When I was a kid I used to love the movie “Can’t Buy Me Love.” It’s an early example of Patrick Dempsey channeling those clichéd thematic elements from the 80s that we love so much. If you haven’t already seen it then make it your first priority after reading this article. At any rate, in one scene the social-climbing nerd preforms a dance he saw on a documentary and the crowds joins in with unfathomable fervor; it made the Macarena look like the Hokey Pokey. I was pretty sure that was how my wedding was going to look: large scale dancing, disorienting lights, and a party that went on until the early hours of the morning. Granted, I was eight. Unfortunately too many wedding receptions do look just like the movies… Think the Cusack siblings in “Pretty in Pink.”
A wedding DJ may seem like an incidental on your list of priorities, but his or her ability to manipulate your reception can leave your guests dying to leave or begging for more. Let’s talk about how to avoid a scene of wallflowers and guests hanging out in the bathroom. Your DJ can bring you Patrick Dempsey. Metaphorically, of course.
1. Keep your special dances short. Historically speaking, first dances were lead by the guests of honor- not done exclusively by them. And for good reason. Now they are a valued tradition and a much-anticipated part of the evening. That is until they start going too long. Our recommendation is to let the first dance run two to three minutes and the other special dances to top off at two minutes. The exception to this is choreographed dances, which are done with the intention to entertain the crowd. This can reduce the time for special dances from 15 minutes to about six minutes.
2. Get your family and bridal party involved in the transitions. Most people know when to offer applause, when an appropriate time to dance begins, and when to slow it down. It’s intuitive to most as long as someone is there to offer small indicators. Having dad usher you away from your new spouse negates the need to make an announcement and keeps an intimate feel to the moment. If your bridal party knows to begin dancing immediately after the father/daughter dance then people will know they are welcome to join. Nothing is more annoying than a DJ that says “let’s give them a hand” at every turn, and being publicly invited to the dance floor can unintentionally become intimidating for shyer guests. Work with your DJ to have the people closest to you offer those cues so the focus can stay on what is important- you guys!
3. Think about flow. When you dash into the grocery store to grab a carton of milk does it annoy you that you have to go to the very back corner? Retailers are masters of flow in order to maximize the potential that you will walk out of there with more than what you anticipated. You should think about your wedding in the same way. What is going to give you and your guests the maximum opportunity for a memorable time. Look at your venue and your agenda and see where potential problems are laying in wait. I once did a wedding where the cake cutting was on the opposite end of the venue and in a different room. Once people broke away from a killer party to have cake that they had to eat in a different room it was difficult to get the party rolling again. It took 45 minutes out of the reception when it could have taken each guest ten minutes and they could be back on the dance floor. If you can’t hire an experienced, professional planner then spend considerable time looking for these potential pitfalls.
4. Be open to suggestions, not everyone thinks Jagged Little Pill was the greatest album ever. I grew up in the 90s, but you get my point. Be flexible with your music selections. You want more out of a DJ than their equipment. Anyone can press play on a phone these days, but a professional DJ can look at the list of songs you absolutely must have (and that should be a short list, think 5-10 songs) and find songs that meet two criteria: something your crowd can dance to and something you identify with. If you hand him a list of 60 of the greatest love songs of all time your guests will be at the bar or applying their eighth layer of lipstick before you get to “Can You Feel the Love Tonight.” A good DJ also knows when you play more adventurous songs and when to play foxtrot-style standards.
5. Opening up the dance floor. Remember getting your bridal party involved when the special dances are over? Since most bridal parties these days rival the population of New Jersey, it can make anonymity for those shyer guests much easier. Depending on your crowd, getting people on a dance floor after watching someone else dance for several minutes can be a tough sell. A good trick is to encourage guests out during the last special dance. It is typically slower, which is appealing for older guests, and subtle enough that skill isn’t much of an issue. Once people get on the floor it’s easier to keep them there with the more exciting selections.
6. Turn the lights off. Do me a favor. Next time you’re in line at the coffee shop listening to their featured music start dancing. No, no! Go for it! For most of us, dancing in an environment that is both a.) well lit and b.) well populated can bring on horrid flashbacks of gym class or freshman orientation. It’s very common for coordinators, venue staff, photographers, videographers and other staff to want the room to stay as lit as possible, but it will have a negative impact on your wedding. Talk to you coordinator or venue staff to make sure they know what time to bring the lights down (typically after special dances). Some venues even have separate light dimmers/switches for the areas over the dance floor so the guest seating can remain lit while the dance floor is dark, but we still recommend making the whole room dark. You can also use lighting as a transition to sub-consciously invite everyone to the dance floor. If everyone is standing around you for first dance and all the lights turn off, timed with the next dance, they’ll naturally know it’s everyone’s turn on the floor.
7. Turn the lights on. Ok, in case this needs clarification, turn the venue lights off, but turn dance lights on. This does a couple of things. It helps improve the environment, it loosens people up a bit, and can identify the appropriate area for dancing in case there isn’t an actual dance floor. Strongly consider uplights and pinspot lights to draw attention to areas like your cake table that would otherwise be lost in a dark room.
8. Dance. This one may seem obvious, but it gets neglected a lot. The bride and groom will be the focal point for guests all night. If guests are constantly looking around to see where you are and aren’t finding you in the room, they’ll more likely hang out at their tables or decide to go home after cake. If they look up and see you guys shaking it on the dance floor, they’ll be inclined to come join you.Sometime this is easier said than done, because you’re thanking guests and talking to relatives, but no one will judge you if you’re dancing the night away and having a great time at your wedding.
9. Know your crowd; know your DJ. You may love your deadmau5, Skillrex and Daft Punk, all blended together, chopped and screwed, but in all likelihood Granny doesn’t like them. This ties in with being flexible on your music selections. Work with your DJ to find a balance of traditional and personal selections and allow him to time things accordingly. But, if you haven’t taken the time to get to know your DJ he or she won’t have an idea of your personal tastes to make variations from. Which brings me to my last point.
10. Use social media. That’s right, Facebook your DJ. It gives you a direct line to your DJ if you ever have a questions but it also lets you see what your DJ is doing week to week. Sometimes we post a picture of a crowd that completely exploded to a song that we weren’t sure would work and we show what song it is…That might be a song that you add to your must play list. DJs playlists, styles, setups and announcements change every event, and in the course of a year they will have worked and changed their craft significantly. The other side of the coin is that your DJ has also been seeing and participating in your posts. He’ll know the type of reactions you get from friends, the types of friends and family you have and the way people get excited about different events. I’ve gone to weddings where I’ve been Facebook friends with the bride/groom, half the bridal party and the mother of the bride for a year and we walked in like we all knew each other. It allowed us to have a great time that night and no one felt uncomfortable approaching me.