Wedding To Remember

Modernizing the wedding dance

Photo By: Courtesy of Danny Dong Photography
Photo Courtesy Of Danny Dong Photography Mid-song transitions and up-tempo remixes pump up energy on the dance floor.

Weddings have a soundtrack in the imagination: the breathless rush of sound as people rise and music swells in a traditional bridal processional; the tinkle of glasses and chatter as guests mingle around the newly hitched couple; the hush as the duo takes the dance floor for the first time.

Wedding music – cheesy, fun and wildly sentimental – is meant to set the tone for a big night. And it’s increasingly personalized. For couples with expansive indie music collections and pretensions to at least moderate taste, there’s the particular pressure to throw a good party while evoking something individualized and – dare they hope for it – above average.

The age of one-upment

A peculiar pop-culture alchemy, the feedback loop between YouTube, celebrity gossip and network TV has changed the conversation around bridal originality. Instead of just picking a clever song and hoofing a decent dance move or two, couples are choreographing faux-flash-mob events.

“Back in ’89 when we started doing this, the sophistication of the customer was they expected to tell us what their first dance is going to be and expected to identify who is giving a speech, and we’d talk for a few minutes about their taste in music,” said Henry Kim, who founded the Cupertino-based BIG FUN Disc Jockeys 23 years ago and works weddings around the Bay Area. “Now it seems that every couple is trying to outdo the last couple. It’s an incredible industry from an entertainment perspective. … Today’s brides seem to have taken a cue from what they see in Hollywood and what they see in celebrity weddings. They’re trying to get that scale of grandeur we didn’t see 20 years ago.”

The casts of “Glee” and “The Office” have pranced down aisles to elaborate and goofy choreography, and a reality show – “Rock the Reception” – has taken what started as an amateur phenomenon to a saturation point, according to John Jow. He DJs up and down the Peninsula as DJ John Jow and has seen couples seek to re-create that kind of carefully planned spontaneity in their own weddings.

“They’ll do a special father-daughter dance, where they start by dancing to a classic song, a slow song, and then the DJ does a record scratch and goes into a fast number,” he said.

Kim, who has seen the same phenomenon, added that surprise dances, even father-daughter ones, can rope in entire wedding parties.

The element of surprise, of mash-up, of gleeful exhibitionism has been layered into an abiding love of the classics as people make wedding plans.

“One of the really, really nice things about music is that it’s additive,” Kim said.

Hits from the 1930s don’t leave his music library, and, as he adds new selections each year, the collection only grows. And enthusiasm doesn’t wane for songs from the past that still strike an emotional chord.

“Nothing really drops off – it’s not like people aren’t going to dance to ‘In the Mood’ or Nat King Cole or Frank Sinatra. There’s just more and more to dance to,” he said.

The big two: First and father/daughter dances

First-dance songs still draw from classics like Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together” or Etta James’ “At Last,” but they also often take truncated forms, leaving the bridal couple in the spotlight for only a few minutes before drawing in more dancers. Kim said acoustic folk-rockers like Jason Mraz have surged in popularity, while highly produced hits popular in the ’90s (think Mariah Carey) don’t make the list as often as they once did.

Earnestness has not gone entirely out of style. “I Loved Her First,” a country-styled tearjerker the band Heartland debuted in 2006, dominates the father-daughter charts for BIG FUN DJs, distantly trailed by “My Girl” and “Unforgettable.”

“Brides and their dads tend to play it safe with the father/daughter song choice, apparently,” Kim concluded.

He’s developed ways to lure guests onto the floor after the first ritualistic displays have been crooned, scratched and flash-mobbed to completion.

“People are very self-conscious about how they look when they dance. Nobody wants to be first out on the dance floor,” Kim said.

Picking a slow song is less intimidating, because everyone looks the same while dancing to it, and it can ease people onto the floor.

Have your own first-dance memories or favorite father/daughter pick? Share them below in the comments section.

Even if wallflowers resist at first, Jow said, “Get a little over halfway through the song, people start coming onto the dance floor.”

He favors classics like “Wonderful Tonight” and “Always and Forever,” “true romantic slow songs,” as he put it.

“I like seeing the older generation dance, because you don’t see that often. You play something like Chris Deburgh’s ‘Lady in Red’ and they’ll do ballroom to it. It’s just classy.”

Dance party

There can only be so much classiness on the dance floor, though – and keeping people moving for up to two hours requires a deft hand at picking familiar songs that aren’t so groan-worthy as to horrify a crowd.

“Gangnam Style” appears to be the unavoidable song of the season, but its predecessors – the likes of “YMCA” and “Macarena” – have seen better days. Kim pointed out that songs of a comparable or even preferable upbeat tempo – say, the Beatles’ “I Saw Her Standing There”– can inspire the same sense of recognition, and substantially more fondness.

Expecting a crowd of shy dancers? Kim said that quirky songs can bring out the fun for those allergic to the nightclub scene.

“An example of that would be The Proclaimers’ ‘500 Miles.’ ‘Come on Eileen’ is another example,” he said. “You also want to dial back to the age of the couple. If you figure out when the couple was in college and zero in on that era, it can be helpful. What is this crowd going to identify with?”

DJs make the call not just which top 40 hit to queue up next, but also which cut to use from a variety of edits and remixes.

“You have to really read the crowd,” Jow said. He reminisced about putting on an up-tempo variant on Fun’s 2012 hit, “We Are Young.”

“This crowd, they’re a really tight family, close friends,” Jow said. “They were just singing the song, and when it came up to a really fast beat, they just went crazy. The energy is much greater, especially when it’s something they don’t expect. They were in a circle, dancing, laughing, having fun.

“If you get it smack on the dot of what they love, you’re their hero.”

Visit for a list of the year’s top wedding songs.

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BIG FUN DJ's Top 5 First Dances, 2012 BIG FUN DJ's Top 5 Father/Daughter Dances, 2012
Train "Marry Me" Heartland "I Loved Her First" (by a very wide margin!)
Rascal Flatts "Bless the Broken Road" The Temptations "My Girl"
Christina Perri "A Thousand Years" Nat 'King' and Natalie Cole duet "Unforgettable"
Jason Mraz "I Won't Give Up" Louis Armstrong "Wonderful World"
Jason Mraz "Lucky" Bob Carlisle "Butterfly Kisses"

Photos courtesy of Augie Chang Photography, Danny Dong Photography and Meg & Michael Weddings.

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