So you're planning a wedding and you want your guests to dance all night long... Maybe you've hired a DJ and want to know what songs to give him or her? Or maybe you're planning the music yourself. Either way, if you follow the 5 easy steps below, you are guaranteed to have a packed dance floor at your wedding or event!
1. Pick songs people know
Let's start out with the number one, most important thing to get people to dance at any party: song recognition. As any experienced DJ can tell you, people are unlikely to go crazy for a song they haven't heard before. In fact, I've found that people are more likely to dance to a song they don't like than a song they've never heard before.
So how do you approach this? The easiest way is to submit a list of songs to your DJ and ask him or her to play the well know ones during the dance party (see number 3 below for when to play the lesser known songs). This will be easy for any experienced DJ and it's what he or she does at every gig.
What if you are DJing your own wedding? Pick songs that have been big hits, that you and your fiance know and think your guests will know. Billboard.com is a great resource. You can search through different years and genres.
2. Try to please all age groups
This is another great way to get people to dance. In my first meeting with couples I usually ask them what percentage of their guests are their friends, and what percentage are their parents' friends. This varies widely from wedding to wedding, but it's very important to know.
A great way to pick songs is to guess the average age of a few groups at the wedding and pick songs around the time they were 15 years old. Why 15? That's usually around the time people are most into music and those are the songs they come back to throughout their life.
So let's say you have 100 guests at your wedding, 40 of them were born between 1960 and 1970 and 60 of them between 1985 and 1995 (just a general example). You would want to look for songs in the mid 1970's and 80's and songs between 2000 and 2010 (Won't lie, had to pull out my calculator for this).
Often DJ's play the oldest music first. So you could start with the 70's and 80's music, transition to 2000's music and end the wedding with current hits - or mix it up. It's your day! Make sure you adjust the amount of time you play each genre relative to the amount of guests who are going to like that genre.
3. Rare or lesser known songs are great for cocktail hour and dinner
So let's say you and your fiance make a list of songs you want played at your wedding. You read it over and realize that a lot of the songs aren't big hits. Actually about half of them are songs that only you two and your close friends know. Like I said above (see number 1), people tend to dance to songs they know and leave the dance floor when a couple songs they don't know come on. So do you have to chop your list in half and forget about playing those songs at your wedding? No way.
As you probably know, the dance party is not the only time music will be played at your wedding. Besides the ceremony, music is played during cocktail hour and dinner, and those parts of the night are often 1 to 1.5 hours each. So you have 2 to 3 hours to work with where you can play music and it doesn't matter if people dance.
This is a great time to play those special songs that don't translate so well to the dance floor. When you submit your songs to your DJ, you can ask him or her to group them, or you can submit them separated into the different parts of the night. Or if you are DJing your own wedding you can make one playlist for cocktail hour and dinner and another for dancing.
4. Small dance floors are better than wide open spaces
This one is easy to explain but you might've never thought of it before. If the dance floor is really big, people are less likely to get up and dance because they feel like everyone is looking at them. It just feels weird. When the dance floor is smaller they feel like they can blend in to the people dancing right next to them.
Many weddings happen in large spaces like banquet halls, big restaurants, etc... So what do you do if you don't have an equally big crowd? Talk to your contact at your venue and see what they suggest. I've seen some venues make a smaller space using furniture, potted plants and other things and it still looked great.