The parent dances often don't get much attention in the wedding planning process, but they are one of the most meaningful parts of the wedding reception. Like with just about everything else, no rules are written in stone. However, there are a points you should keep in mind.
For example, timing can make a big difference. If possible, schedule the parent dances and the couple's first dance separately, perhaps doing the first dance before dinner and just after the grand entrance, leaving the parents dances for after the toasts and just before open dancing. Doing them all back-to-back-to-back can get a little tedious for the guests, and spacing them out ensures that neither moment takes away from the other.
The Standard Situation
If you're doing both a father/bride dance and a mother/groom dance, the father/bride usually goes first. But you probably aren't surprised to learn that you can also do it the other way around. Some people even elect to start them at the same time.
Maybe you or your parents don't feel comfortable dancing in front of everyone for a full three and a half minutes? No problem. You can always cut it short. Rather than deciding a specific time or place in the song ahead of time, though, consider this; let your DJ know you may not want to go the length of the song and ask him to keep an eye on you for some signal. Then when you're in the moment and you feel like it's a good time to stop, give your DJ the nod and let them fade it out. Why do it that way? Well, it's a pretty big moment-- not just for you but particularly for the parents-- and you may just find yourself enjoying it more than you expect, so cutting it off too early would be a shame.
For people who were born with two left feet, practice will come in handy. A lot of parent dances come off as awkward because some people may not be great dancers to begin with and then they don't give any thought to what they will do until they find themselves doing it. It does not matter whether you choose to attend dance lessons, or watch a few dance videos online, but make sure you do your homework.
The Not-Quite-So-Standard Situation
Of course, not all of us fit so neatly into the traditional boxes. Yours may be one of countless situations that will require a little flexibility and creativity, such as:
- For whatever reason, one parent isn't there
- There are step-parents who need to be included along with the biological parents
- One of the parents is disabled, or is otherwise unwilling to take part in the dance.
Luckily, there's no reason these situations, or any others, can't be handled with grace and class. The most appropriate resolution will vary from family to family, but here are a few options to consider:
- When a parent isn't present, substitute for another family member, such as a sibling or an aunt or uncle
- Skip the parent dances altogether! (yes, you can legally do that)
- For including step-parents with biological parents, you could (1) switch partners as the song plays; (2) do one song with each; or (3) do the dance with one but let the other do the toast (or walk you down the aisle, etc.)
As always, don't overthink it, but do make a reasonable attempt to honor everyone's needs and feelings. It's an emotional and slightly stressful day for everyone, but, as long as you honor thy mother, thy father and thyself, all will be peaches and cream.