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My dance-free wedding reception

June 15, 2010

Reader “C” left a comment on my wedding photo post that included the following question:

I am planning a similarly sized wedding for next year […] and I was hoping that you could provide a little bit more detail about how your dance-free reception went. My fiance and I are not dancers, and I want to forgo tossing the bouquet and other rituals, so we are planning have pre-dinner cocktails for 90 minutes, then dinner, then re-open the bar for another 1 1/2 or 2 1/2 hours. Did you find that without dancing, people were still inclined to stay after dinner and socialize? I would rather just have a longer cocktail hour, if not. I’ve never been to a reception without dancing so any insight you an offer would be really appreciated!

Great question!  I wish I could have showed you photos of the smiles and happiness at the reception too!

The main reason we chose not to have dancing was due to the guest list size and cost, coupled with the fact that I don’t care one way or another about dancing.  If it were financially reasonable, I would have just had a dance, because it is what is expected and normal.  However, it was just too much cash to find an appropriate venue, since venue rentals cost roughly the same no matter how many people you invite.

Beware of Nay-Sayers

I’ll warn you right now that some (a lot?) people think wedding = “get crazy and dance!”  Personally, I like dancing, but I prefer talking/socializing, so…  that’s just me.   But I read all the time on wedding blogs that people want to “throw a kick ass party” for their wedding.  Which is fine, but I didn’t have much of a desire to do that.  I’m more of a kick ass large dinner party type of person I guess.

Since I’m a googler, I did see what the general “internet” said about this.  While some said, “no problem!”, I’ll admit right now a lot of people said they’d be bored with no dancing.  There was one person who said  that if you didn’t have a dance, you should hire some other entertainment, like a magician, comedian, or cirque du soleil (!!!!).  Uh, no.  Our wedding is not a show.  It’s not even an “event”.  It is our celebration!  We get to do it how we want

So, I ignored all that.  (See here, here, and here for advice and thoughts that I absolutely IGNORED.)

I knew our some guests would prefer a dance, but that most people would be fine.  And if they were bored, so what?  They got a nice meal and could go and spend the wee hours of the night where they wanted!   This isn’t to say I never sat around and worried that our wedding would be lame/boring.  I did.  Just ask T.  But in the end, I knew it was the only thing that really made sense for us.  And I absolutely wasn’t worrying about it on the big day! If you are filled with joy and smiles, your guests will be too!

What exactly did we do?

We had the restaurant start serving wine and appetizers right away while T and I got some extra photos taken.  This probably lasted about an hour.   Dinner was long, with a first course, a salad course, and a main course.  Wine flowed freely.  I think everyone lingered after dinner a bit, then we did the toasts, cut the cake.   I didn’t do a bouquet toss or any rituals except toasts and cake.

Did people stay and socialize?  For the most part, yes!  A few left right after the cake, but most everyone stayed, and probably would have kept staying except we eventually decided to stop opening new bottles of wine.  So people stayed for as long as the alcohol stayed — which is what I expected!  I don’t know if you could expect people to hang around for 2 more hours — but maybe.  It is really hard to predict, and I would imagine some people probably would leave.  However, I’ve seen people leave after dinner even when there is a dance.

Some local friends chose to go out to the bars and dance afterward to keep the party going and my relatives kept the night going back at their hotel area (some of them stayed up until the sun).  If you are a “party all night” type of person, you can continue the party with your guests at a non-venue location.

Any tips?

Set expectations. Try to make sure people aren’t expecting a dance.  Worst case scenario, they’ll probably figure it out when there is no dance floor or DJ.

Start a little late. This is a personal preference, but I’d recommend starting a little later.  Our ceremony wasn’t until 5, and aps/wine started as soon as people made it to the restaurant. I would say people stayed until 10:30 or even 11, but I can’t remember.  I might be lame, but 11 is late enough.  My friends may also be lame, but I’ve been to dancing weddings that ended around that time too.  Alternatively, have a day time wedding where people won’t even expect dancing!

Serve alcohol. This is a personal preference again.  But in general, guests will be more sociable.  And if they don’t drink, they’ll skip it.  An extended cocktail hour might be a good idea to help stretch the evening out.

