Mexican rap and line dancing: how to rock offbeat wedding music without alienating your guests

Updated Mar 15 2021
Guest post by Staci Nichols
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Worrried that your Nyan cat DJs may miss the mark with your wedding guests? Here's some tips from a real wedding DJ on how to make it work. (Photo by HarmonEyes Photography)

At our wedding, I wanted country and my groom wanted Mexican rap. Obviously, we had to make some compromises as neither are big crowd-pleasers. As a wedding DJ myself, I work with many brides who want me to quickly throw out their labor-of-love offbeat playlists when they see their dance floor is empty or their guests are leaving early.

But if you're not about to force tofu on your Texas relatives, and you're not insisting that no one drinks because you don't drink, consider the same line of thinking when it comes to your wedding music. Decide now what things are going to be about you on the big day (dress? vows?) and what is going to be about your guests (food? music?).

There are plenty of places in your wedding music line-up to express your personal style without scaring off your guests:

  1. Ceremony prelude music (what the DJ plays before the ceremony as guests are being seated)
  2. Your big entrance song — anything goes
  3. The last dance — fast or slow, it'll get the guests out of their seats
  4. Dinner and the cocktail hour are great opportunities for offbeat, non-danceable stuff
  5. Ask your DJ to use indie tunes for the slow dances
  6. Lots of indie bands remake popular tunes — ask your DJ for the Afghan Wigs version of "Creep" instead of the original by TLC.
  7. Lots of songs have dance remix versions… or ask your DJ if s/he can custom remix three or four of your fave jams especially for the occasion
  8. When I give context for an offbeat song guests are a lot more motivated to dance to it… ask your DJ to explain the cute story behind the Bikini Kill song before hitting "play."
  9. Research popular wedding tunes and make a list of the songs you can't stand: "Brick House," "You Shook Me All Night Long," "Shout," "Gangnam Style," "Cha Cha Slide," "YMCA." Pass the list along to your DJ so s/he can include "everybody favorites" at the reception, minus the ones that'll have you hurling.
  10. If the bride and groom are not dancing, the guests will dance a lot less
  11. Consider having a no-dance reception — your non-offensive indie jams can be played at a lower volume while you serve rockin' coffee or wine with some romantic lighting and an after-dinner lounge set up

I've seen a lot of discussion about avoiding cheesy DJs and not wanting to give up control of the reception to a DJ. (Sometimes I feel like wedding DJs are wedding community pariahs — I don't have cheesy cooties, I swear!) I was a bride too — I get it. I had to "give up control" of my reception, which was even harder as a fellow wedding DJ.

Having said that, remember one thing. Cheesy DJs persist because, for the most part, wedding guests eat up the cheese. I'm a Seattle-native with a nose ring and feminist tattoos who has had green, blue, and pink hair and been a strict vegetarian for 20 years — I do have some offbeat street cred. Yet I still lead line dancing lessons during weddings I DJ because I keep hearing how much fun they are.

Just keep an open mind. If you take the time and effort to plan properly, you can both entertain your guests and enjoy yourself.

  1. Great post! I knew some people who were into goth and industrial, but figured they'd choose something neutral for their reception music and played swing, jazz, and big band. Except, no one wanted to dance to it! Not their friends, not their family. I think it's important to accommodate as wide a range of preferences as possible.

    • We're also into goth and industrial music and were thinking of toning it down and going neutral for our reception. I'm glad you said this didn't work, because now I don't feel bad about wanting to squeeze some of our favorites in with the other stuff family wants to hear – country, a couple tejano songs, some pop – this is gonna be one crazy playlist!

  2. I think this post really touches at the heart of a lot of my early planning musings. My fiance and I are very interested in having an authentic celebration of our love/commitment, but we also don't subscribe to the idea that the wedding is ONLY about us and no one else. It's also a way to celebrate our community, and I would have a hard time feeling like I was truly celebrating our specific community if we only played punk rock, David Bowie, indie pop and house music at our wedding, as much as it is probably a truer reflection of our tastes (and even, in a lot of ways, our relationship). No one – give or take one or two people – would actually ENJOY it. But at the same time, if our families had their way, our music would be nothing but Billy Joel and reggaeton (which, for us, would be a special kind of hell – no offense to anyone who loves both or either!).

    What I love about OBB is how they offer practical ideas for how to fully embrace your own weirdness but still truly celebrate (and yes, compromise to a certain extent) for the sake of your beloved community. I really loved the idea of choosing which things are just for you and which you can soften, as well a specific ideas for where you can play meaningful music.

