Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Different Perspectives on Our First Dance

As with many things along this wedding planning journey, choosing a song for our first dance has been more fraught than I had anticipated. We don't have "a song." Jason's a musician and worked in the music industry, so we have an entire relationship soundtrack. We have a pile of ticket stubs and mix CDs and memories of countless nights spent discussing music and pop culture music history. We have nights spent belting out classics over Jason's guitar. We have countless picnics and music festivals that have inspired spontaneous dancing, of both the goofy and romantic sort. But we don't have a single definitional or singularly emotional song. We also probably can't have amplified music for our ceremony, meaning our first dance song could be the only song of the evening to represent us, our relationship, and our shared musical tastes all while providing the soundtrack to one of the (supposedly) most romantic moments of our wedding.

That's a whole lot of pressure for one little song and for two to four long minutes on the dance floor.

I'm not sure any song can live up to those expectations or needs. And, once I add in Jason and my differing expectations and needs from that song, I'm pretty sure the first dance song pressure collapses in upon itself, leaving nothing but a knot of confused fear and hope.

Music is so integral to how Jason experiences life. For him, he sees the first song and that first dance as an incredibly personal moment and a way to step into the music - just us together- to experience a romantic moment apart from the insanity of the wedding day. He thinks fondly about friends' first dances and how they've leaned into each other, whispering something private while sharing in this personal song and moment. For him, this first dance is intensely romantic, and the song we choose should reflect that. It should reflect our tastes, yes, but it should also fit the feeling of that romance and mood.

As for me, I don't see anything romantic about a dance during which 150 pairs of eyes are, kindly but intensely, examining the way we hold each other, the way we dance, and the meaning behind that dang first song. When I think of this song I get nervous, not inspired. I get the feeling that we'll have a much more romantic dancing moment during the last dance, when we're sharing the dance floor with other couples and everyone's a bit too tipsy and tired to train their focus on us and our potentially nervously clumsy feet. Since I can't believe in the romance of the moment, it's therefore important to me that we choose a song that represents something honest about us and how we see love. I don't want anything that hints at soulmate-type BS because marriage and reality is harder than that, but I don't want a song that's depressing either. I want something that recognizes that this relationship takes work but makes both of us better somehow. All while fitting within a musical framework we can dance to. And hopefully not written by an artist who makes me shudder.

We actually had a song we'd both agreed on, for a while. But, when I started to think about What It All Meant and how nervous I was, my convictions fell apart.  Again, we don't have "a song," but we have bands and concerts that have meant a lot to us. The Death Cab for Cutie concert at the Hollywood Bowl was one of those perfect summer concert evenings. And listening to Jason's vinyl collection while cooking and drinking wine is one of our shared pleasures. During one of those vinyl nights, we were both in just the right mood to properly appreciate and share the Iron and Wine acoustic cover of Such Great Heights by Ben Gibbard's Postal Service collaboration. And, when we read about how Ben Gibbard describes "Such Great Heights" as the first positive love song he ever wrote, inclusive of it's complexities and longings, we both thought to ourselves that we might actually have found "a song."

But then the doubt crept in. It's four minutes long. Although Jason swears we can edit it somehow, that just feels like four terrifying minutes of eyeballs and discomfort to me. Also, I want to hit Kaiser Permanente, UPS, Target, Ask.com and Grey's Anatomy for all using the original Postal Service song in their commercials. Yes, these companies all licensed the song is because it's an obviously great song, but it has cheapened the song for me, even if I love it when artists can actually earn real money for making great music.  I justified it though, because the Iron and Wine acoustic version has a completely different feel: instead of drawing you in with a perfectly selected and timed cacophony of upbeat sounds, it pulls you in with the intimacy of the stripped down acoustic beauty and subtle complexity of the lyrics. And then, with further research, I found out the Iron and Wine version became a big deal due to the Garden State movie, and I hate Garden State. Fortunately, I'd lived abroad when the movie came out so the film didn't have a chance to ruin a song I love, but it had a chance to solidify the awful connection for everyone else we know who wasn't living abroad.  I'm having a very difficult time getting past what everyone could think about us if they assume we love a song because of Garden State and it's trite attempts at saying something Important about finding yourself and the emptiness of modern 20-something life (or some such crap.)

Somehow, this first dance song became more than a song. It became a way to impart something important about us to our guests while also creating the backdrop for an important moment for us. And I don't want the song to impart UPS or Garden State, but I also don't want to give a damn about what our guests think about song that we both love and which felt right before I started researching and overanalyzing it.