Spend as much time as possible with out of town guests throughout the weekend. Since our wedding was small, we had a BBQ the day before in lieu of a rehearsal dinner. This was another way to spend time with them, even though we didn’t dance the night away with them.

Don’t worry about whether or not people will be bored. It’s your wedding.  If your guests can’t make conversation, be happy for you, and enjoy the evening, that is their problem.  Really!  This isn’t to say you can’t try to come up ways to keep people entertained if you want – just don’t fret about it too much.

The worst case scenario a guest is bored, looks down on you and your husband for having a boring wedding, and forever remembers your wedding is lame. Ok, that sounds sort of horrible, but part of being an adult is realizing you can’t please everyone, and sometimes you have to do what will make you and your beloved happiest.  (And really, you probably are only inviting people who love you and will still love you no matter what.)

I had been to one other no-dancing wedding (the husband wasn’t a dancer) and I enjoyed myself, wasn’t bored at all, and stayed and chatted until the end.  (I think this was an earlier wedding and it might have been alcohol free.)  They did a little activity where each table wrote out predictions of where the couple would be on their Xth anniversary.  These envelopes are now enjoyed each year by the couple that was married.  Fun!

Full Disclosure

It turns out we are having a dance at the Midwest reception his parents are throwing us.  This wasn’t part of the original plan, but hey, if someone is offering to throw us a dance, I’ll gladly take it!  But this event is totally separate from the wedding we had here, which was really perfect, and had absolutely no dancing.

Readers, please chime in with any experiences you have attending or throwing dance-free wedding receptions!

33 Comments leave one →
  1. June 15, 2010 6:26 am

    I love the idea of having guests write predictions of where the couple would be! How fun!

    We had a no-dancing wedding too, but we also had no alcohol. We made the alcohol decision early in the game because 1) my husband does not drink at all and 2) my super conservative Baptist side of the family actually refused to attend wedding where alcohol was served in the past. So it was an easy decision to skip dancing because I don’t know many people who like to dance completely sober in the late afternoon. (Ditto on the suggestion to have an afternoon wedding if you don’t want dancing.) We also skipped the garter toss (too weird), but we did feed each other cake and throw the bouquet. (I’m glad I threw the bouquet now since the photographer captured one of my favorite photos right before my maid of honor caught it.)

    Like SP said, it’s about making the day your own. At no time during our reception did I think, “Dude, we really should have had dancing! People are bored!” Everyone was socializing, and the people who left “early” (about two hours into the reception) were the relatives I didn’t really care to spend all evening with anyway. Don’t worry about pleasing everyone because it is impossible, and you’ll drive yourself mad.

    • Jennifer permalink
      March 13, 2012 2:29 pm

      Hello 🙂 My wedding will be in march 2013. I will also have a no alcohol, no dancing wedding. I’m very interested in the order you did everything. It will give me and idea on what time to do my ceremony and reception. We won’t be doing the garter tossing either but I do want to do the bouquet tossing. So If you don’t mind can you help find a way to organize my reception 🙂 , thank you!

    • Chantelle permalink
      January 23, 2013 9:01 pm

      My wedding is in May 2013. I am also not having any alcohol or dancing. My fiance is worried about it, thinking that people will not enjoy themeselves, as he’s never been to a wedding where there hasn’t been either, but I said it was about making the day special and our own and about what would make me happy over all, as I’m not a big party time of person.

      We’re having a lot of people come from out of town and overseas so it will be a nice time to be able to spend socializing with them, instead of talking over loud music. We’re for sure going to have music playing in the background, but we’re not making it the focus of the evening.

  2. June 15, 2010 6:27 am

    Great post!

    We’re not having dancing either. I love to dance (hello, belly dancer!) but Peanut doesn’t, and my family doesn’t either. And dancing is sort of work for me now, in that it’s hard to let go and enjoy it without feeling like I’m performing (and people watch me, because they know that I *do* perform, so I *always* feel like I’m performing). But mostly, 90% of the people at the wedding will be really relieved that there’s no official dancing. Also, it’s a middle-of-the-day wedding, so that’d be weird.

