Why do we always end up dancing in a circle at weddings?

Why do we always dance in circles at weddings?

To date, probably one of the more emotional moments I’ve had at a wedding — and I’ve been to a lot of weddings, so this probably says something — is when my good friends got married somewhere in western Massachusetts around October 2013. Good crew of friends at that wedding, so to some slow song (I wish I remembered the song), we surrounded the bride and groom with a big circle as they danced. You’re talking a bunch of good friends, interlocking arms, surrounding love with love. It was a peaceful, glorious moment that I just ruined by saying “surrounding love with love,” which is the douchiest thing anyone could possibly write with a straight face (aside from “cross-functional team enhancement,” that is). Also, I tried to claim for years that I created that moment, even though in reality it happened organically. I did that because I have low self-esteem, you see?

I went to another wedding this past weekend — same group of friends, actually — and like every single wedding I’ve ever been to pretty much, we all danced to fast songs (they played the Fresh Prince theme song!) and even some slow songs in a big, group-friendly circle. I stopped and thought for a second.

Why does this always happen?

Turns out there are some reasons.

First, there’s this on general “circle dancing,” and although belting out “IN WEST PHILADELPHIA BORN AND RAISED” is not the same as the hora, this part makes some sense:

Circle dancing is probably the oldest known dance formation and was part of community life from when people first started to dance. Unlike line dancing, circle dancers are in physical contact with each other; the connection is made by hand-to-hand, finger-to-finger or hands-on-shoulders. It is a type of dance where anyone can join in without the need of partners. Generally, the participants follow a leader around the dance floor while holding the hand of the dancers beside them. The dance can be gentle or energetic.

So from that, we get two ideas:

  • The concept of dancing in a circle is old-as-hell (it harkens us back to who we are!)
  • “Anyone can join without the need of partners”

That second one is important at weddings because at any given wedding, you have a mix of coupled-off/single people. It’s also supposed to be a huge party, and aren’t parties ultimately about inclusivity?

Here’s the flip side to that argument:

girls dance in circles to keep the dudes out.  It’s a strategic tactic.  You’re clearly rejecting the presence of men, and if a dude does try to sneak up on you, all the other girls who are facing you can spot them for you and move you away, unless they’re cute in which case it’s proper girl etiquette to break up the circle (possibly reform an separate one) so that the hunk can swoop in.

That second post (from Yelp) is about dancing in circles at bars/clubs, but it can resonate at weddings too. The whole idea of the human brain — that we probably should discuss a little bit more — is to deal with threats. So maybe the concept of a circle is partially about inclusivity, but also partially about the idea that certain people shouldn’t be let into the circle. I’ve been at a few weddings and tried to ‘penetrate’ (terrible word for this context) a dance circle and been cut off by various people in it. (This is because I’m a train wreck, I’d reckon.)

Here’s my third argument:

  • Half of the reception/dancing part of a wedding is about reactions
  • Think on it: reacting to the speeches, to the first dance, to the bride/groom visiting your table, etc.
  • When you dance in a circle, someone — bride, groom, random — can get in the middle
  • They dance and people clap/woop around them
  • Reactions

Weddings are all about reactions, honestly — both for the people getting married and the people attending. So dancing in a circle helps with that, and thus it makes sense as a third tier.

You ever hit a wedding and danced in a big ol’ circle with people you knew or didn’t know? Tell me why. And don’t say “I was drunk.”


Ted Bauer


  1. “Cross-functional team enhancement,” haha! I’ve seen this circle dancing at weddings, too. Similar to what you wrote, I guess it’s a primal and visceral way of group dynamics that promotes unity and fellowship. A circle is complete, and can allow all the participants to move in unison while also giving everyone different views as they rotate, if they want.

    Makes me think of the phrase “circle of friends,” too…human wolfpacks? lol

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