And I think, maybe, we're all overanalyzing this first dance song a little bit. It's become one more wedding detail to obsess over because it feels so weighted with importance but, ultimately, it's a song that can't possibly be all things to both partners. We're both different people who want different things from a first dance song to begin with, and that's okay.  There's no way the symbolism will work for us (as a reference to important moments in our relationship, our musical tastes, and with Words that Matter and feel Real yet Romantic) and which will be interpreted with similar symbolism by our guests. And that's okay too. Because ultimately, it's just one dance. One dance of many during that night and throughout our lives. Jason and I didn't have "a song" before the wedding and we may not have one afterwards.

Instead, we're taking a suggestion from Emilia Jane and we're going to dance to a bunch of songs in our living room and see what feels right. We'll choose songs that fit both our needs well enough and then we'll see how it feels to dance to them. Such Great Heights isn't out of the running, but we need to find out how four minutes actually feels. We'll see how we feel, apart from anyone else's expectations or interpretations and we'll find something that works well enough for us. Because in the end, it will just be us and a song. It's not us and Symbolism. It's not Us and our Relationship. It's not a reflection on our Marriage or Wedding. It's a song we can both agree on and hopefully relax into while in the middle of all the mixed up reality of messy wedding day romance and public performance.


  1. i love the iron and wine version. love love love. and i never saw the movie. or maybe i did, and it just wasn't memorable. so there. i'm one guest who wouldn't think about the movie. (i am invited, right?)

    i wonder how much of the wedding should be a statement to your guests about your relationship. and which parts should just hold meaning for the two of you. something i think about often. there are definitely This Is Important to My Family parts and then This Is How I Want to Represent Our Relationship parts. but there are also This Is Just Meaningful Between Us parts- maybe the first song is that.

  2. A. Love the new look.
    B. Fucking hate Garden State.
    C. I don't think of UPS when I hear this song. Or Garden State. Or Target. Most people don't register songs that are part of commercials unless they are watching the commercial (info from my advertising class, way back when).
    D. This isn't a mainstream song so don't think anyone would know about you sharing the song with Kaiser Permanente.
    E. I do agree it's a bit long. But if the man can edit - go for it.
    F. Like the idea of swaying to songs in the living room. I think I might just do that tonight, even though we don't need a song.
    G. Last, but certainly not least, I don't think your first dance song must represent you or define your relationship or anything like that. The Candyman and I danced to "Heavenly Day" by Patti Griffin. Patti was our first concert together and that's all that it symbolizes (and nto even that, really). We both love it. The song represents our wedding day, not the days before or after. I guess we wanted to define that moment versus the relationship? Does that make sense? Does that help?
    H. Why do I always write novellas in your comment section?

  3. "Practicing" our first dance in our living room has been my favorite part of wedding planning so far. I hope this helps you reconnect to what's important!

  4. i love that song. i actually like the postal service version better because it has a more upbeat and optimistic feel to it. since it got vetoed as our 1st dance song, i'm thinking of using it as our "entrance" song, if we even do one of those silly things.

  5. I adore Iron & Wine, and if you don't like the connotations of Such Great Heights - check out Love & Some Verses. It's absolutely gorgeous, and I almost picked it for our first song. In the end, we chose to take swing dancing lessons and we're going to actually have a choreographed dance to Birdland by Weather Report. Not normal, but the fiance wanted do "really dance." :)

  6. My friends used the Iron & Wine version for their first dance, and it was lovely, so it can certainly be done -- I think they just didn't play through all the verses so that it was about 2min instead of 4.

    Good luck with the choice. I too am reminding myself, as with the dress, the first song, processional, etc cannot be everything or a perfect representation of me/our relationship. And that rather than putting a ton of pressure on picking the thing that will be awesomely perfect for the wedding, remembering that its use in the wedding and the memories we'll then associate with it are what will elevate something otherwise ordinary into something awesome. (I sometimes lose the plot and get that backwards.)

  7. First, I think you probably are over-thinking it a little... but, if you end up using a longer song, you could ask your support crew to come onto the dance floor after the first two minutes and start dancing to indicate that everyone in the whole party could also snuggle up to their loved one and dance along with you. It could be nice... and meaningful if you're into the community togetherness thing.

