The Bible’s Viewpoint
Is Dancing for Christians?
“I CANNOT watch this. I’ll have to step outside,” whispered the young man to his wife as he rose from his seat and left the room for a walk in the cool night air. He was embarrassed.
He and his wife had been invited to a social event by friends. The hosts had decided to put on a floor show that included three women dancing. The rest of the audience seemed unperturbed. Was he being overly sensitive? Were not the dancers simply expressing inner emotions and enjoying the freedom of dance? Let’s try to understand dance from the Christian viewpoint.
Dancing Is Communication
One of the ways humans communicate is by means of gestures or movements. For example, when in a foreign land, many visitors have been surprised to learn that a movement they considered innocent has a different meaning there—perhaps an undesirable one. A former missionary to the Solomon Islands, Malaysia, and Papua New Guinea commented: “In some areas sexual overtones are associated with certain body movements. For instance, when a woman is seated on the floor, it is considered improper for a man to step across her legs. Likewise, it is just as indiscreet for a woman to walk in front of a man who is seated on the floor. In both cases sexual connotations are immediately perceived.” Whether we are aware of it or not, our body movements speak. It should therefore come as no surprise that throughout history dancing has been used as a form of communication.
The full range of emotions may be expressed in dance—from the joy and exuberance of a celebration to the solemnity of religious rite and tradition. (2 Samuel 6:14-17; Psalm 149:1, 3) The New Encyclopædia Britannica states: “The dancer communicates with the audience in two distinct ways, either through an outpouring of emotion through the body as well as the face or by a complex language of mime and gesture.” In some dances the communication may seem to be loud and clear. In other dance forms, the language may be understood only by an informed few. For example, in classical ballet the hand on the heart indicates love, whereas pointing to the fourth finger of the left hand signifies marriage. In Chinese opera walking in a circle indicates a journey, whereas circling the stage while holding a horizontal whip suggests riding a horse; a black flag trailed across the stage is a storm, while a light blue one signifies a breeze. Thus in dance movements and gestures, the body communicates. But is the message always proper?
Dancing—Proper and Improper
Dancing can be a delightful form of entertainment and exercise. It may be a clean and open expression, showing a joyous physical response to the sheer pleasure of living or appreciation of Jehovah’s goodness. (Exodus 15:20; Judges 11:34) Some group dances and folk dances can be enjoyable. Jesus, in his illustration of the prodigal son, even referred to a company of dancers, evidently a hired dancing troupe, as part of the festivities. (Luke 15:25) So, clearly, the Bible does not condemn dancing per se. However, it does warn against the stimulation of wrong thoughts and desires. It is in this regard that certain types of dancing may be immodest, even dangerous to one’s spirituality. (Colossians 3:5) From ancient times dancing has on occasion been erotic and has lent itself to harmful purposes.—Compare Matthew 14:3-11.
Our Adversary, Satan the Devil, knows that the combination of dance movements and improper thoughts is a powerful weapon in his hands. (Compare James 1:14, 15.) He is well aware of the sensual allure of the body in movement and of how it can set erotic thoughts racing. The apostle Paul warned that Satan is bent on seducing us so that our “minds might be corrupted away from the sincerity and the chastity that are due the Christ.” (2 Corinthians 11:3) Imagine how pleased the Devil would be if we by our observing or participating in immodest dancing should allow our minds to dart off into the undergrowth of immoral thinking. He would be further delighted if our uncontrolled desires were unleashed and we became enmeshed in the brier of improper conduct. He has used movement and dance to that end in the past.—Compare Exodus 32:6, 17-19.
Proper or Improper—How to Determine
Consequently, whether a dance is done by groups, by couples, or by one person alone, if the movements evoke impure thoughts within you, then the dance is harmful to you, even though it may not be to others.
Some have noted that in many modern dances, the partners do not even touch each other. However, is touching really the issue? The Britannica sums up the matter by saying that “the end product is the same—physical pleasure in the activity of dancing and sexual awareness of a partner, whether embraced or half-consciously observed.” Is “sexual awareness of a partner” wise outside the bonds of marriage? Not according to Jesus’ statement that “everyone that keeps on looking at a woman so as to have a passion for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”—Matthew 5:28.
Whether you take the floor or not is your choice. Reflection on the following questions may help you to decide wisely. What is the object of this dance? What is its reputation? What do the dance movements accentuate? What thoughts and emotions do they stir in me? What desires do they stimulate in my partner or in those who are looking on? Certainly, one should react to one’s conscience, as did the young husband in our introduction, regardless of what others do.
The Bible indicates that the Creator wants us to enjoy the gifts of beauty, rhythm, and grace. Yes, enjoy them—but keep in mind that when you dance, your body speaks. Remember Paul’s guidelines at Philippians 4:8: “Whatever things are true, whatever things are of serious concern, whatever things are righteous, whatever things are chaste, whatever things are lovable, whatever things are well spoken of, whatever virtue there is and whatever praiseworthy thing there is, continue considering these things.”
[Picture Credit Line on page 26]
Picture Fund/Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston