The Father-Daughter Dance

Ah, the beautiful father-daughter dance! A moment that will forever be an emotional roller coaster for the father, the daughter, and every other wedding guest that starts blubbering during emotional moments… I know I always shed a tear at this time of the night!

But, why do we do a father-daughter dance? What is the history behind it? And do I really need to use one of those cheesy songs that everyone has used?

Let’s take a further look into this wedding tradition.

Cover images by Michigan Behn.

Michigan Behn

The history behind the father-daughter dance
The father-daughter dance is a time for fathers to think back on the day their baby girl was born, and a moment for the daughter to reflect how her father has always been a pillar of support for her.

Fun fact, historically, the first dance was reserved for “the moment when the father led his daughter, the bride, onto the floor,” states wedding historian, Susan Waggoner.

Duane Smith Photography

So looking at it from an historic viewpoint, the father/daughter dance would come before the first dance as an extension of the tradition of the father “giving away” his daughter. This means that the father would demand a final dance with his daughter before giving her to her new husband (often a stranger, as it goes with arranged marriages!).

After the father/daughter dance, the newlyweds would share their first dance as husband and wife.

As interesting as this is, when we look at it from today’s standpoint we can note that typically, the newlyweds share the first dance, which is then followed by the father-daughter and mother-son dances – so according to tradition, we are doing things a little bit in reverse!

Beyond Measure
Stories by Goya

Must I do a father-daughter dance?
Okay, so now that we understand a little more behind the history of why we do a father-daughter dance, let’s look into whether it is a must or not.

For many, this can be a big emotional pain, especially for those that have lost their fathers or who have a strained relationship with their father.

If this is you, there are two options to change things up.

  1. Skip all family dances, bar the first dance
    At the end of the day, this is YOUR wedding day and you can make of it what you will. If you want to do ALL the traditions, then do them, if you are not interested in doing any of the wedding traditions, then don’t. No one is forcing you to follow all traditions.. some of which are outdated, anyway! 
  2. Ask someone else to step in for your dad
    Perhaps you are close to an Uncle, or you would like your brother to step in for your Dad. There are no rules when it comes to this – you can use this time as you will.
    One parent households are common these days, so if you are super close with your mom, why not do a dance with her instead? 
Stories by Goya
Stories by Goya

Something which you must take into account is ensuring that your wedding vendors are aware of your situation. If you are doing both a mother/daughter dance and a father/daughter dance then perhaps let them know that it is important to get pictures from both of these momentous occasions.

It will also help the photographer to know if there are any strained relationships that they must be aware of – perhaps you don’t want a photo with your father – if your photographer does not know this, they might make you feel awkward by forcing a photo moment.

Beyond Measure

Song Choice
There are so many beautiful songs out there for a father/daughter dance, but this is a time to choose a song that is not only pretty but one that will remind you of your dad and moments you have shared with him.

When we were born, my dad “gifted” us each a song. Mine was “You are my Sunshine”. Now, if you listen to ALL the words of this song (Johnny Cash version, not the preschool song), it does not really make sense for a father/daughter dance, but it is “our” song and I wanted to use it. 

Bright Girl Photography
Bright Girl Photography

Hooray Tip: Please ensure your DJ has ALL of your song choices. A little bit of an oopsie at Christy’s wedding was when her DJ did not have her father/daughter song downloaded – eek!
Luckily, we could think of a backup, In the Mood by Glen Miller. Christy’s wedding was the first family wedding after our gran, Nana, had passed away – and this was Nana’s song. It encouraged the whole family to get up and dance with Christy and my dad, all crying and dancing together and enjoying the beauty of it.

This has since become a tradition at all of our weddings, so I was able to discuss incorporating it into my Father-Daughter dance with my DJ. He was able to start my father-daughter dance with “You are my sunshine” and then fade it into “In the Mood” – it turned out beautifully! I was able to share a moment with my dad, tears pouring down his face as we swept across the dance floor, and then when we moved to the upbeat “In the Mood” song, we invited the whole family onto the dance floor – it is a memory I will cherish forever.

Again, this is your night, these are your memories, you can do whatever you want.

Beyond Measure
Beyond Measure

Time to bust a move
One thing you must be sure of is that you will both be comfortable on the dancefloor. Most dads are amazing on the dancefloor, due to the fact that they grew up in a time when ballroom dancing was a “thing”. For those dads that are not too comfortable, perhaps go for a few dance classes. If this is not his thing, then perhaps just practice in the kitchen at home? This will help with any nerves you both might be feeling for this special moment.

Now for those brides that want to use this moment to really bust a move with their dads, you can use a few upbeat songs and a choreographed number to show off your skills and keep things fun. Again, this is a moment between you and your dad and it must portray the bond you share – whatever your personalities are, follow that!

Beyond Measure
Beyond Measure
Beyond Measure

As with everything we tell you, the decision is really up to you. You can follow old school traditions, or start some new family traditions of your own – whatever makes your heart happy, you do you, babe!

Have fun, enjoy the memories being made and cherish these moments – now call your dad and set up some dance practices for when this lockdown is finally fully lifted!

For those of you wanting a few song suggestions, keep an eye on our Instagram stories where we will share the ones our readers sent to us during an Instagram poll we did last week – there are some goodies!

Michigan Behn


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