    For my wedding, we didn't actually plan to have a first dance, but it turns out that people REALLY wanted us to. So we did, and I didn't much like being out there in front of everyone at first, but then I calmed down and accepted it and it was actually the favorite part of the reception for a lot of people. Because it was one of the only slow songs on our iPod, we danced to Crazy Love by Van Morrison. We didn't have time to over-think it and that was nice. There is probably something to object to in that song or person, but we weren't really listening to the song at that point. We really were just smiling and happy and commenting about how we were being stared at by teary-eyed people and how great the day had been so far and how much we love each other. Don't forget that's the point. :)

  8. @Stephanova - I tend to always overthink :). But that's why I pulled it back here to what's really important - a song, a moment, nothing more. And it's good to hear that it actually WAS special for you both, because I'm pretty darn terrified about the SPECTACLE of the first dance. I'm doing it mostly because because it's special to HIM, because I know it will be pushed on me anyhow, and because I want to get some say in the feel of the song if that's the case.

  9. We did our first dance to a medley. We chose 4 songs that meant something to us and had a musician friend do a mix for us. It was great because we got to use more than one song that meant something to us and our relationship and we controlled the length because we made the mix, so it was 3 minutes, which felt good to us when we were dancing in our living room.

    At our wedding it was really fun and our friends and family loved it every time the music changed and another song started playing.

    It's not for everyone, but it is a good way to incorporate more than one song that means something to you!

  10. What you wrote here about the connotations a song has because of use in commercials or on film soundtracks kind of weirdly ties in to my thinking on not using songs by woman-beaters: you don't want your guests to think about anything bad during your first dance, and you don't want them to think that bad stuff is somehow reflected in your choice of the song.

    For songs in commercials or songs on the soundtracks of bad movies, I think if you know your guests, and know that they know Jason, it's safe to assume that you aren't choosing Iron and Wine's version of "Such Great Heights" because of Garden State (BTW, I agree that movie is lame, but my friends loved it). And there will always be guests who just don't know stuff about music, and they'll just hear a very beautiful song.

    Music choices are so tricky! I hope you work this out to your mutual satisfaction.

  11. I overthink ALL THE TIME. No matter how levelheaded you try to be, you're still planning an event where the choices you make reflect your decisions and personalities as a couple. It's your debut of yourselves in your new-family state. It's hard NOT to assign meaning to it all, and to fret over all the potential implications.

    That said, I'm glad you pulled it back from the brink. It IS "just us and a song" -- and the song in question is a lovely one, at that.

    ALSO: Let it be known I loved Emilia Jane's recommendation. In fact, I took the opportunity to do just the same as you did, and spent a few minutes dancing with my partner in our living room to dancing to our potential first dance songs. And, um. What came out of it was NOT GOOD. Apparently we cannot even successfully shuffle-sway. There was a lot of foot-stepping-on, and a lot of switching off on whom was leading whom. It was a freaking train wreck. Maybe we just need a really, really, REALLY slow song? At any rate, I'm just GLAD TO HAVE FIGURED THAT OUT IN ADVANCE.

  12. I hope you don't mind if I celebrate the fact that we're not the only couple that can't dance together?

    Actually, I have never been much of a dancer, and T has in recent years developed a condition that makes it hard for him to keep his balance sometimes. Ergo 4 left feet, all stepping on one another.

    So that's a long-winded explanation of why our party isn't going to be a dance party. Because we, um, suck. My daughter recently asked if we there would be dancing. When I told her I didn't think so because I'm not a good dancer, she told me to take lessons. Shut up, kid.

  13. I over-think too. ALL THE TIME. I spent lots of time researching forums to find good first dance songs and father-daughter dance songs. For the father-daughter, I gave my dad a couple options that were short, sweet, and with words I could support. (ie. Not romantic songs, as seems to be creepily common.)

    For the first dance, I found one that was okay, but in NO way personal to us. That was the plan though neither of us were crazy about it. Then maybe two days before the wedding, we were listening to Holly Cole, one of our favorites, and my now-husband just turned to me and said, "What about this one?" And it was just right for us. :) Beautiful, simple, and not too long. :)

    Good luck, and I hope you find something taht feels right for you.

