In the months leading up their wedding, many brides have the same recurring nightmare. It's not that they ripped their dresses, that it poured all over their outdoor vows, or even a runaway groom situation. For most women, the worst-case scenario is looking around the (hopefully immaculately decorated) tent and realizing that not a single person is dancing.
Generally speaking, these fears are totally unfounded. Most guests love to have the opportunity to show off their best moves. Still, an empty dance floor can be a huge let down on your big day, so there's no harm in taking steps to prevent it. That's why we had Atlanta-based DJ Rich Leggitt, founder of Black Tie Events, share his best party tricks.
Hire an experienced pro.
Though it may seem like a DJ is a DJ, Leggitt insists that it's crucial to choose one with plenty of wedding experience. Having stood behind the turntables at more than 1,000 events since 1992, Leggitt knows that there's a big contrast between being in the club and working a wedding. "It's a different animal," explains the pro. "You're dealing with a wider age range of people so you've got to be super, super versatile."
Make sure they've got the goods.
Study the company's reviews. The mix-master you want to go with will have received tons of glowing reports from previous clients. Another good test: Try asking them how they deal with a timid crowd. Leggitt's go-to is to call all the women out on the floor by "playing a song like, 'I Will Survive' or 'I Wanna Dance with Somebody'" he says. "From there, I have all the girls go out and grab any guy they want and, boom, your dance floor is packed." Notes the pro, "There are a bunch of little tricks of the trade that you can do to keep things going without being obnoxious."
Delivering your DJ a list of your fave hits will help him prepare a top-notch set list, says Leggitt, who advises picking out 35 or so songs—roughly half the amount that can be played over the course of a four-hour reception. For inspiration, suggests the pro, try an app such as the one he developed, DJ Songlist. "All the songs are pre-categorized," he explains, "so clients can look through the best of '60s music or Motown, hear a snippet, and add it to a list."
Don't banish the bartender.
Ideally, you'd like to set up at least one of your bars within stumbling distance of the dance floor, says Leggitt. If it's in a separate area or a long walk from the music, you're likely to lose half your dance floor crowd.
Try a throwback.
A Motown jam will usually bring a group of guests to their feet, which is why Leggitt usually kicks off the night with an oldie. (One to try: Stevie Wonder's "Signed Sealed Delivered.") Usually, he says, he'll work his way through the decades during the night, devoting a large chunk to '90s throwbacks. "If the couple that's getting married is in their late twenties, early thirties, it works great," he explains, "because that's the stuff they used to have fun with in school."
Know your crowd.
Interactive dances (think: the Hokey Pokey, the Chicken Dance, and the Macarena) can be polarizing, says Leggitt. Some groups can't wait to put their right foot in and others will take that opportunity to step it right off the dance floor. Ask your pals how they feel about shaking it all about to avoid an awkward lull in the fun.
Try the right ratio.
For Leggitt, it's five fast songs to one slow song. Some guests, he notes, are only there to sway to a ballad, so this will get them out to the floor. Plus, he says, it's a great way to move seamlessly from one genre to the next, taking you straight from '80s pop to '90s hip-hop.
Stick to what works.
If all else fails, have your DJ throw on some Bruno Mars. The five-time Grammy winner "is probably the hottest artist right now," swears Leggitt, who always sees crowds swell when he plays a Mars track. (This summer's winner: "24K Magic.") Leggitt calls such hits "dance floor builders" and you want your pro to have a couple on hand. "It's something that's going to draw everybody out," he explains, "and then they can build off of that."