    So yeah, we'll probably have some Billy Joel and reggaeton. And we'll definitely rock out to some of the Labyrinth soundtrack too. It's all about balance, balance, balance. It's a great metaphor for the whole!

  3. "If the bride and groom are not dancing, the guests will dance a lot less."

    I kind of hate this, because I know it's probably true. I don't really want to dance at my wedding. I'm sure i'll be on the dance floor for a few choice songs, but otherwise I'd rather mingle on the outskirts and occassionally sneak out the back door for a moment to myself.

    • Can confirm it is true. Every wedding I've been to has had dancing, and the two where nobody wanted to dance had the same thing in common: bride and groom didn't want to dance. Just putting the thought out there: if you don't want to dance, why have dancing instead of some other activity that you like more? I understand wanting to accommodate guests who really like dancing, but most likely no one will miss it if you're not doing it yourself. People will want to be wherever you and your partner are.

  4. I think it is entirely possible to have non-popular dance songs during your dance party. Depending on the environment, there are always cases where people dance to stuff they are not familiar with, especially if it is exemplary (see Todd Terje's 'Inspector Norse' or 'House Of Jealous Lovers'.) Not everyone has to dance to every song, unless that is what you want, of course. I personally like to add the weirder requests near the end of the dance party, as it is winding down. I also am totally in favor of adding some weird stuff in there because it is your wedding and gosh darn it, if you want to hear post-rock and EBM, you darn well should. But then again I did force obscure Italo Disco on all of my guests at my wedding. But I second what Staci says – for the most part, saving the more obscure stuff for the cocktail hour and dinner is a good idea.

    • Hi DJ Domenica…Agreed–weirder stuff at the end is also good and has worked for me as well. I did a wedding in June that was primarily Top 40 and Salsa/Cumbias….but they told me to throw in Flogging Molly. It fit perfectly about 45-30 minutes from the end when everyone was already pretty loosened up….turned out to be the highlight of the night, but it would've bombed the first 2 hours for sure.

  5. Hahaha I love reggaeton,Billy Joel, goth, industrial, 80s,90s pop, Latin pop, middle Eastern beats and everything in between….I love this article!! ( oh and our first dance is to Within You from Labyrinth)

  6. I was in charge of dance music (for my relatively small wedding, less that 40 people including the bride and groom), and I think my own personal preferences were last on my list of priorities for actually dancing (examples: December, 1963, because my high school friends remember line dancing to it in P.E., and U Can't Touch This because my mother loves it, Soul Man for my dad, Ke$ha's TiK ToK because my now-husband loves that Star Trek Tik Tok Youtube Video, er I should mention my wedding was "time travelling" so I gave myself a lot of leeway as to what was danceable music). But I was also totally willing to be the only girl on the dance floor (apparently my family/friends didn't think ABC's the The Look Of Love was an awesome dance song, which is weird because they were totally willing to do a spontaneous folk dance/circle skipping to The Safety Dance). Honestly the best part of the dance music for me was having people I knew would like the music say, spontaneously, "Oh man, I love this song!" while I thought "Yeah, I know, I chose it because I know you love it!"

    Although I admit I spent a fair amount of time assuring people we were slow-dancing to We've Only Just Begun because we liked the film 1408 ("no, really, it's super scary if you've seen the film", "No, no, this is ironic!").

  7. awesome article! this is really huge. if you find a really good wedding DJ, it won't be "cheesy" at all… we found an awesome DJ for ours who was young, cool, and able to blend our very specific music tastes with enough popular music that it made everyone happy. he had us give him a "if you play this, we'll kill you" list (so goodbye, Y.M.C.A. and the Electric Slide) as well as the songs that we really really wanted. then at the beginning of dinner, he went around to all of our guests and introduced himself as our "entertainment director". the guests loved him, and the music was so good no-one sat down all evening. more than a year later, people are still telling us is was the most fun they've ever had at a wedding, that it was more like being at a nightclub.

    on the other side — i went to a wedding once where the couple hired a band that played only the specific kind of music the couple liked… only maybe 10 of the guests knew how to dance to that kind of music, so everyone else sat for the entire reception. i felt bad for the couple that they paid so much for only a few people to dance, and felt bad for the guests that many of them had traveled a long way for the wedding and they had to just sit there.

    so yes, yes, yes to this article. there's a way to have a balance, keep your style and musical tastes intact, and make sure your guests enjoy themselves as well!

