How Should Christians View Dancing?
“CAFÉ society, having ignored rock ’n’ roll for years, has suddenly, by an apparent process of mass hypnosis, embraced the teen-age craze,” recently reported the New York Times. “The elite of the social set and celebrities of show business have discovered a sensuous dance called the Twist, performed to rock ‘n’ roll, and are wallowing in it like converts to a new brand of voodoo.”1 A ritualistic “voodoo twist” is even being done in West Berlin, for the dance craze has spread from New York to Britain, France and other countries. Few dance crazes in recent years have provoked so much discussion, so much controversy.
But dances come and dances go. Tomorrow’s dance fad may be entirely different from today’s. What, then, is to be the Christian’s view toward dancing, especially since styles change every so often?
PROPER DANCING NOT CONDEMNED
In the Holy Scriptures there is no outright condemnation of dancing in itself. When divine disapproval came upon dancers, as in the case of the Israelites dancing before a golden calf, it was the idolatry associated with the dancing that was wrong, although there may also have been a factor of abandon in the dancing. Such dancing brought dishonor to Jehovah.—Ex. 32:1-35.
In ancient Israel dancing was usually done by women, especially on occasions of victory over Jehovah’s enemies. Such dancing was an expression of thanks to God, an expression of joy over his victory, all to his glory. After Jehovah’s victory over Pharaoh and his army at the Red Sea, Moses’ sister Miriam led the Israelite women “with tambourines and in dances.” After God helped David defeat the pagan Philistines, “the women began coming out from all the cities of Israel with song and dances.” After Jehovah gave Jephthah the victory over the Ammonites, his daughter came out to meet him “with tambourine playing and dancing.” When the ark of the covenant of Jehovah was brought to the city of David, King David himself expressed his joy by “dancing around before Jehovah with all his power.”—Ex. 15:20; 1 Sam. 18:6; Judg. 11:34; 2 Sam. 6:14.
The Scriptures also use the word “dancing” as an emphatic term for joy or gladness, such as at Psalm 30:11: “You have changed my mourning into dancing for me.”
What about the Christian Greek Scriptures? In them we do not find any condemnation of dancing in itself. Jesus Christ, in fact, told a parable that brought in dancing on an occasion of joy. At the homecoming of the prodigal son, his father rejoiced and prepared a celebration. Dancing took place in conjunction with the feast: “Now his older son was in the field; and as he came and got near the house he heard a music concert and dancing.” (Luke 15:25) It is evident that the Son of God did not condemn dancing in itself; otherwise he would not have mentioned it as part of a worthy celebration.
Many dances, moreover, display beauty of form and step and, because of their true grace, are beautiful to watch. Rhythmic movement of the feet and body is not in itself wrong. Says one religious cyclopædia: “The Jewish dance was performed by the sexes separately. . . . in distinct and separate companies.”
How, then, should a Christian view modern dancing? God, in his written Word, has set down certain commandments and principles that should guide a Christian in all his ways. The Christian, then, has a Guidebook for determining whether a particular dance or the way a dance is performed is proper or improper. When a new dance style comes along, how would a Christian go about determining whether his participation would be proper or improper?
First, find out just what the dance is. What movements are involved? How is the dance described by observers and in newspapers and magazines? If the origin and development of the dance can be learned, this may prove enlightening. Check the facts learned with Bible principles.
To illustrate: Suppose a young adult or a parent has heard about the twist and wants to know whether it would be proper for a Christian. Well, observe how people describe it. You will likely find frequent comments in newspapers, perhaps such as this one: “The Twist, stemming from a dance called the Madison that erupted a number of years ago in Philadelphia, is a rhythmic, shoulder-shaking, hip-swiveling step in which the partners synchronize their movements but do not touch.”1 One popular American magazine devoted many pages to the dance and said: “To the song’s insistent beat the partners rock back and forth on the balls of their feet while frantically twisting their hips.”2 If local news media shed little light on the matter, one could find publications in a public library that discuss recent trends. Thus if one opened the 1962 Britannica Book of the Year, he would find several comments, including this: “There was also a revival during 1961 of two teen-age dances, the twist and the fish. They were publicly condemned by several U. S. clergymen. In late fall, the twist in particular suddenly took on the characteristics of a major dance craze. . . . It features a minimum of movement of the feet and a maximum of bodily gyrations.”
Many of the news reports will likely have a few words about the origin of a new dance, and this is true of the twist. Time magazine, for instance, commented:
“The Twist at first was an innocent enough dance; it has since been largely discarded in favor of such refinements as ‘The Roach’ and ‘The Fly.’ But the youngsters at [a certain New York nightclub] have revived The Twist and parodied it into a replica of some ancient tribal puberty rite. The dancers scarcely ever touch each other or move either feet. Everything else, however, moves. The upper body sways forward and backward and the hips and shoulders twirl erotically, while the arms thrust in, out, up and down.”3
That nightclub and its revised twist, further explained this same news report, “might well have remained just another flesh spa for the midtown beatnik crowd” had it not been popularized with café society by a newspaper society editor.
So what have you learned about this dance? In this example we have found that the dance craze mainly involves bodily gyrations and that the words used to describe them are “frantic,” “sensual” and “erotic.” You have also learned what kind of persons developed the dance and that it is basically an imitation of some pagan tribe’s dance, involving gestures of a sexually suggestive nature.