    The venue has a dance floor, and we’re asking for music requests, so it’s entirely possible that some people might get up and dance when their song comes on. But we won’t be doing a first dance or “opening” the dance floor. There will be a photobooth and other stuff to do, and there will be alcohol. And if anyone thinks my wedding is lame, they can do one better and invite me. 🙂

  3. June 15, 2010 9:12 am

    I’ve been to a lot of weddings lately, though I’m not married myself. All of them have had dancing, but I rarely participate and prefer to mingle and talk and enjoy the scenery and food. Personally I’d be relieved if there was no dancing. As a young single I feel obligated to participate, but I’m not much of a dancer (especially without several drinks), and it can be awkward to balance the formal/adult/dinner party vibe with the rockin’/crazy/dance party vibe. Dancing always seems to ostrasize at least half the people in attendance – usually older and younger relatives who end up sitting around bored watching a handful of drunk 20-somethings try to figure out how to dance without resorting to either ballroom or grinding club moves.

    My cousin’s wedding was especially awkward in this way because she didn’t have very many young adult singles there – we have a huge family which includes mostly senior citizens and people under 21. But she’d obviously paid a lot for a huge dance floor and band and wanted it to be a “party.” But no one wanted to dance. I was physically pressured to join the small throng of dancers around the bride as everyone else sat around watching and waiting until it was time to leave. That experience still makes me want to elope when I think about it!

  4. ldub permalink
    June 15, 2010 1:42 pm

    we went for no dancing, too – the venue was small, and we aren’t into dancing. so we had an hour long social hour (with a photo booth for pictures!), then the ceremony, and then we had a four course meal with mingling and drinks. to make sure that people knew what was coming (to help in planning and be sure people weren’t disappointed, planning on baby-sitters until late, etc.) we just put a little schedule on the invitation:
    5pm social hour
    6pm ceremony
    6:30pm dinner
    9pm festivities conclude

    it was PERFECT! whole night was just exactly what we wanted and we heard over and over – “best wedding ever!” it’s about doing what fits you, though i think that sometimes a little prep work to be sure guests know what to expect can really help.

  5. notsopettycash permalink
    June 15, 2010 2:38 pm

    The last few weddings I’ve been to have been as a either the partner of a non-dancer or as a single gal, and so even though I love to dance I’ve spent those receptions sitting and socialising rather than cutting a rug on the dance floor. I would have been much more comfortable and have been able to enjoy myself much more had there been no dancing. I’m glad you were bold enough to cut it completely!

    Enjoy the dancing at the parental-sponsored reception!

  6. June 16, 2010 3:45 pm

    Thanks, SP, for posting this, and thanks to everyone who commented for sharing their experiences! I read the Cirque du Soleil comment that you referenced and I agree that is absolutely ridiculous. A sentimental slide show and a couple of toasts are probably as far as we will go on the entertainment front.

    There will absolutely be alcohol at our wedding, with only a few people attending who don’t drink at all. I know that our friends (who for the most part don’t really dance) will stay for as long as the bar is going, and then try to keep the party going after it’s closed. Older people will probably head home after dinner, but I think that will be the case even if we decide to have a dance.

    We’re going to a couple of weddings before our own, so hopefully I’ll be able to get more ideas from them. It is definitely reassuring to hear that everyone has had or attended successful, slightly non-traditional (assuming that a dinner/dance is traditional where you live) weddings!

  7. January 25, 2011 4:18 pm

    The last couple of wedding reception I attended everybody sitting around looking at each
    other.People eat and drink until all the food and drink are going.Parent bring their kids running around unattend.I think wedding chidlren should be allowed;Because at your babies start crying that will be on your wedding video that not exciting to see or hear hollering children.

  8. January 25, 2011 4:23 pm

    The last couple of weddings reception I attended everybody sitting around looking at each
    other.People eating and drinking until all the food and drinks are gone.Parent bring their kids running around unattend.I think wedding children shouldn’t be allowed;Because at your wedding babies start crying that will be on your wedding video that not exciting to see or hear hollering children.

