Dancing at a dry wedding

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I'm going to marry a wonderful man who is a recovering addict and has been clean for over 8 years. Many of the guests are friends of his who are also in recovery, so alcohol at the wedding will be a HUGE no-no.

I know many guests who will be disappointed at the lack of alcohol (let me be honest – I'll be a tad disappointed, too). What can I do to get people on the dance floor and to have fun without the aid of beer? I've been to weddings before that didn't have alcohol and it seemed like people just bailed as soon as they were done eating.

First off, congratulations to your partner for his eight years of sobriety.

Now, in terms of your dry wedding: you're right. Getting people to dance sober can be more of a challenge. Are you attached to dancing at your wedding? Do you want to take on the challenge of encouraging people to do something they may not naturally be inclined to do?

"No" is a perfectly acceptable answer here: There are lots of people who have wonderful, fun receptions without any dancing at all — so if you're only concerned about dancing because you feel like you're required to have it, I would encourage you to explore the option of skipping the dance floor.

The easiest way to do this to restructure the wedding so that it feels perfectly natural to be dry: a brunch wedding or lunch reception, for instance. People will come with less expectations about the format, and less assumptions that they're going to totter away wasted at 2pm.

If you've already got plans for an evening wedding or just reeeeally want a dance floor, I'd say get your guests jacked on caffeine. Could you have a caterer or a friend act as a barrista, serving guests fancy hyper-caffeinated drinks to get them amped and ready to rock?

CRW_0124_JFRAlternately, you could give the dance floor a little structure. No dancing = nothing a hula hoop wouldn't fix? Dance Dance Revolution? Dance floor scavenger hunt?

Most importantly, I'd suggest talking to your fiance about this and tapping into his network of friends who are in recovery. This is a whole community of experts who likely know more than you or I could ever dream about have a blast without alcohol — they may have lots of suggestions for how to get non-drinkers dancing.

Most of all, make sure you're having a great time at your wedding. Your energy will be infectious, and if you're giddy and spinning with joy, your guests will be more likely to follow your lead, sober or not.

  1. My wedding wasn't dry, but it was still somewhat difficult to get people to dance. However, we had a band with a dance caller for contra dances (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Contra_dancing), and people got really into those because they're told what to do and everyone looks silly together.

    If that's not your sort of thing, creating a really rockin' play list of things you like to dance to (oldies, ska, whatevs) and then getting on the dance floor yourself and pulling your friends up with you will get at least some of them dancing.

    Of course, you can always command all of the guests to dance. A friend of mine sent invitations indicating what parts of the wedding were "mandatory" and what parts "optional" (eg. eating: mandatory, crying: optional, etc.)!

    2 agree
    • Hi Cathy!
      I am really interested in finding a contra band/caller for my wedding and have no idea where to start looking! Any suggestions? The wedding is in Boston, MA.

      Thanks,
      Angie

      1 agrees
      • Hi Angie, I don't know if you're still looking, but I've had a good time dancing with these folks in the Boston area, and they might be able to help. http://lcfd.org/about/

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  2. I am always mystified that people seem to feel that couples are obligated to serve alcohol at weddings, and that guests have the right to expect it. It's a wedding, not happy hour.

    I do drink, but I have never thought that not serving alcohol, in any setting, for any reason, was a decision for which hosts should be made to feel they have to provide an alternative. If you don't want to serve it, don't serve it; the people who complain about it are the ones who are out of line. (This goes double when the groom and, presumably, many of the guests are recovering alcoholics.)

    Guests should dance because dancing is fun, not because their usual sense of decorum has been chemically obliterated.

    26 agree
    • Thank you, thank you, thank you! I understand that a lot of weddings have alcohol but ours won't and I'm tired of getting weird looks when I tell people. Neither my fiance nor myself drink and we don't want to spend a ton of money on alcohol when we could be saving it or spending it on something more important to us. People don't need alcohol to have a good time and celebrate the marriage of two people they care about. That's silly.

