The original tradition was to give the honour of leading the first dance of the evening to the guest of honour which was usually the person of the highest social position such as a member of the royal family if any were present or persons of high social ranking. The first dance was the official opening of the ball.
At a wedding, the bride and groom are the persons of highest honour and the First Dance is not only the first dance of the reception but is also the First Dance for the newlywed husband and wife.
It became known as the Bridal Waltz in Europe due to the popularity of the Waltz dance especially because of Queen Victoria’s favour of the dance at her wedding to Prince Albert. She was an avid ballroom dancer and the Waltz was the most fashionable dance at that time. The popular term for the wedding First Dance evolved into the Bridal Waltz and although it is also known as a Wedding or Bridal Dance and in America is still called the First Dance.
Although the majority of modern weddings still adhere to the traditional format of performing the Bridal Waltz as the first dance of the reception following the speeches and cake cutting, it is no longer a breach of etiquette to have the First Dance at other times. The ‘wedding entrance dance’ where a couple enter their reception to music and dance their to the dance floor has become quite popular, especially to those who want to have a bright and lively start to their reception party and some couples choose to do their dance between courses, before the speeches.
Contemporary weddings can be a completely different format, such as cocktail weddings, or those at unusual locations such as beach, poolside, boats etc. Where your wedding is not the traditional format one just works out when the dance fits in or when you would prefer to do it.
Those wanting a traditional style Bridal Waltz would normally choose fairly classic contemporary music and dance one of the popular ballroom dances such as the Slow Waltz, Viennese Waltz or Foxtrot.
If you are not concerned about tradition then there’s really no limitation to your choice of song and dance, so just choose whatever suits your taste and personalities and what you are comfortable with. Non traditional Bridal Waltzes we’ve taught have included the Tango, Rumba, Cha Cha, Swing, Salsa, Rock’n’Roll, Hip Hop, Disco and even heavy metal rock.
Some couples like to make their Bridal Waltz into a real floorshow to entertain their guests and others prefer to keep it relaxed and low key. Most guests do not have an expectation of the how it should be danced but where there is music and dancing at a wedding reception it is still generally expected that the bride and groom will lead off the dancing with a Bridal Waltz of some description.