How to Open a Wedding Dance Floor

As a wedding DJ, it is commonplace to look out into the ballroom and observe a diverse sea of guests typically dominated by middle-aged adults. Guests range in age from 8 to 80, and as the DJ it is common to panic - at least briefly, thinking, “how am I going to pack tonight’s dance floor?”

As a DJ, creating dance floor magic is part art and part science. The topic of this blog is to explore how DJs open a wedding dance floor and create an environment that entices guests to dance. We have asked some of our very own music mixologists to reveal their favorite songs and techniques to mobilize guests to the dance floor. Not surprisingly, answers varied widely reflecting style differences.

If you attend weddings, we’d love to hear how you like a DJ to open a dance floor. If you are a wedding DJ reading this blog, we’d also love to hear your preferred techniques. Please leave us a comment!

Techniques to Open a Wedding Dance Floor

DJ Gregg Ambient - “I view a dance party as analogous to a workout. There should be a warm-up period, followed by faster beats and eventually a peak. After hitting the peak, I’ll typically drop the tempo dramatically and program one or two ballads, before building it right back up again. I like to open my wedding dance floors mid-tempo and groovy in the 95 to 110 beats per minute range. Some of my favorite party starters are: “I Can’t Wait” - Nu-Shooz, “Rock Your Body” - Justin TImberlake, “Get Down On It” - Kool & The Gang, and “(Shake, Shake, Shake) Shake Your Booty” - K.C. & the Sunshine Band, “Rock With You” - Michael Jackson, or “All Night Long” - Lionel Richie. For some crowds, line dances are the catalysts to quickly pack the dance floor. Of course, reading the crowd at hand is also essential. Dimming the lights and firing up dance floor lighting also creates the proper mood. Finally, I try never to give away the most popular tracks too early in the dance set. For maximum impact, I drop them later in the party, only after the guests have earned them!”

DJ Larry Sargent - "Of course I cater my approach to each unique crowd. However, left to my own devices, I like to start in a rock n’ roll oldies type of vein. A typical set that I use is: "Some King of Wonderful" (cover version) - Huey Lewis, "Runaround Sue" - Dion, "Mony, Mony" - Tommy James & the Shondells, "Wooly Bully" - Sam the Sham, "Devil with the Blue Dress"- Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels, "Dance to the Music" - Sly and the Family Stone, and "Shout!" - Otis Day. From here, I’ll give guests a break by programming a couple of slow dances, then bring them back up with a disco set before leading them to current dance music."

DJ Brett Gash - "I have had the most success starting off with classics like “At Last” - Etta James, or “Unchained Melody” - The Righteous Brothers - but it depends on the age of the crowd. I find that starting classic puts the crowd at ease now that they know the DJ will play music they are familiar with. Some good starting sets are “Can’t Help Falling” - Elvis Presley into “Runaround Sue” - Dion (same basic key); or “Unchained Melody” into “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch) - The Four Tops. I don’t hit the line dances right away unless advised by the bride and groom or their family members. Sustaining it from here, I build the energy through decades, for example jumping from Motown to the Bee Gees to Love Shack to Mambo #5 into Pitbull, and see how the crowd reacts. If they are jamming to 60s and Motown, I’ll stay there. If they dig the newer stuff, there is plenty of current dance music that is wedding crowd friendly."

DJ Iron Mike - An avid crowd reader, Mike was a bit reluctant to surrender any particular formula, preferring to personalize his set to the room. However, when pressed, Mike said that he would tend to pick a track to appease to the older guests, such as a track by Michael Jackson. For example, something like “The Way You Make Me Feel.”

DJ Mike K. - "I usually try and go with a genre/songs that everyone is familiar with.  I usually start with something like "Don't Stop Til You Get Enough" - Michael Jackson.  I sometimes follow that with "Blurred Lines" - Robin Thicke w/ Pharrell and T.I.  Then follow that up with "I Gotta Feeling" by the Black Eye Peas.  I don't usually go with the line dances until about 15-20 minutes after opening the dance floor." 

DJ Spinz - "Years of trial and error have made my style lean more toward starting a dance-floor slowly, instead of jump trying to slam on dance tracks and force the issue. My philosophy starts with the way I program for dinner music. Most times I will slowly ramp up the energy by moving into slightly faster but mellow dinner music selections as we are getting closer to the end of the meal. Some examples: More Than A Woman- Tavares (version), All Night Long- Lionel Richie, Do I Do- Stevie Wonder, Just The Way You Are- Bruno Mars, Senorita- Justin Timberlake, Baby Baby- Amy Grant.

Once dinner has concluded I try to engage as many of the guests as possible with a familiar and danceable track. I don’t like to start out too fast. A typical opening set for me would look like: Runaround Sue- Dion, Crazy Little Thing Called Love- Queen, Twist & Shout- The Beatles, and Brown Eyed Girl- Van Morrison.

Personally I am a very active crowd reader and gauge the energy in the room and lean on my expertise to plot a course forward during an event. Weddings are unique because of the diversity of musical tastes and the variety of age ranges. It is best to "touch all the bases", as you never quite know what might make the floor come alive. The crowd that were Pop fans last week, is not tonight's crowd who may be Classic Rock fans. Use your notes, playlist, and trust your gut to take some chances. I have found most Brides and Grooms do not care if you deviate from their playlist a bit if your intuition creates dance floor magic. Here is a sample Dance set that contains all the elements to getting a dance-floor started, Classics, Grooves and Top 40:"

DJ Spinz's Wedding Party Starters

  1. Happy - Pharrell Williams
  2. Get Down Tonight- K.C and The Sunshine Band
  3. Gettin' Jiggy With It - Will Smith
  4. Can't Get Enough Of Your Love- Barry White
  5. Lady Marmalade- Labelle
  6. Respect- Aretha Franklin
  7. Never Gonna Give You Up- Rick Astley
  8. Sexy Back- Justin Timberlake
  9. Billie Jean- Michael Jackson
  10. Treasure- Bruno Mars
  11. Bust A Move- Young MC
  12. Boogie Shoes- K.C and The Sunshine Band
  13. Blurred Lines- Robin Thicke
  14. Groove Is In The Heart- Dee-Lite
  15. Raise Your Glass- Pink
  16. Firework- Katy Perry
  17. Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough- Michael Jackson
  18. Calabria- Enur
  19. September- Earth, Wind and Fire
  20. You Shook Me All Night Long- AC/DC
  21. Calle Ocho- Pitbull

DJ Steve Moody - Steve is a respected industry colleague based in Maryland and former DJ Times, “DJ of the Year.” His technique is to create a massive, packed dance floor, “hands in the air” scene for the song immediately after the Bride and Groom’s first dance. To help stage the action, he asks for help from the bridal party prior to the grand entrance. This explosive dance opener is typically to a modern, high-tempo, euphoric dance floor anthem (think Pitbull). This opening scene “sets the tone” for the entire evening, indicating to guests that this is not going to be just the average wedding reception.

In Summary - All DJs cited in this article are successful wedding DJs, yet offer widely different methodologies for mobilizing a crowd. No approach is right or wrong. Have a candid discussion with your wedding DJ about which technique is best for your wedding!

To learn more about our musical ideas for weddings, check out the Ambient DJ 2014 Wedding Music Master Class here.

About Ambient DJ Service

Ambient DJ Service is an award-winning, full-service mobile DJ entertainment company based in Central New Jersey. We enjoy collaborating with clients to create unforgettable family celebrations. For more info, visit us on the web at www.ambientdj.com