The "New" Rules for a New Era
In our ever-changing world, many traditions are falling by the wayside. For the bride who has dreamed of having a "Traditional Wedding," she can still have it, if she's willing to concede that some elements of the fairy-tale may need to be modified. The most obvious place where concessions need to be made will be the dance structure.
Once upon a time, knowing who danced with whom, and in what order, at wedding receptions was easy:
bride and groom;
bride with father-in-law / groom with mother-in-law;
bride with father / groom with mother;
ushers and bridesmaids join in during the last one listed above; and
after a minute or so of the entire wedding party dancing, the rest of the wedding guests are welcome to dance.
Now, with today's blended families, and in the case of second (or subsequent) marriages, these rules are not as easy to adhere to for some people. The parents of the bride or groom, or both, may be remarried. The new betrothed may have children, or one or both parent(s) of the bride or groom may be absent so that they may not be able to follow the traditional rules. In that case, establish the dance structure according to the unique situation.
For example, when I married, I was a single mother and my parents were absent. Obviously then, the bride with father, and groom with mother-in-law dances weren't remotely possible. So, after the bride and groom dance, the groom's father cut in and I danced with my new father-in-law, while the groom invited his mother to dance. At the point where I would have been dancing with my own father had he been there, my new husband and I invited my son (a toddler then) to dance with us. The groom picked up his new step-son, and the three of us danced together to a song that had special meaning for the three of us.
At the point where the ushers and bridesmaids joined us, my groom and I danced together again, and my son invited a cousin to dance with him. He did this of his own accord, assuming that because all the other people in the wedding party were dancing, he should be too. It was all the sweeter because he hadn't been directed to do it, though we wished we'd thought of it ourselves!
Perhaps you have step-parents you love, and that you'd like to have included in the special dances. Feel free to do so. If either the bride or groom has more people to dance with than his or her partner, then the one with the lesser amount can invite others of the wedding party to dance. For example, if the bride will be dancing with a step-father and a step-father-in-law, but there are no equivalents for the groom, he can invite the maid of honor to dance, and then a bridesmaid.
The signal for the remaining guests to join will be when the bride and groom reunite and the ushers and bridesmaids dance together.
You can also have the band or disc jockey announce the dance order. Have him or her say something like, "After the bride and groom have shared their special dances with each other and with loved ones, the ushers and bridesmaids will join the dancers. At that point, the bride and groom invite all of you to join them on the dance floor."
If necessary, ask that one more announcement of invitation is made once the ushers and bridesmaids are on the floor. Or, the bride and groom can go out amongst the guests and choose new partners, preferably members of the new spouse's family.
Whatever the case may be, you'll find the pattern that suits you best, and your traditional wedding will still maintain the formality and old-world etiquette you were striving to achieve.