How To Pick the Perfect First Dance Song

Woohoo, Friday! We’re going all musical this morning, as we turn our attention to the first dance. Now this is one that usually puts brides and grooms into two camps – either it’s one you already know the answer to without thinking about it (our song! nailed it!) or you’re reading this post thinking “yes, how DO we pick the perfect first dance song?” Worry not if you’re one of those couples, because there is a perfect first dance out there for you, even if the closest you come to Fred and Ginger is standing and swaying, and it also doesn’t have to be a song you’ve heard at weddings a zillion times before. I always advise couples to take a couple of nights out (not too far away from the wedding – this is actually a fun one to do over sushi and wine a couple of months before the big day) to consider their options and make a shortlist of possibilities. Listen to them, try them out with a little dance, and see what feels right. You’ll be surprised that some songs you may think would be perfect are actually un-danceable or have inappropriate lyrics, but many couples don’t even realise because they don’t road test them beforehand. So, this way you get the perfect song AND a romantic night in with your sweetie. Win, win. Oh, and PS, the beautiful pics in this post come courtesy of the awesome SBB photography sponsors – head over to their websites to see more!

Art Photo
Cape Town

Expressions Photography
Cape Town

Piteira Photography
Cape Town & International

But where to start in compiling your shortlist? Here are some ideas:

  • Your story: A song that is meaningful to you as a couple is always going to be a good place to start. You may not have a ‘song’ as such, but think back to the moments that have meant something to you, the milestones in your relationship. Was there a particular song playing when you met or said “I love you” for the first time? A movie you both love that has a recognisable song on the soundtrack? A concert you attended together (narrowing it down to a specific band is a start, after all). A song that reminds you of a holiday you took together, or the time when you were falling in love? Lyrics that seem to be talking about your relationship? Another lovely idea if you’d like a personal first dance is to talk to a couple whose marriage is an example to you – parents or grandparents, or friends. What was their first dance song? Choosing the same one in their honour could be a lovely tribute.
  • An era: I’m a HUGE fan of swing jazz, and I’d love almost anything that the Rat Pack might have played at the Sands. Maybe a particular era speaks to you or your fiance? One of the advantages of picking a song from a particular era is there’s a better chance that it’s already a classic that stands the test of time, and you’ll be able to request it on your twentieth anniversary. Another way to go, though, is to pick a contemporary song – the idea being that it marks this happy time of your engagement and marriage (plus, nobody else you know will have used it yet, win). So consider both old and new songs as part of your list.
  • The style of your wedding: This is a really good place to start, because I’m guessing you’re already immersed in thinking about your style or theme. Maybe you’re planning something a bit boho, in which case a folk song would be perfect; or maybe you have a glam ballroom-style reception planned, in which case, time for the Sinatra!
  • The actual dancing: This is something that often gets overlooked. Is there a particular style of dance you’d prefer to do? Most guys I know are terrified by the idea of ‘performing’ in front of guests, so finding out what would make him comfortable is a really good place to begin. If you’re taking dance lessons, ask your teacher for suggestions for the appropriate dance or beat. Oh! And don’t forget the bride’s dress and what’s actually possible movement-wise.

Cheryl McEwan
Cape Town & International

Abigail K. Photography
Cape Town

So now you have your shortlist, what else do you need to take into account?

  • Lyrics: Ja, no kidding. I once read that ‘I will always love you’ is one of the world’s top all-time top wedding songs. Okes, it’s about a breakup. Make sure you go beyond the chorus when considering the lyrics to ensure you’re not staring into each other’s eyes mouthing “if I should stay I would only be in your way”. Um… no. (Oh, and ‘Every breath you take’? That one too.)
  • Time: There’s nothing worse (for everyone) than a first dance that seems never to end. Aim for a maximum of three minutes, or have your guests join you after the first part of the song (make sure bridesmaids and parents are primed to get on the dancefloor at your signal).
  • The band: If you have a live band instead of a DJ, be sure that they can cover the song you want – and that you like their version!
  • The technology dealbreaker: You say romance, he says heavy metal. Before you call the whole thing off, take a shot at entering your preferences into a site like, which divines musical options based on a history. You may come up with the perfect compromise that neither of you would have thought up on your own – and ‘your song’ is born!

Stephanie Veldman
Cape Town

Still stuck? Here are 10 first dance classics and 10 recent favourites that never fail to draw ‘aah’s from the guests…

  • ‘I only have eyes for you’ by the Flamingoes
  • ‘La vie en rose’ by Edith Piaf
  • ‘The way you look tonight’ by Frank Sinatra
  • ‘Our love is here to stay’ by Billie Holiday
  • ‘When I fall in love’ by Nat King Cole
  • ‘Wonderful World’ by Louis Armstrong
  • ‘When a man loves a woman’ by Percy Sledge
  • ‘For once in my life’ by Stevie Wonder
  • ‘Can’t take my eyes off of you’ by Frankie Valli
  • ‘Stay together’ by Al Green
  • ‘Make you feel my love’ by Adele
  • ‘Everything’ by Michael Buble
  • ‘I’ll be’ by Edwin McCain
  • ‘Marry you’ by Bruno Mars
  • ‘Better together’ by Jack Johnson
  • ‘I’m yours’ by Jason Mraz
  • ‘Your song’ by Ellie Goulding
  • ‘A thousand years’ by Christina Perri
  • ‘Ho, hey’ by The Lumineers
  • ‘You and me’ by Dave Matthews

Laura Jane Photography


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