  9. February 2, 2011 9:33 am

    I found everyone’s posts really helpful.
    My fiance told me that he really does not want a dance. This is the one thing that he absolutely does not want. (He is not a dancer) I really have always wanted a dance. And all of my friends were really shocked when I told them there was not going to be a dance. I am known for my unique and funny moves on the floor, and being the first one dancing. So I was upset, but I love the man of my dreams, and am not going to have a dance. But I to am worried that all my guests will be bored, and that no one will have fun. I really like the idea of the Photo Booth. I also think that having a served meal with courses, will prolong the evening. I wanted to put some classical dinner music on while the meal was happening. We will have a slide show and speeches, and will also have more wine after all of that. I really want to wander around and mingle with all of the guests. I do wedding photography, and the wedding that I shot on the weekend had a dance, there was not many people on the dance floor, and took a long time for things to get moving. Then around midnight there were maybe 15-20 people dancing. So that made me feel a bit more comfortable with not having a dance.

    Thanks everyone for the ideas!

  10. Heather B permalink
    June 2, 2011 3:11 pm

    Wow…how refreshing!!! My fiance and I are getting married in Oct. 2012 and we really want something small and intimate for our reception with no dancing (neither of us is really into dancing and personally, I do not want to have to deal with the whole father/daughter; mom-in-law/son-in-law dance absences as both of my parents have passed on).

    We are planning on 35-40 guests – a small religious ceremony at a country chapel and a reception at a nice restaurant in town. We will have a cocktail hour and then a 3 course meal and dessert bar (we are way non-traditional lol). Considering our guest list includes only people very close to us, we know it will be everything we hope and not at all boring (especially when the stories start getting told haha).

    I saw something similar done a few years back and it was so wonderful – it made a great impression on me. I loved how everyone just chatted and laughed – it was like Christmas dinner type togetherness. It was so nice and I knew then that when I got married, I would do something similar.

    I do love the idea of making the rehearsal dinner a BBQ – we live in Texas and it would be great to BBQ and maybe catch the Friday nite football game the nite before the wedding. We are also talking about holding a brunch the Sunday after the wedding. It wouldn’t be anything formal like the dinner reception – just a covered dish kind of thing hosted by my future in-laws where people can come and mingle and chat and eat before heading to the airport etc. We are still trying to figure it out, but I think it would be a great way to send our out-of-town guests off and celebrate again with our local friends.

    Would love your feedback! Thanks so much!

    • June 3, 2011 7:30 am

      Well, since I clearly wanted something so similar myself, I think it sounds really lovely! Can I come? (kidding!)

      I would have liked the brunch, but didn’t get on the ball to organize one. Not sure what you are asking my feedback on, because it sounds to me like you have everything figured out, and that it will be wonderful. Congratulations on your upcoming marriage and best of luck in the planning!

  11. October 26, 2011 12:03 am

    We’re getting married in Aug 2012 and don’t plan on having dancing during our afternoon reception. How will you handle the background music? I always thought we would just rent a sound system and plug in an MP3 player for the background music and have our sociable friend announce important stuff like cutting the cake, but after going through forums about dj vs no dj, I’m scared that I didn’t think it through.

    • October 26, 2011 9:46 am

      Congratulations on your engagement!

      I was the original “C” that asked about SP’s reception, so I still receive email updates on this thread. I think it’s worth it to hire a dj. At least for us, the cost difference was not that great ($400 to rent a sound system vs. $750 for a d.j.), plus we didn’t have to create a playlist or ask a guest to make announcements for us. However, I am not really a music person and making a playlist would be very stressful to me. If you enjoy making them, then I think it would work juts fine.

      I kind of feel like a sell-out, but after all that debating, we ended up having dancing at our reception after all. I’m actually really glad we did, everyone was having so much fun dancing that we even extended the reception by 2 hours. I think the reception would still have been a success without dancing, but in the end, we realized that a lot of our guests would have missed the dance portion of the evening.

      • October 30, 2011 9:11 am

        That’s not selling out! You did what you wanted, and it turned out well. I’m so glad that everything worked out for you – congratulations on your marriage!