      11 agree
  3. This isn't really constructive, but I had a "dry" evening wedding about 4 years ago and people still brought alcohol in flasks and my then-husband got drunk. It was not cool. I agree with Ariel–at a daytime wedding, the drinking expectation will be down and people will be less likely to bring flasks, I hope.

    1 agrees
  4. I love the idea of getting them jacked up on caffeine. I'm a very shy person and getting on a dance floor usually requires darkness and booze for me to muster enough courage. But if I have a lot of energy and there is some great music, I could see myself being unable to hold out :-)

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  5. i am having a dry wedding..simply for the fact this day is special we do not want the drunken drama and we do not want to pay for happy hour…plus drinking and driving….ect ect….its just a no go for us.

    we are having a candy buffet yay sugar and a smoothie bar…and yes our wedding is in the evening…

    people will dance i would not worry…ask them ion the rsvp what songs they might like…

    its your day.

    =)

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    • Your candy buffet line (yay sugar!) made me LOL. I was actually thinking that caffeine wouldn't get me on a dance floor, but park some M&Ms in front of me and holy crap, watch out for flying shoes. =)

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    • we are having a dry evening reception and a huge candy/non alchy drink bar as well. For all of the same reasons- recovering alcoholics/ driving/ cost…And i know that we are going to have problems with flasks and sneakers… but if they respect us and our decision, they can keep it to themselves!!
      I'm NOT the fun police.. and as long as our guests don't get my recovering hubby to be to drink, i'm fine with it. at the after party camping area i will probably drink too, but NOT at the family infested reception.. who wants to be a drunken mess on their wedding day?!?

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  6. We had no dancing at our wedding.

    We had a "master of ceremonies" who helped our guests stay active and helped them really mingle with each other. One thing he did was conduct a "roast" of sorts by interviewing the guests about the bride and groom and later recounting the results for all of us.

    There was other "entertainment" that kept people engaged and moving: an aerialist, pinatas, a few songs our friends performed.

    I'm certain no one missed the dancing that is expected at a wedding. And although we did have alcohol, we went light. I think that with all the thought that went into keeping our guests active and engaged, we would have had a mighty fine wedding even without the wine.

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  7. We had an afternoon wedding, and there was no alcohol. I had no idea that it would be so controversial to not serve liquor! It was unbelievable some of the comments I received. After a while, I just "gently" reminded everyone this was OUR celebration and we would celebrate as we saw fit. A little reminder of how rude it is to expect anything at someone else's party shut up the rest of the complainers.

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  8. One of the boozeless weddings I went to had a local band playing who played around the area a lot and was friends with the groom. They played their own music (bluegrassy type stuff during a picnic) so those that didn't want to dance didn't feel left out, and some new music to watch. There was a no-dancing wedding on here previously with board games, an I thought that was really neat. Maybe the perimeter of your space could have board games or a crafts table or something to keep those people occupied when they look towards the door. They'd be like, " need to get out of here, oh wait…..Is that a place to make oragami swans?" Or something.

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  9. Thanks so much for posting this… I was starting to think I was the only one with a fiance who can't/doesn't want to drink. Some of his family are also alcoholics, so we absolutely refuse to hand out an opportunity to turn a nice day into a potential disaster. It's really hard finding information and suggestions for people who DON'T plan on having booze!

    And Cathy, great idea with the contra dance! I absolutely adore contra, but it's not my fiance's thing, sadly… he takes something as simple as a do-si-do and it becomes a major do-si-don't, complete with major injuries to the head and feet. *so sad*
    I know that other couples have pulled off contra to great effect, however!

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    • "he takes something as simple as a do-si-do and it becomes a major do-si-don't, complete with major injuries to the head and feet. *so sad*"
      LOL!! I'm sorry that this is the case, but at least you said it cutely!! :)

      1 agrees
  10. I've been to weddings without dancing and had a great time–one in particular was outdoors all afternoon and we had games and an evening campfire and no one even noticed the lack of dancing.

    If you really do want yourself & others to get out on the dance floor, how about a little "dance lesson"? If you enjoy swing dancing or tango or some kind of "structured" dancing and you know someone who does it well, maybe have them teach people that dance to a fun song–and then encourage people to switch partners to keep it going?

