Including Cultural Dances: Deciding Who Participates

Martha Stewart Weddings, Summer 2004

Folk dances run the gamut from simple, all-inclusive circle dances to elaborate choreography performed solo or by a couple. If the dance you plan to do is informal and composed of just a few easy steps, your guests might readily join in, following along with those who know the movements or improvising their own. To encourage participation, ask your bandleader or deejay to invite guests onto the floor, and perhaps have him call out the dance's steps. Some brides even hire a professional caller to give instructions for more complex dances.

If the majority of your family members know the dance, ask them to encourage guests to join them and to help teach the steps to novices. "The steps to a lot of ethnic dances aren't too complicated, so if one person knows what they're doing, others can follow along," says former Irish dancing champion Mary O'Callaghan. That's what happened at her own wedding to James Grant in New York City in August 2003. "My whole family loves to dance, so we did a lot of ceili dancing (traditional informal Irish group dancing)," she says. "So many of our guests joined in that there wasn't any room left on the floor."

At Helen Kapros and John Carey's reception in Newark, New Jersey, in June 2003, the couple was amazed at their guests' willingness to participate in the kalamatiano, a closed circle dance performed with guests' arms linked-to honor the bride's Greek-born parents. "Greek dancing was part of every family function we had when I was growing up," says Helen, "so I definitely wanted to include it in my wedding. But we weren't sure how our guests would respond. It started out with just close friends and relatives, but soon everyone started breaking into the circle."

Sandy Mechael and Kenton Pierce included belly dancing at their October 2003 wedding in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, as a tribute to Sandy's Egyptian heritage. Though most guests preferred to stand along the edges of the dance floor rather than take part, their response was enthusiastic. "All my family was dancing, and my sister and I taught some basic hip movements to a couple of the less inhibited guests in the group," says Sandy. "There was this great moment when everyone in the room was standing on chairs to watch us. A couple of women even signed up for belly dancing lessons afterward."

Another way to get your guests into the dancing spirit is to teach your bridesmaids and groomsmen the basic steps after the rehearsal dinner; that way they can show guests at the reception. Or hire an instructor to give a mini lesson during the cocktail hour to anyone who might be interested.

You needn't restrict yourself to dances from your ancestry, either. At the October 2003 reception of Ann Shin and Rick DeVito in Easton, Pennsylvania, Rick asked the band to play the tarantella as a nod to his Italian heritage and the hora simply because he loved its festive nature. "The hora always struck me as a great dance of celebration. It gets everyone on the floor," says Rick, a wedding videographer. He had seen the dance often enough to know the general movements. Even Ann's Korean-American family joined in. "Dancing is not at all a part of weddings in Korean culture, but they got swept up in the spirit of the event," says Ann.

Including Cultural Dances

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