  12. Ashley permalink
    January 13, 2012 12:21 am

    In my opinion no dancing can work out great for weddings! Just make sure you provide lots of other entertainment. For us instead of the traditional toasts we all did a big cheers as soon as we arrived at the reception with the best man giving a short toast. As well I would recommend a fun, interactive guest book where guests can draw or write. As well add a collection of pictures or a video slide show of the couple on a table with neat decorations ex. we brought aton of antique cameras from our collection to add to the display. All of these things will give your guests some things to do after they’ve eaten or are waiting for the cake etc…and keep them from being bored

  13. January 15, 2012 7:29 pm

    We are planning a winter outdoor wedding, 40 guests. Our reception consists of a cocktail hour at a little wine bar, restaurant 4 course meal,speeches, slide show, cake cutting, photo scavenger hunt and trivia with prizes but NO dance. The venue is small and doesn’t allow for a dance floor but there is enough space for a “first dance” my fiancee wants a first dance but I am unsure if it will seen out of place or awkward since there will be no more dancing. I would love some insight of those who have done something similar or simply have opinions about a first dance without further dancing.

  14. Anonymous permalink
    September 18, 2012 6:23 pm

    We had no dance no tradition besides cake cutting. My wedding was on a boat (like a dinner cruise) for about 2-3 hours and then everyone went home. It was nice because I could visit with guests, but didn’t feel like I needed to stay all night to entertain them.

  15. Lee permalink
    October 15, 2012 12:16 pm

    I,m a widow in my 60’s getting married to a widower the same age. We will have a church wedding and a reception for about 50 people at a restaurant. There will be no dancing. We will have a long cocktail hour and more drinking after dinner. Some of our guests are older, some have bad knees, and some won’t have a dancing partner. I’ve been at weddings where the music drowns out any talking. We would rather visit with our friends and relatives. I like the photo booth idea. How does that work?

  16. November 17, 2012 12:24 pm

    I am on the “don’t have a dance if you don’t want one” side of the fence. Attendees can make their own fun. If you can have family get together with no music and nobody dies, a wedding without music shouldn’t be that big a deal, especially if you’re not the one paying for it.

    I have no problem sitting, socializing and watching other people dance, but you never know what you’re going to get at a reception. I went to a coworker’s wedding where she formed a conga line and insisted everybody follow her to the dance floor.

    1) I am clumsy, and have almost no rhythm. 2) I have issues with my feet and legs already, and here I am trying to conga through a room full of little round tables and chairs to the dance floor. 3) I stumbled a little over one person’s feet, I didn’t take myself and the 2 strangers attached to me down, but it was a near thing.

    I have had other problems at receptions as well, and I now have a policy where I only go to a wedding if someone I dearly love is getting married. I love weddings, but I am skipping everybody’s reception, I don’t care how good the food is. They rank almost dead last, closely followed by baby showers and kids’ birthday parties. I don’t have kids for a reason!

  17. Sharon permalink
    January 17, 2013 1:31 pm

    I had been obsessing about not having a disco, we had a black and white themed wedding and our reception was in a black and white cocktail bar that did not facilitate a dj. The youngsters helped out with their ipods. I did have a dance with my husband but everybody just mingled really.
    This was our second wedding (to each other lol) we had been divorced 8 years and recently got back together and decided to try again. I’m glad I have read that other receptions were dance free. There were so many guests at our first wedding reception and evening party that we didn’t get chance to mingle with everybody, this time it was perfect, with people I felt most comfortable with, leaving out the long lost, or distant families.
    The majority of our party are from another town where we once lived so they were only with us 11am til 7pm as their coach came to collect them for the hour journey home. There was nowhere for them to go and change even if we did have an evening party.
    We had free tickets for those that wanted to go to the local disco if they wanted to party but I think they had been drinking since 1.30pm and were tired. They had enjoyed their all day reception, enjoyed the food and mingling and went home. I guess it is a long day to be out from 11am, we are in our 40s and it would be too much to stay til midnight lol.
    I made a mistake in writing 1.30pm-midnight on the invites for people not going to the ceremony, it was not a separate party and the half a dozen who turned up for the evening were disappointed as the food had all been eaten. We had laid on a buffet and had a pig roast in the afternoon with a person carving the food and serving.
    Everybody had left the venue by 8.30pm so hubby and I went for a meal in the hotel restaurant, very different from the first wedding, getting home drunk and not remembering much of the evening, this time it was sophisticated.
    All in all, it was perfect and really was the best day of my life.