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  11. I've been clean & sober for almost 17 years & while I have friends that don't drink, I also have friends that do. My fiance is not an alcoholic, doesn't really understand the whole thing but isn't a big drinker. However it is important to him to have alcohol available at our wedding. Since it's not just my wedding, we agreed to a cash bar. If we have to have it, I'm certainly not paying for it!

    Personally, I don't think it's anyone else's responsibility to remove alcohol from a situation because there will be recovering alcoholics attending. They need to relearn how to live in a world where alcohol is readily available. They will be faced with it over & over & they need to make the choice to stay sober every day.

    That being said, if it is really important to your fiance & you don't mind having a "dry" reception, I would go with a daytime wedding. Brunch or an afternoon tea or a big BBQ would be great fun (& budget friendly). That way you kind of remove dancing from the mix altogether so no worries.

    Keep in mind, that if people really want to drink at your wedding & you don't have alcohol available, it will be like a dance in high school. There will always be some people that will sneak it in. If I were you, I would probably put something together for your wedding website explaining the importance of your choice to exclude alcohol & your appreciation (expectation) that your friends will honor that request.

    Good luck. It's a challenge to work around this stuff but I'm sure you'll come up with a creative solution.

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  12. Why not fun board games at different tables. Some of my guests absolutely refuse to dance so we are planning on leaving cards, pick-up sticks, hungry-hungry hippos on the tables for the non dancing enthusiasts. Congras!

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  13. We're nixing the alcohol as a budgetary move – we're saving a lot of money by getting married at a public facility, but the city would make us shell out $250 just for alcohol permits before we even bought a single bottle! So instead we're taking the $250, heading to BevMo and getting wierdo sodas for everyone instead. Then we don't have to worry about anyone driving home intoxicated or giving a bad drunken toast.

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  14. I agree that there's nothing like a little structure to get people to participate. Here are some ideas:

    –Hire a caller and fiddle band, barn dance style. Bow to your partner and do-si-do!
    –Hire a swing band and a couple of dance teachers to get everyone jiving and lindy hopping!
    –Hire a classical group (or get the appropriate music on an I-pod) and hire a ballroom dance couple to teach everyone some waltzing, tango-ing moves!

    3 agree
  15. We won't be having alcohol, partially because our venue requires hiring a licensed bartender if any alcohol is served, but mostly because neither of us really drink–it just isn't something we do as a method of having fun. And of course, hanging out with tipsy people when you yourself don't want to get tipsy is ZERO fun! ;)

    We are planning on having dancing, mostly because both of us are big music people and have lists a mile long of songs we want to dance to. My litmus test for songs is if it makes me want to move even if I'm in the car or some other situation where I look very silly if I dance, then it goes on the list. If not, no matter how much I like it, it's off! (There's this one song I love that I could not include, because even the dancers in the music video look really awkward trying to dance to it! Sigh.)

    But we're also having a zillion and one other activities. Most of our guests are talkers and socializers, so I expect that to be the main activity that people find for themselves. We're also having a talent show, a root beer and ginger beer taste-off, a whole park to wander around in, probably yo-yos or hula-hoops or other fun toys, and of course food. (With all the different kinds of food we're planning, it'd probably be plenty easy to spend the whole six hour reception nibbling!) I don't expect a constantly packed dance floor, but I do expect a couple people rockin' out most of the time.

    I think a dry reception requires thinking a lot about the specific group of people you've got. How do they usually have fun when they're not drinking? What do they usually do after dinner, given a choice? Or after lunch?

    I also love Ariel's idea of tapping into the recovery network.

    1 agrees
  16. I like Ariel's question – how important is it to you that guests dance? I admit – I'm not usually dancing at weddings. Maybe a slow song with my date, but I'm just not a bit dancer. But I still almost always have fun at weddings.

    The key really is how can you get people to relax, let their guard down, and mingle. Once they do that they tend to have fun – sober or not. I love the previously mentioned ideas of contra dancing or a swing dance lesson. And games! I went to a fabulous wedding that had an Elvis impersonator – he totally got people moving. What about a photo booth with costumes that people can get silly with?