  8. Wow! Such great feedback! I sincerely hope everyone has a fun and memorable wedding reception. I understand the "bad rap" wedding DJs have gotten…but there is someone out there perfect for your wedding…it's just your job to find them! If anyone's interested, I have a free eBook I offer prospective clients called "Wedding DJ 101." Contact me and I'll send you a copy. (I'd post the link but I'm on my phone…not sure how….)

  9. I love punk, my fiance likes prog metal, but we both like ska. We are possibly having a ska band there and then our DJ we'll have play the most crowd friendly options from what we like, and anything crowd friendly that we can stand. There will probably be a lot of salsa since half of my family is Hispanic and seriously who doesn't like salsa?

  10. I think ska is a great example of a type of music (like DJ Domenica mentioned above) that you can be unfamiliar with but still find it danceable. Plus, have your DJ or someone throw in a Skanking lesson and you will have a seriously fun and memorable night watching everyone trying to skank!!! Love it! And, yes, salsa is right up there with Michael Jackson for all-time best crowd pleasers (the only crowd that doesn't like salsa is the one that wants all banda, corridos, and zapateados, in my experience).

    • Great list, Domenica! I'll keep it handy. LOL "all knowing one" you're nice 🙂 Next time I'm at home visiting in Seattle, we have to meet in person! Do some "girl wedding DJ" shop talk.

    • Thanks Meagan! Yes, most brides under-prioritize and under-budget their DJs. Stats show brides are focused on their dress, venue, and centerpieces….reception entertainment is a low wedding priority unfortunately. But we're trying to inform and educate!

  11. My FH has to reign me in when it comes to crowd-pleasing music, which is weird because it totally puts us opposite of our normal roles. I hate most things hip-hop and rap, and many things pop (known universally as popular dance music). Instead, I like alt/Indie rock, classic rock, geek/wizard rock, musicals, and strangely, house. My FH convinced me not to inflict all of this on our unsuspecting guests, though, and to give our DJ much more freedom than I had initially thought to. As he put it, "The DJ is the professional, who knows how to keep a party going. That's why they get paid. They have to have freedom to work, though."

    He made some good points. It is hard to relinquish control, though… still, I'll have a few important things on my must play and do not play list. (One of the first things? No songs that are blatantly negative about love or promote infidelity. I'm looking at you, Uncle Kracker's Follow Me and Hinder's Lips of an Angel. I went to a wedding once that played both these songs. It was weird.)

  12. Laura, your FH is wise! Trust me, you'll dance to stuff at your wedding that you wouldn't tolerate under other conditions because it's "for the greater good," you know what I mean. You'll be happy seeing your guests happy. Not sure about other DJs, but I put a lot of attention towards keeping the music "love positive." So I know there are a lot of good songs that are never going to see the light of day at a wedding (CeeLo Green FU, for example) I'm DJing. (A lot of great slow dances too that are sad that I know I'll never get to play–EVER–nobody wants to hear tear-jerkers at a party). At a bridal show last weekend, the lady at the booth next to me commented about how she'd heard one of the other DJs at the show play like a break-up song and when she walked by his booth….and that that was something she would certainly not want at her wedding

  13. Just remembering a wedding I did in July where someone requested "Live Like You Were Dying" by Tim McGraw….my jaw dropped. I said, "I can't play that at a wedding" (Plus, I knew the bride was battling cancer). The person told me it was for an inside joke and I could just play 20-30 seconds of it. PHEW!!!! OK, no prob. Done!

  14. These are great tips for incorporating personal music styles without having the guests think you're crazy or inappropriate! Great post!

  15. I got to the part where you said you were a Seattle native and was like "oooo! oooo! I choose you Pikachu!" and then read that you are in Cali now. This makes me sad. What makes me happy is this awesome article, because I've been wondering about this same idea for months now. Thanks!

    • Ruby….not to worry!!!! DJ Domenica (whose comments appear above) IS based in Seattle. She's also a rockin' female DJ like myself….and also an offbeat vendor like myself. She even had her wedding published on HiFi Weddings….really, you'll be in good hands with her. This is her website: http://www.lostinmusicseattle.com. Thanks for your comments–glad you found the article to be timely!!!!

