Plan Your Wine Country Wedding: The Music and First Dance


As you plan your wedding, the music and your first dance will be big highlights of your special day. It will bring entertainment and create the ambiance you want your guests to feel and remember from your wedding. I've listed a few things to consider when choosing between a DJ, or a live band, etc. and what kind of music you play all night long.

Consider the audience when choosing your music


Most couples will have two to three generations of friends and family members at their wedding, from the children to the grandparents. For us, the age range spanned from our age to our parents' age. Surprisingly, parents left their kids home with babysitters and unfortunately, our older family members couldn't make the journey to CA. We therefore asked our band to play some of the expected wedding songs while our parents' generation was still there. Once dessert was over, we switched it up and the band played hits that our generation was more into for late night dancing.

Choose between iPod/iPhone, DJ, or a live band


You may be surprised I put iPod/iPhone as an option. Depending on the size of your wedding and venue, this could be an appropriate (and budget-friendly!) option. It can be a task you assign to your wedding party to manage on a rotating basis.


Most often, weddings end up featuring a DJ or live band. Of the two, a DJ can be the more economical option. Plus, if your venue is pretty small and you’re concerned about having enough room for dancing, they will likely take up less space than a band would in a room. You can also be reassured that the songs you request to be played will sound exactly like what you've heard since he/she will be playing off a record/cd. This is extremely helpful when you’ve been practicing your first dance to the same song on repeat! Nothing will surprise you on the day of your wedding.

Live band


My husband and I picked out must-haves that we would be willing to splurge on and sacrifice elsewhere if needed. He wanted a live band, hands-down.

The advantage of a live band is that they bring so much energy to the room. It's easy to test this theory out too. When you do your research, bands will list on their websites when they will be playing at a showcase in a bar/music venue near you. It makes for a really fun date night too! We saw two different bands and decided on the Lucky Devils Band.  We liked them because they aren't your typical wedding band. They are a community of musicians currently in CA and AZ, spanning different ages and all with day jobs having to do with music. What you pay will be based on if you have a 3 or 4 or 5...etc. -piece band. You give them a few songs or artists you want to hear at your wedding and they’ll pull together the folks that can best perform that style of music. It’s pretty awesome! We really got the feel of their energy when we saw them the first time and we were hooked. We liked them so much we went to their second showcase a couple of months later just for fun (and it got us even more excited!).

Decide on your first dance

One thing we realized, having been to other weddings, is that your guests will be sitting there watching you as you dance. Swaying back and forth could become boring (gasp!). For some couples, the first dance is the first representation of your dynamic as a married couple. It seems like a lot of pressure! But with enough planning and time put into it, you can achieve the lasting impression you desire and have fun while doing it!

Enroll in a ballroom class

Adam and I took some ballroom dances, just to get the basics, at the Genesis Ballroom Dance School near the Richmond District in San Francisco. There were 2-3 other couples taking the class at any given time and we could get some focus from the instructor without being overwhelmed. It also helped us learn if we were doomed from the start with two left feet or if we could handle a choreographed dance. While we had danced before, we had never actually DANCED (step, 1...2...3..., step, 1...2...3). Luckily a few practice sessions did the trick and gave us the motivation and courage we needed to move forward and get a private instructor to help us put together our first dance.

Find your first dance song

I highly recommend deciding on your song for your first dance before starting any private dance lessons so that you're able to take as much advantage of your sessions as possible. Finding a song for our first dance didn't come to us right away. We thought of picking something by Billy Joel since our first years together included some momentous Billy Joel concerts in New York and SF. I mean, "New York State of Mind" is my jam!!! The lyrics, however, didn't fit. Then one night Adam was flipping through Youtube and "Stand by Me" came on... the live version by Seal. It was amazing and we looked at each other with the "that's it!" look.

Take private lessons with a choreographer

We found Michelle Parodi in Japantown and booked six private lessons with her in the month of September (the month before our wedding). The first two lessons were spent going over the basic steps, similar to what we had already learned, but also deciding which steps we wanted in our dance. We initially thought we wouldn't choreograph a dance, but our song gave us cues that became natural to follow. Michelle had us practice in front of a mirror and we learned steps to the song in 3 phases - beginning, intro, and end. She also filmed us as we danced, helping us to see how it all looked and what we were doing right or wrong. It also allowed us to review the steps and practice on our own during the week until our next lesson. The third, fourth, and fifth lessons were spent practicing each phase from beginning to whatever point we had reached on repeat. By the final session, we had the whole thing choreographed and we just practiced it over and over again for the whole hour. Honestly, we felt so accomplished at our last lesson!


A few lessons learned...

We chose a song that was performed and recorded in front of a live audience. Our first dance was choreographed to a tee to that song. We knew there was a slim chance that the band would play the song exactly the way it was performed by Seal. Our band wasn't available for us to practice with so the day of the wedding would be it. It was nerve wrecking, but I was glad we had learned some moves during the earlier ballroom classes. It meant we could improvise without anyone noticing. Sure enough, the band was done with all the verses sooner than we expected and continued to replay the chorus for as long as we needed to finish out our routine. I also struggled to remember my next move a couple of times, but no one noticed (phew!).

My advice to you if you choreograph your first dance song with a live band: Be ready to be flexible with your moves. Expect a variation of the song you've been practicing with. It will help you be more adaptable and improvise if needed. In the end, you want to have fun. Just remember the big moves like twirls, dips, lifts... Your guests will LOVE and remember those the most. Especially twirls. You'll look so pretty twirling in your wedding dress!


What are you thinking of doing for your first dance? Comment below!


Location: Vintners Inn, Santa Rosa, CA || Wedding photography: Emily Jean Images