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  17. I recently had a dry wedding for a client who was in the same situation as you. Both the groom and I were concerned that people would not dance…but to our surprise, the band brought it. Good music really got people up and dancing regardless of the lack of alcohol. We served Italian sodas and that gave people the feeling of ordering at a "bar" and that was fun. Additionally, with the bride and groom grooving all evening, that helped in making sure the dance floor was full at all times. At another dry wedding a few years ago, I hired the Tostado sisters from San Diego http://www.tostadosisters.com/ who really helped in making sure that guests were entertained and engaged and they kept it the floor packed all night.

    3 agree
    • Love the Italian sodas idea! We had sparkling juices (bought several cases at Ikea!) at our mid-afternoon barbecue. They were a huge hit! While we did offer some local beers (mostly to appease the Aussie groom who was terrified of meeting the French-speaking family-in-law), the sparkling juices were way more popular and yummy!

      1 agrees
    • Italian sodas (And friends) has been a major part of our plan from the beginning. We don't really drink, and there are too many very important people in our group that have major alcohol issues – some are alcoholics, but the ones that are most important to me have had serious trauma from alcoholic family, and since we two are not that into booze… So anyhow, Various non-alcoholic mixed drinks are fun, tasty, and provide conversational opportunities. We're planning on normal italian sodas (fruit flavors, etc.) plus really weird ones. (Rose limeade, violet syrup, rosemary, and maybe (If I can swing it) curry,) Plus we'll have iced teas, lemonade, and coffeecoffeecoffee. relevant to the main subject, make sure to invite your weirdest friend: I get high on people (this is not as trite or cliche as it sounds; My ADD acts up ,and the more people there are, the crazier I get) and at the last several weddings I attended, I dragged all kinds of people out onto the dance floor. When they see a funny looking pair like me, (I am pretty much spherical) and a gawky, nervous, 6-foot-5 thin 17 year old boy who I practically dragged onto the dance floor, (It was way less creepy than it sounds) well, nost of the guests know that they can't look as silly as me! (admittedly I was also dressed as a pirate at the time…)

      5 agree
  18. We too are having a dry wedding, but for different reasons: my mister drinks rarely, and I've never even tried the stuff, but my cousin is a full-fledge alcoholic, two of my uncles teeter on the edge, a few of our friends would likely get wasted and not remember a thing, my great uncle died of alcohol-related liver disease, his grandfather and sister-in-law are recovering alcoholics, his sister is becoming one, etc. Also our venue doesn't allow it, which gave us a nice excuse =]

    I have only been to one wedding where alcohol was served, and there has not been an issue with dancing at any of them. In fact, people seemed to have more fun at the dry weddings, particularly my cousin's three years ago. We plan to have dancing at our wedding, and I know our dance floor won't suffer from loneliness.

    1 agrees
  19. My fiance's father was an violent and abusive alcoholic and died early this year; due to this his entire immidiate family are tee-total, my side of the family tend to get very VERY drunk at weddings/funerals- my mother in particular tends to get drunk and start insulting people. So I'm certainly having a dry wedding.

    I agree with the point that if there's good music then everyone will dance. Everyone loves Journey :D

    Another idea to help guests loosen up…. bouncy castle? (i've been to so many kids birthdays where the adults have taken over on them and loved it!)

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  20. LOVE the idea of a bouncy castle!!! I was thinking a trivia night type thing would be fun too. It would be a great way to get people talking and interacting without dancing. And who doesn't love trivia???

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  21. To the recovering alcoholics, congratulations!

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  22. Oh wow. It’s weddings like this that make me wish I’d actually had a wedding. I was very prone to “stage fright” when I got married though so we were married by a judge in his office. My son who was four at the time complained that it wasn’t supposed to be like that. He wanted to know where all the people and furniture and decorations were!

    Me, I find I'm too self conscious to dance unless I've had a few drinks. The hula hooping is a terrific idea though!

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  23. Our wedding was dry-ish. We had our reception at a place w/out a liquor license to help keep it drunk free. I haven't had a drink of alcohol in decades, and hope to keep it that way for the rest of my life.

