ray Charles’s “Come Rain or Come Shine” or Marvin Gaye’s “You’re All I Need to Get By.” For an offbeat location, like an art gallery or brewery, consider “I Found You” by Alabama Shakes, “I Do” by Meiko or “May I Have This Dance” by Francis and the Lights and Chance the Rapper.
Steal your favorite celebrity couple’s song choice
You look to stars for all sorts of inspiration, from what to wear to what to name your labradoodle, so why not take a cue from the rich and famous when picking a first-dance track? Former perennial bachelor George Clooney and his now-wife, Amal Alamuddin, danced to Cole Porter’s “Why Shouldn’t I?,” while Jennifer Aniston and Justin Theroux opted for the unconventional track “Chandelier” by Sia. Former boy bander Justin Timberlake and Jessica Biel swayed to “A Song for You” by Donny Hathaway, while ex-love birds Miranda Lambert and Blake Shelton chose the country ballad “No Doubt About It” by Neal McCoy.
Glossy tabloids not your speed? Look to Washington power couples for ideas.
President Trump and first lady Melania Trump chose Puccini’s operatic aria “Nessun Dorma,” while Barack and Michelle Obama grooved to “You and I” by Stevie Wonder. Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky went with the classic “At Last” by Etta James, while Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner danced to David Gray’s “This Year’s Love.”
Play your favorite movie soundtrack
No one captures romance quite like Hollywood, and luckily, some of film’s most memorable, heart-swooning moments are tied to music. Who could forget John Cusack’s boombox, blasting “In Your Eyes” in “Say Anything,” or Adam Sandler serenading Drew Barrymore midflight with “I Wanna Grow Old With You” in “The Wedding Singer”? Borrow their happily-ever-after musical moment for your own.
Enlist your DJ or band’s help
Ask your DJ or band leader for suggestions. Music is literally their business, so chances are they can help you set the right tone, mood and atmosphere. “I start off my sessions by asking couples, ‘What’s your generation? What’s your genre?’ And help them narrow it down from there,” Femia says.
Stuck between songs? Consider a mash-up.
Looking to add a wow or surprise factor to the dance? Consider a fusion of songs, such as a simple, classic romantic ballad that segues into a happy, upbeat number that will encourage guests to make their way to the dance floor. It worked for Kim Kardashian and Kanye West, who mixed James’s “At Last” with “These Arms of Mine” and “Try a Little Tenderness” by Otis Redding.
Record your own unique track
Can you or your partner carry a tune or play an instrument? Consider pulling a Beyoncé and Jay-Z, by prerecording your own original dance track. (The famous Carters wowed guests by dancing to their own collaboration, “Crazy in Love,” for their first dance.) Bonus: You won’t worry about it being overplayed on the radio or overdone at future weddings.
Still at a loss? There’s always Google. Or, yes, ‘At Last.’
There are hundreds of first-dance wedding lists and suggestions online, from genre-specific curated lists (acoustic, rock ballads) to perennial favorites. Comb through lists with your loved one and see what jumps out at you. If all else fails, James’s “At Last” is always a fail-proof choice.