In the very old days, when everyone knew how to waltz, the "first dance" was simply the moment when the bride and groom opened the evening's dancing by taking a turn around the floor together. After a few minutes, the groom's father cut in, leaving the groom to ask the bride's mother to dance. Then the happy couple danced with their own parents, and before you knew it, the dance floor was full. The music was played without lyrics, so the only question in choosing it was "does it have a good beat and can you dance to it?"
There's a lot to be said for reviving this particular tradition! However, until all of us can waltz and fox trot with confidence, couples will face the troubling question of what music to choose for the "significant" dances.
No matter how many times you've heard "Daddy's Little Girl" played at a wedding reception, it is not a mandatory part of the wedding festivities. You can have any song (or any instrumental music) that you like. It doesn't even have to have sentimental lyrics, as long as it also doesn't have lyrics that are woefully inappropriate for a wedding.
What sorts of lyrics don't belong at a typical wedding? You generally want to avoid lyrics that focus on the happy couple's sexual relationship, that imply that love never lasts, or that suggest that anyone present is unhappy about the marriage (especially the bride or groom). When you move to songs for dances with parents or siblings, it's also important to avoid lyrics that suggest that the parent or sibling resents the marriage, thinks the marriage partner is a mistake, or can't let go. So Billy Idol's "White Wedding" would not make the cut as a brother-bride dance, no matter how much you like the tune.
Bands and DJs love putting together suggested "dance" lists, as a way of bringing traffic to their Web sites. You can find literally hundreds of these lists, but I'll recommend a few.
The Jim Bowie Band only recommends bride-groom dances, but their list roams far outside the Top 40, to include country, swing, oldies, and some numbers from musicals. They also provide lyrics for many of the songs.
100s of first dance songs and it's certainly not short.
You can find very long lists of mother-son and father-daughter dance songs at Long Island Weddings. Use some caution with these recommendations, as some of the suggested songs have lyrics that seem a bit romantic for this particular dance.
Party Pros courageously tackles the bride-brother question (though they don't come up with many options, and one is sung by Kermit the Frog) and, as an added benefit, provides Real Audio samples.
Before you vanish under a small forest of print-outs of song lists, do remember three important thoughts.
◾The best test of a song is whether you, or the person you're dancing with, would ever play this music at home. If you grind your teeth at the sound of Celine Dion or run screaming from Elton John, cross their music off your list and go on to something you like better.
◾If your musical tastes run to something a bit more esoteric than pop, don't hesitate to choose your "important" dance music from that genre. Since most of your guests won't be dancing to those songs, you're much less bound to think about the tastes of the majority. Indulge yourself with blues, jazz, or tango!
◾If you're having trouble finding songs you like with acceptable lyrics, consider playing only part of a song. (Many an alternative rock number is perfect for the first two verses, then turns cynical in verse three.) Three minutes, the typical length of a popular song, is a very long time to dance while everyone watches you, so if you can have the person handling the music help you segue into the later dances after only a minute or so, consider it.
Whatever you choose, you'll be in great shape as long as you make sure to skip "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover" or "Love Stinks."