Sweaty Teddy

For this maestro, the weddings go on forever and the receptions never change

Well now, I get low and I get high
And if I can't get either, I really try
Got the wings of heaven on my shoes
I'm a dancin' man and I just can't lose

A wise caterer once said that every couple wants its wedding reception to be different, but they all end up being the same.

Setting up his audio arsenal requires Ted to arrive hours before the first dance.
Jennifer Silverberg
Setting up his audio arsenal requires Ted to arrive hours before the first dance.

Even when the bride and groom try to be different, they end up mimicking others. During a recent reception, Ted noticed that he seldom sees the old-style bride and groom on top of the wedding cake anymore:

"I asked a baker about that, and he said Martha Stewart said, 'Why be like everybody else? Everybody else puts a bride and groom on top of the cake. Keep it simple, keep it elegant.' The funny thing is, if everyone now is putting flowers on top of the cake, then they're not being different.'"

The sameness is moderated slightly by budget -- money does change the props and scenery. Wedding receptions vary visually from Lemay to Ladue, depending on whether the couple is throwing a buffet with plastic plates at a VFW hall or a sit-down meal served on china at a fancy-schmancy hotel.

But within a certain middle-class price range -- say, around 25 bucks a plate with booze, at a total price of $4,000 to $8,000 -- most receptions bear striking similarities. The introduction, the toast, the dinner, the cake-cutting, the bouquet and garter tosses, the first dance and the photos are differentiated by only the slightest nuances.

The emcee of this ritual, the person who not only provides the soundtrack to the evening but does the most to affect its dynamic and demeanor, is the wedding-reception DJ. Ted, 39, is a veteran of the St. Louis wedding-reception circuit. He's won nine awards in a quarterly competition for best DJ at Complete Music, which employs about 45 "mobile DJs" locally.

Ted has heard the criticism about the incredible sameness of most wedding receptions, but he refuses to take the blame. People may gripe that they always hear the same songs, played at the same times, but Ted defends himself by saying that most couples want them that way. He points to songs listed on the form filled out by Newman and Stoverink before the wedding -- selections from Grease and Van Morrison's "Brown Eyed Girl."

"These are all the standards," says Ted. "These are all their requests. That's why you hear so much of the same stuff at a wedding -- because they are popular wedding songs."

The way Ted sees it, what he plays is what the bride and groom have specifically requested or songs requested by the wedding party or someone in the audience -- or, he says, "If nobody gives me anything, then I'm just going to mix it up to see what I can do to get everybody up there dancing.

"As far as I'm concerned at my shows, there should never be a problem with music selection," Ted says. He has two ways of knowing the crowd doesn't like the music: They tell him, or they don't dance.

The two basic goals of a wedding reception DJ are related: Make the bride happy and get people to dance. Get people to dance and make the bride happy. That about sums up the science of it.

Taking requests is part of the deal, but the last thing Ted wants is the wedding-reception equivalent of the neutron bomb: a song that leaves the dance floor intact but eliminates all life-forms from it.

"Let's say I'm playing 'Hot in Herre' by Nelly and everybody's dancing, and somebody says, 'I want to hear 'Faithfully' by Journey.' I play it and everybody clears, even the guy who asked for it. And I go up to him after the song and he says, 'I just wanted to listen to it.' Well, that's why God gave you your CD player and your radio. We want people who come to dance."

Ted tells the crowd early about his two rules: First, don't bring drinks to the dance floor, and second, if you request a song, dance to it. "If your request clears the dance floor," Ted will tell the crowd, "I will know who made it, and so will everyone else in the room."

Ted even has what he calls the das ist verboten list -- songs the bride and groom don't want played. If they have an aversion to "Time in a Bottle" by Jim Croce, "Brick House" by the Commodores or "Color My World" by Chicago, they can list those as verboten songs. The same goes for line dances such as the Electric Slide, the Macarena and, of course, the Hokey-Pokey.

One guest at the Newman wedding went down that road a few months ago with a different DJ. While planning his own wedding, 29-year-old Bret Kroencke spelled out his dislikes.

"I did not want 'Cotton-Eyed Joe,' 'YMCA,' 'Celebration,' the Hokey-Pokey, the Electric Slide -- no Macarena, no limbo, none of that," Kroencke says. "No conga line." Kroencke's fiance, Janet, also asked that there be no bouquet or garter toss.

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