  14. i love the song, and i think you may be overthinking it a little. i say that respectively, of course, because i overthought lots of wedding-related things. but what i found was that the people you invite - for the most part- are so happy to be a part of your day that there really is very little judgment involved. it goes by so quickly that i bet you'll find very few guests thinking to themselves, 'ooh, they must be big garden state fans,' etc. When the song comes on, you'll get up and dance because you love the song.
    also, we felt similarly about everyone watching us dance, so the dj let us dance for a short while and then invited everyone up to the dance floor. we looked around suddenly and so many people had gotten up and crowded the dance floor. it was so comforting and magical.

  15. I was really worried about the first dance because we didn't have a song and we didn't want to just dance awkwardly with people staring at us--I don't like being the entertainment! So we used the moment not to reflect on our relationship, but on D's culture (which hadn't been represented in the ceremony), which conveniently made it a group participation dance and we didn't feel so stared at.

    If it helps, my mom and step-dad took dance lessons for their first dance, freaked out and got nervous, and then asked the DJ to just play the hora for their first dance. It was tons of fun and got people onto the dance floor, where they stayed all night. I don't think that's a bad idea if you can't find something you're both comfortable with.

  16. I was so sure this was going to be my processional song but then doubt set in. It is lovely (both versions) but then I mentioned it to someone and they said, Oh like from Garden State! Blech.

    I think I'm a lot like Jason when it comes to the music, which is why I've spent more time planning our music than anything else for the wedding. Not very productive, but fun!

  17. Lovin the new look! :D

    It's funny because we're actually dancing it out in our living room to our first dance song picks to see what feels right. (We call it our First Dance Danceathon Challenge... I know, a mouthful) Our first song was Elivis' "Can't Help Falling In Love." Pretty song, reminds me of one of my fave Rom Com's (Fools Rush In)... but I can't dance to a song that starts with "wise men say only fools rush in." Mama didn't raise no fool! I love this man and that's why I'm marrying him, sillies, not because I'm foolish. So that immediately ditched that song. Thank the heavens b/c it was too slow and awkward to dance to.

    I highly recommend dancing it out in the living room. We drank a bottle of wine, turned up the laptop, took our places and just had fun. We have three more (songs and bottles of wine) to go through.

    Also, since we had a hard time picking songs that "felt like us" we decided to use as many of them as we could. That way the entire wedding reception could be a soundtrack of our love, which we may be the only ones to appreciate and feel, but whatever it's a gift to ourselves. The first dance shouldn't be the only song that means something, the whole thing should. And I completely agree- what the hell is so romantic about a bajillion eyes staring at you? But I guess they'll be on the us the entire day... this is why I am popping open the bubbly at 11AM.

  18. I love, love, love Iron and Wine. This song is on our very short list of songs that we are considering.

  19. yes, you may be overthinking it a bit, but then again all of those are totally valid points. I went around in similar circles of thought (what will people think, what could this say about us, etc etc), although our song-choosing process wasn't too terrible when we got around to it. We ended up going with a song my husband had put on a mix cd for me early in our relationship.

    It was more the feel and the energy of the song that I was concerned with than the lyrics, though I did want them to be representative of us. I mainly wanted something that would set the tone for the evening, since this was the first dance of the party: this meant no long, drawn-out, sappy partykillers. We are both music people, so we didn't want to have a song that everyone and their mother would have chosen for their weddings either. Ultimately, the right fit was an old standard with a simple, sweet lyric: 'Deed I Do, sung by Blossom Dearie. The extent of the lyric is "Do I want/need/love you, oh my do I, honey 'deed I do. I'm glad that I'm the one who found you, that's why I'm always hangin' round you." Its simplicity is a lot of its charm, and it is barely more than 2 minutes long, which was nice. Upbeat, sweet, expressed something of what we feel for each other... done and done.

    So that's my story. I love Such Great Heights -- I think it might be a bit long, but then again everything goes so quickly at weddings that that hardly seems to matter. I don't think your guests would be yawning by the end or anything. If there's a "radio edit" anywhere or an obvious place to truncate it that could be good, but if you love the song and it sets the right tone for your reception, stick with your gut!

  20. Hmmm. I highly doubt that any of your friends/family/guests are going to judge you for your musical taste, or associate that song with any of those commercials. Seriously. And those commercials annoy me too- but only b/c I LOVE that song. C could care less about Postal Service/Death Cab etc.. and she never even notices! I think that what you come to towards the end of your post is right- it's just a song. A moment. A dance. It will be romantic, awesome, and "you" no matter what you choose because it's your first dance, but it doesn't need to define you as a couple, or share your beliefs with your guests, or well, anything. You can choose a song simply because you love it. And you loved dancing to it in your living room! Oh! And I was trying to think of what songs couples danced to as their "first" at weddings I've attended, and I'm coming up blank! All I remember are the smiles, whispers, laughter, and swaying (sometimes awkward, but always sweet). :)

  21. UGH! The first dance/song became such a big thing for us. Originally, it was supposed to be a big choreographed swing dance and I had this amazing vision in my head that our guests would have expected and I was excited about. But as the months went on and the stresses of life began, it became overwhelming and too much...plus we couldn't agree on what 'swing dance' meant!