  18. Marissa Csiha permalink
    March 25, 2013 9:58 am

    I am basically planning this same wedding because it is truly what my fiance and I want. The financial aspect mixed with the fact that I’m just not into the whole reception ritual thing makes it a no brainer. Plus our wedding guests will most likely be around 50 people. I have been getting the nay sayer here and there. My mom being the biggest one. I keep saying “this is what I want” and its not changing. It was WONDERFUL to hear your perspective and it honestly gave me piece of mind that I’m not the only one complaining to my fiance that we might have a boring wedding! I know it won’t be boring for me. Thank you again!!

    • March 29, 2013 7:15 pm

      I’m so glad that there are others like me out there! Everyone said my wedding was really nice. If they secretly thought otherwise, they at least protected me from ever knowing! Best wishes!

    • Gerri permalink
      July 2, 2013 4:50 pm

      Hi There! So how did the wedding go? I also have a ‘Mom’ breathing down my neck! Every time we talk about the wedding we argue. We have gotten to the point of we are just going to book everything and not tell her. So sad 😦 We are not going to have dancing, but have live musicans for the ceremony, a sundee bar after the dinner, and speeches and stories.

  19. Keyla&Esteban permalink
    April 20, 2013 5:58 am

    I’m planning as well my reception with no dancing and no alcohol. My ceremony will be in September 2013 I’ve been to several weddings like this, and there’re some other thinks to do.. I just read Photo Booth… I’m pretty sure I’ll do this. Also throwing the bouquet. I will have the first dance, and daddy-daughter dance and mother-son dance. A good way to do it… as I seen it in another wedding was that while everyone is eating, the couple goes to every table and take pictures with the guests… so you have a time to talk to everyone…
    I think music is important.. I guess, the lighting of the place, and the volume of music makes the whole difference! Please!!! Dont play boring music!! As I’m a Christian, We’ll have TobyMac Music, Israel Houghton… in few words, our favourite music. It’s very important to have a special detail for the guests… just make something fun, so they can enjoy… like a puzzle… and you think this is too much… but hey, you don’t want them to get bored…… OHH Of course…. Why not, having a VideoBeam projected to a Wall, so i’ll bring some distraction with your favourite videos, and a very cute video of your engagement and some others you and your couple loves 🙂
    Enjoy everyone!

  20. Sarah permalink
    August 8, 2013 7:49 am

    I had a huge engagement party in a hall (even though I didn’t want one).
    And now were trying to plan our wedding. He doesn’t want a reception. I do.
    But I’m ready to say no to the wedding reception “dream”. Only issue is his family is like 70 people.
    So to add up our families in a house would be a disaster. Plus wed have to ignore the 120 people who attended our engagement party (friends). My family is 5 people.. it would be odd to have such a big contrast. We for sure want to get married at our church.. But what would you do after? Hall is not an option, neither is a backyard (we wouldn’t fit!)… And to do nothing would mean to leave the church in a big gown and drive home in the middle of the way.. We are both believers and we know that the reception money could be used for greater things.

  21. julie permalink
    December 7, 2014 11:39 am

    Thanks to everyone for their replies. I’m having a small wedding (25 people, mostly family) on the beach and then dinner in a nice restaurant. We just found out (after we gave our deposit) that the restaurant won’t let us have a dj. I’m hoping an IPod set up with music that we love will be enough. My parents think we need entertainment, but my fiance and I want to keep it really low key. Still, I don’t want my guests to feel they attended a lame wedding.

  22. Larianna Logan permalink
    January 18, 2015 10:38 pm

    This TRULY HAS HELPED ME I was honestly sad wasn’t sure how I was going to plan my wedding my husband doesn’t dance and the cost of things for is with now help I am in tears thank you soooooo much.

    Lari XO

  23. Anonymous permalink
    February 3, 2016 8:41 am

    you could play cards. have a casino theme. my daugher is having both so the prople that don’t dance can play cards if they want. also other games.

  24. December 25, 2017 7:23 am

    We had an open bar at our wedding and no dance. Ceremony at 4, dinner at 5.30(ish), and plenty of people stayed until 9 or 10. We did have board games, so my family played those. Neither of our families are big dancers, and people enjoyed the time to socialize.

    We also didn’t do toasts or bouquet toss or most anything traditional in the reception. We had a nice seated dinner. Open bar and hot chocolate bar and cupcakes. People mostly had fun sitting around, drinking beer, and chatting. We continue to get compliments on our wedding after 5 years. Think through what you want and do that.


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