  16. Loved this article! My fiance and I have encountered a few issues as far as reception music goes. He likes Cradle Of Filth and hardcore rap, and, well… I'm a Hanson fan. I'm sure you can see where there'd be some differences of opinion. I also know that, with the exception of a few guests, no one probably wants to hear a ton of either kind of music. This has definitely helped in narrowing down our music choices, and having the reception guest-friendly while still offbeat 🙂

    • Morigan, glad to hear it. I find that I can get wedding guests to dance to "Mmm Bop" (and 90's boy bands) IF I explain that this was the bride's fav jam in 7th grade and she had her walls papered with Hanson posters, etc. If you just play the songs WITHOUT an explanation, your DJ better head to the bathroom to avoid the dirty looks everyone will be throwing. With the explanation, things go well (especially if your girlfriends/bridesmaids were into Hanson back in the day too). Check it out in this wedding I DJed in November: http://blog.revolutionwed.com/2013/12/10/lauren–alex–elegant-quirky-and-woodsy-with-a-twist-of-cerebral.aspx

      • I love it! 🙂 The joke has already been made by our mutual friends who know my love of Hanson a little too well and are working the audio for our ceremony site, that they're going to "accidentally" going to play "Mmmbop" instead of my choice for the song I walk down the aisle to. Funny enough, my dad also INSISTS on doing a father/daughter guitar jam (as opposed to a dance) to Hanson's "Watch Over Me."

        We're working both of our favorites more into our ceremony and the "quieter" times of the day, such as the ceremony prelude and dinner. We haven't figured out a grand entrance song yet, but I'm digging my fiance's suggestion for a Dropkick Murphys song 🙂

  17. We just met with our DJ recently, so I can kinda feel this. My fiancee's super into power metal, and I love punk, and neither makes for particularly danceable music for most people (though we figure we can squeeze in a couple power metal ballads for slow dances) 😉 Even that aside, there were a few times we had to veto songs we loved, and add a few songs we were personally feeling kinda meh about cos probably a bunch of people would like them…

    I'm happy, though, that enough of our family & friends love Asian pop music that we can get away with playing a few songs & actually expect that people will dance to them! Girls Generation, here we come 😀

  18. Hah … maybe a weird comment, but I'm just beginning the wedding planning process and this is genuinely one of the bits of that I'm most scared of!!

    My hubby-to-be and I are both very much into our music, and feel it takes up a big part of our lives (more so his, as a guitarist and sound-technician), so letting go of the reins is going to be very, very difficult. We're still not sure about the idea of a DJ if it wasn't someone we knew, so we had an idea of what to expect … I don't know how much our families would love a black metal/prog/folk/industrial/ambient/sludge rock reception, though. We do at least know some very talented jazz/lounge musicians who I'm sure would be willing to perform for us, which will be good.

    On a semi-related note, trying to convince my parents that the idea of having a bagpiper did not appeal in any way, shape, or form was like pulling teeth. Hazards of being Scottish.

    *edits* – posted this and it tacked on as a reply to a previous comment rather than a fresh one – hope I'm not coming across as spamming by reposting!

  19. Agree and Disagree with some of the points here… We changed our minds several times about whether or not to do the music ourselves or hire a DJ. We liked the idea of keeping a measure of control over the music, but weren't certain we could pull it off ourselves. We also were of the mindset that the whole point of hiring a DJ was to let the professional do their job and let there be one less thing for us to worry about. But when our top choice was booked and the only options we could find that didn't make us cringe were way over budget, we had no choice but to do our own music.

    It's a daunting task, coming up with playlists for pre-ceremony, ceremony, cocktail hour, dinner and a four hour reception. Not only did we choose music that fit our own tastes, but we sent an email out to each of our guests inviting them to add their own favorite song to the reception (we're fortunate to have only 30 guests and only a couple of songs others picked that we don't like). We also know most of our guests well enough that we could include things that we know they (and in most cases, we) like.

    We do have a lot of quirky things mixed in that will likely leave some guests scratching their heads (like the opening credits theme from Disney's A Haunted Mansion, themes from Dr. Who and Torchwood and an X-Files dance mix) but our guests know and love us and they *know* we're offbeat. They're coming to a same sex, Gothic-Victorian handfasting. I think they'd be disappointed if we had Vanilla, standard faire reception music. If you're spending a lot of time and effort to make your wedding *day* a unique expression of you and your spouse, why stop at the ceremony?

  20. This is the first party you throw together as a married couple; your party playlist should be fun for all. I like Bjork as much as the next offbeat kid, but I would never play Bjork at my wedding. Make it fun and crowd pleasing while making it a reflection of you as a couple.

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