    So then it became, "Who cares if we're just swinging or swaying slowly to a song with no entertainment value? It's not about *them*, it's about *US*!" But then we had to figure out WHICH song because we also don't have a 'song.' So Mr Fix It decided that it was a good time to play a surprise song he had been saving for our wedding day that had words that rang out exactly how he felt about me.

    So sweet...while our first dance was far from perfect and was not entertaining and was actually probably awkward (recap to come), it was in fact so perfect for us...I loved it because no one else seemed to matter...it was just me and him and it was just him telling me how he felt about me...I loved it.

    I agree, don't let it become one more stupid thing the wedding industry makes you obsess over! Even our photog asked me what we were going to do and made a comment about not just 'swaying' so that he has nothing to photograph! UGH!!!

  22. Sigh. I like that song a lot.

    Anyway... you're going to have a moment at your wedding, you just don't know when it's going to be, so maybe that will let you take a little pressure off the first dance moment. We ended up sneaking away during the cocktail hour and having our real first dance when no one was looking. Then we had our official first dance to "You are The Sunshine of My Life." David picked it as our song when we were first dating, and it's just right I think. The memorable part of our official first dance was a four year old who cut in (ha!), not that it was emotional. The real, real, serious emotional moment, the one we never could have predicted, came in the middle of the dancing to Nina Simone's cover of "I Love You Porgy." That song will probably make me cry till my dying day. That was what we were dancing to in that Polaroid I posted the day after our wedding. That song broke my heart open. And we didn't even pick it, it picked us.

    So maybe that will make your job a little easier? I hope.


  23. The first dance is so weird. We chose ours based on it being the shortest one on our list so it would be over soon! Strangely, even with everyone watching, it seemed like a really private moment for us. It was one of the only times at the reception we could talk to eachother and no one was running up to say congratulations.

  24. ps. unrelated to first dance, but i forgot to mention that the new design looks great!

  25. The Iron and Wine version is beautiful. I think taking it out for a test drive and maybe some careful editing will help a lot.

  26. I just wanted to post our own experiences in here, because darn girl, I know how you feel.

    We also don't have one song that really says anything deep about us. We have no favorite song or song that was playing at a momentous point in our relationship. We love music, but we aren't the type to cling to one particular song as especially meaningful.

    The fact that neither of us are into love songs is also a problem...we're more likely to listen to songs with sarcastic, sardonic or geeky lyrics than any "I love you I love you" stuff. Just not our style. Even the love songs we like are slightly sarcastic (think Cake's "Love You Madly" - the lyrics are fine but it's sung in that way Cake had. You know. That "I don't really mean it" way).

    We're not terribly good dancers either - fast or slow. Any fast song we danced to would look like to spastic freaks bouncing around, and slow songs just scream "Middle School Shuffle"!

    So we did pick a song - a nice song, a good song that basically describes our lifestyle (The New Pornographers' "Go Places") but we intend to invite ALL guests who'd like to share a dance with someone to join us. I love the spotlight, my fiance doesn't, but NEITHER of us wants our lack of dancing skills in the spotlight.

  27. Our first dance was one of my favorite parts of our day, and I too was put off by the whole production value when planning. Eyes all on us? ugh, awkward. But it wasn't, it was a perfect moment to chat about how great the day had been thus far. And if you happen to glance around, all you will see are smiling, happy, supportive faces looking at you.
    I think the music at our wedding was a strong component of what made our day great and set the tone for everyone. So, no worries about making sure the song is right for you. Our song was 2.5 minutes, which was probably perfect. If you want, you can have the song start and then you both enter the dance floor a minute into it. Trust me, it won't be weird and people will definitely notice when it happens. You can also direct your wedding party to draw attention to it with an applause or whatnot. All our guests hooted and hollered at us when we began our dance! Instantly made us laugh and relax. Note: dance was after dinner...I think some guests were appropriately sauced at this point.


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