One of the strongest ways in which religious and cultural differences can surface is through the question of what kind of dancing to have at your wedding. Since weddings are seen in Judaism as a holy act and a kind of prayer service, most observant Jewish weddings, due to the considerations of modesty that guide traditional Jewish social interaction, have separate circles of dance for men and women. Such dancing is usually to Jewish music in big communal circles.
If you and your fiancé are facing conflicts in your own relationship over religious or cultural differences, you may want to think about how these differences will play out after your wedding in your marriage itself and especially when raising children. Talk it over now and come up with some general guidelines and productive ways of communicating about the issues in the future.
Mechitza and Other Options
Within Orthodoxy, there are some differences in the way that people separate the genders for dancing. Some will put a mechitza, a divider, between the circles of men and the circles of women. Others will have a table or plants in between to create a kind of separation. Still others erect no physical separation at all and simply designate one side of the dance floor for men and the other for women.
If you and your fiancé or your families come from different Jewish backgrounds, denominations, or levels of observance, the question of how to structure the dancing at your wedding can be an especially sticky subject. If one partner's family is Orthodox and the other's is not, it is not uncommon for the Orthodox family to expect that there be only separate dancing and for the non-Orthodox family to assume that there will be only mixed dancing for couples and perhaps for any group dancing.
This kind of dilemma can pit one family against another and can be a source of tension between the couple as they express their desires for their own wedding and advocate for their families' needs. What are you to do when both families want opposite things at the wedding and are each motivated by deeply held beliefs, traditions, and desires?
Negotiation and Compromise
These situations, especially if both families are involved in planning and paying for the wedding, will require careful discussion and compromise. First, each side should be given the space to respectfully explain why they feel the way they do and why it is important to them. Families may talk to each other or the couple can act as a go-between.
In most situations, some kind of compromise will need to be reached. For instance, if one family wants a mechitza for dancing and the other is opposed to having one, you might suggest having separate dancing and using different sides of the dance floor for men and women's dancing or separating the two sides of the dance floor with small plants, a dessert table, or both. Another possible compromise might be to have some separate dancing at the wedding and some mixed. A third way might be to let each family have influence over different parts of the wedding. One family could have their way for the parameters of the ceremony and the other for the reception. Remember that although your wedding is an important day and statement, it is not the end all and be all of how you will live your life as a couple.