    Our friends and family tore up the dance floor! We were so happy that they were having fun.

    So don't worry about the alcohol, just have fun.

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  24. I had no idea so many people were anti-dancing, without the "aid" of alcohol. You can't keep my butt off the dance floor, sober or not. Hopefully the bride who wrote to you with this question will have enough people with the same mindset at her wedding to get the dancing started, and the others can feel less self-conscious about it.

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  25. My fiance has a few acoholics on his side, and we both don't drink, AND the cost for a bar is absolutely prohibitive – therefore we are having a dry evening wedding. HOWEVER. Dancing is a big thing for me, I'm a card-carrying member of my local lindyhop club, and we have hired a great (very big!) big band to play the reception; not to mention I am having 2-3 couples from my swing club come to the reception to teach a basic lesson and 'seed' the dance floor for the evening. Plus some of the guests are also dancers, so it will be nice. I think the 'seeding' thing is the way to go, then again I'm having a very dance-centric reception due to my love of hoppin'. My friends are all cool with the no-alcohol thing – they all know me a and love me, which means they understand where I'm coming from. It's just my fiance's dumb college friends I'm a little worried about.

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  26. Hello

    I have just 2 words for you my friend…

    BARN and DANCE

    Barn dances are so fun, you do not need alcohol to enjoy dancing!! Problem solved

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  27. I just wanted to chime in here – I am a recovering addict who has been clean for 11 years. My fiancé, while not in recovery is into the strait edge scene and doesn’t drink either. We are getting married this June and have decided to have a limited open bar with beer and wine. Even though we don’t drink this is an element that is important to most of our family, so we have decided to do it for them. However, we will keep the coffee flowing plentifully for our recovering friends! For us that was the right choice, but I have seen it done all different ways. I have been to completely dry weddings (where they circulated sparkling cider for a toast) and had a great time (although obviously I am biased). Another wonderful friend of mine in recovery is serving alcohol but also serving a choice of a few custom mixed non-alcoholic drinks, which I think is an awesome idea but our venue won’t accommodate it. I guess, I am not saying anything new – I just mostly wanted to say a big congrats on your fiancé’s clean time and that there are so many ways to do it, I am sure you will find what works for you. We put a lot of thought into this subject and are very comfortable with our decision.

    And, thanks Ariel for posting such a good and offbeat question! You would never hear this on the k*ot.

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  28. I'll be honest – open bar was my only requirement for the wedding. I didn't care if it was outdoor, indoor, in a zoo, whatever. But if a dear fried of mine was in a situation like this, I think it would be really fun to have a slurpee bar of nonalcoholic drinks, complete with all the fruity embellishments. Rootbeer floats, costume pieces like boas, sunglasses, cowboy hats, etc would all help get the party started!

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  29. Maybe you can loosen up the atmosphere by playing some simple games – nothing too cheesy. I think a live band would also be better than someone playing records. Don't worry too much, if you have the people who care about you both and understand they aren't going to bolt at the first opportunity :) Good Luck!

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  30. My wedding is at a local park and we arent allowed to have alcohol and I dont drink much as well as my fiance doesnt either so we are serving non alcoholic drinks and mixed drinks like ice tea n lemonaid or something in that fashion, so as far as our wedding is hawaiian/costumed theme so hopefully people will dance and have fun. sounds like ur wedding was fun and congrats to you as well! Its okay to have your own style at your own wedding!! best of luck in ur marriage!

    1 agrees
  31. I'd like to really repeat this (and I mean really): YOU DON'T NEED ALCOHOL TO HAVE A GOOD TIME. Just this whole mentality that people won't dance or have fun because you're having a dry wedding is frustrating. Isn't choosing to have a dry wedding pretty independent and offbeat anyways?

    Yes, I am actually a pretty good drinker, but I'd rather people remember my wedding and not stumble away from the reception. You know. You guys can always drink later, y'know :)

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  32. I'm in a similar situation with the recovering alcoholic finance, and we just went to a friends wedding who was also in the same situation. Their wedding was dry and had a dance floor, but you're right, nobody danced and everyone left early.

    We decided not to do dancing at all, but instead have some planned activities… it's a summer wedding so we have some games set up that match our "theme" (think retro & western games). We have a relay game planned that would involve everybody and get people moving around, and some photo opportunities set up for our guests to play with as well.

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  33. You could fake it? Serve fun cocktails and maybe non-alcoholic beer. After all, I'm sure most people equate dance with alcohol because you chat and loosen up while having a drink. So I'm sure the appearance of a drink would have the same effect.

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  34. Hey, I like these soda bar ideas a lot! I'll have to keep that in mind!

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  35. I think having coffee, teas and fancy sodas or juices is a good idea.
    I don't think you need alcohol to get people to dance, but you might need someone to encourage them; e.g. a compere with dancing games, or maybe have an instructor who helps teach some basic ballroom moves – it would be a lot of fun and really memorable. Also get friends who are more extroverted to pull people up onto the dance floor.
    I'm going to get married in Poland and they have a really nice thing where the compere for the band gets everyone to play dancing or party games – it really breaks the ice and gets people on the dance floor. (Yes they are a bit drunk, but I've been to many an English wedding where people get drunk and STILL don't dance)

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  36. Most of the weddings I've attended did not serve alcohol, and there was no problem getting people to dance.

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  37. Snowball dances work well for getting people out onto the dance floor and breaking the ice without changing much about your reception. The bride and groom start out alone on the dance floor, but after a minute or so the DJ pauses the music and they each split off and choose a new partener from the crowd. Now there are four people dancing, and soon the DJ pauses again and everyone has to find a new partner. It's maybe slightly tacky by some definitions, but it gets everyone up in a hurry. Shyness gets in the way less when it's clear that you're just following the rules and you have to ask somebody.
    In geeky groups, doing something like the Time Warp from Rocky Horror or anything that a large number of people will know defined moves to helps.

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    • Orenda, I didn't know there was a name for it, but a spontaneous "snowball dance" also worked out for us. Our DJ's musical taste only really got the older folks on the floor (disco, etc). I think the mother of the groom started grabbing random dance partners from the tables and we followed suit. Soon we had most people on the dance floor. A couple other people mentioned it already: people feel way less self conscious if there is something they're *supposed* to do, whether to grab another person and pull them to the dance floor, do the Time Warp, square dance, contra dance, line dance, the hokey pokey, whatever (just not the Chicken Dance).

      A number of other suprise ideas from our family and friends enhanced or supplemented the dancing. The number one idea? Around midnight, the father of the groom busted out a HOMEMADE LIMBO SETUP – a total surprise to us. Everybody got in on the game, especially the guys (anything competitive ropes them in). Other guests added alternatives to dancing or little "shows" that gave people a break from dancing:

      – some friends set up a guest book table and assorted stickers and colorful pens which people enjoyed embellishing with
      – other friends set up a "mystery painting" where every guest got a little piece of an image that they had to copy onto a certain square on the canvas. It turned out to be a picture of us.
      – in addition to the toasts from the fathers, the moms interrupted the dancing later to show slideshows of embarassing pictures of us as kids

      In the end, we actually had so much going on (most of it a surprise to us) that my guy complained that there wasn't enough dancing! So it's perfectly possible to get friends dancing against the odds and/or to entertain those who don't feel like dancing.

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  38. Congratulations to the recovering alcoholics!

    I have to say, though, that while I would never, ever, EVER complain about alcohol or lack thereof at a wedding, I would also not dance. Not to anything. Not even if it's really danceable. I just don't dance unless I've had a few drinks. So yeah, I'm one of those boring wedding guests who just isn't going to do anything other than chat, eat and mingle a little unless she has a little Dutch Courage to get her on the dance floor.

    That's why I think the advice here is so sound – it's a given that there will be guests like me at weddings, even dry ones, so restructuring the event so it won't matter if people dance is a great way to go.

    1 agrees
  39. Were having raggae dj and laid back late night reception with a cofffee bar I'll let you know the response:)

    0 agree

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