Now, what are the Bible principles and commandments that will illuminate the facts you have learned? If you do not know, ask a mature Christian. Or use the Watch Tower Publications Index to direct you to those principles. You will find many. For instance, does the dance involved conduce to holy conduct? God’s Word says: “Become holy yourselves in all your conduct.” God’s Word speaks out against “cravings for sensual pleasure.” It warns against “shameful conduct” and “things which are not becoming.” It requires modesty for Christian women. Christians are told to consider and practice whatever things are “chaste.”—1 Pet. 1:15; Jas. 4:1; Eph. 5:4; Phil. 4:8;1 Tim. 2:9.
Now ask yourself: How does the dance you have in mind measure up to those Scriptural requirements? You should be able to make the right decision now.
WHERE IS THE EMPHASIS?
Many dances put emphasis on foot patterns, accompanied by graceful movements of the body. But some dances have little to do with foot patterns and movement; they put the emphasis on body movement, which may or may not be erotic. Some dances of primitive tribes and peoples are designed to stimulate sexual feelings. The Canaanites had fertility dances. Similar ones were performed at the ancient Bacchanalia, which served as an excuse for immorality. In his book World History of the Dance, Curt Sachs expresses the belief that “hip and belly dances” of such places as the South Seas have “only the purpose of sexual stimulation. But the original goal was magical: coitus movements, like all other sex motives, promote life and growth.” If a modern dance is an imitation of the erotic gestures of some pagan dance, then Scriptural principles would rule it out for Christians. Vigorous movement in itself is not the determining factor; the polka is fast but not necessarily erotic. Nor is the sole determining factor whether partners touch one another. It is not necessary for physical contact to take place for persons to have their passions aroused. Observing the movements of dancers may well excite base thoughts or passionate feelings.
So when any modern dance puts the emphasis on gyrating of the hips and rolling of breasts by females, it is well to realize that this is not modest behavior, that this same sort of thing is done by native people in various parts of the world in their fertility dances. The Christian can be certain that it has the same effect upon people where he lives as it does among primitive people.
Christians may find enjoyment in dancing; but when they find that the dance currently in vogue in the old world is sexually suggestive (highlighting erotic movements of the breasts and hips), then they avoid it, instead of feeling that they ought to follow the crowd. Some may laugh at you because you do not go along with the crowd, but the important thing is that you have a good conscience toward God.—1 Pet. 4:3, 4.
WHAT IS THE DANCE’S REPUTATION?
The apostle Paul told Christians to hold to “whatever things are well spoken of.” (Phil. 4:8) So in determining whether any dance is proper or improper for Christians, find out what its reputation is. Worldly society or beatniks may approve a dance, but we cannot be guided by those who throw off restraint and who give first place to so-called “sexual freedom.” So what is the community feeling? More particularly, what is the feeling of your religious congregation? How would you be looked upon if you danced it? If one wanted the reputation of the twist as popularized by a New York nightclub, he might read an article similar to one written by Geoffrey Holder, a Trinidad-born dancer, who said:
“The Twist? I’m sitting this one out. It’s dishonest. . . . It’s synthetic sex turned into a sick spectator sport. . . . Social dancing was never meant to supply vicarious kicks for spectators. When it does, watch it! . . . When Antony Tudor wanted to establish his hero as a sexpot and phallic symbol in ‘Pillar of Fire,’ he came out and did the Twist—for a few seconds, to establish character. . . . From the dawn of time, the classic way of showing male potency, sexual vigor, has been the same pelvic movement. In African fertility dances, you always find it naked. Honest.”4
You do not need special articles, however, to give you an idea of a dance’s reputation. Some very short news items say a great deal. For example: “The City of Tampa has opened 1962 by banning the Twist, a new dance step, in its community centers.”5 “Moralists debated the propriety of the dance. In her column, Elsa Maxwell confided that Princess Olga of Yugoslavia had agreed with her at the Polish Ball that the twist shouldn’t be danced in public places.”6 “The White House firmly denied today that President Kennedy or anyone else danced ‘the Twist’ at a party there.”7 “The new dance, the Twist, has been banned at Roseland Dance City [New York]. ‘It is not, in our opinion, a ballroom dance,’ according to Lou Brecker, who founded the theater district ballroom in 1919. ‘It is lacking in true grace.’”8
Your local news media may also contain letters to editors that often reveal much as to what people are thinking, such as this example; “Let’s hope that the young (and not so young) bodies of our Twisters are lying, that their minds do not behave inside the way their pelvises and pectorals do outside.”9
So even if a Christian can participate in a dance with a good conscience before God, because of having no wrong motive, that is not enough. He must consider the effect upon the onlooker. The onlooker knows what goes on in his own mind when he sees a sensual dance, and he assumes that such thoughts are going on in the mind of the dancer. One’s saying: “My mind and conscience is clear” is not enough, because the Scriptures are emphatic about keeping “from becoming causes for stumbling.”—1 Cor. 10:32.
SELF-DENIAL TO AVOID CAUSES FOR STUMBLING
No Christian wants to turn people away from God’s truth because of his conduct, even when that conduct may not in itself be wrong. But circumstances may make that conduct wrong. What may be acceptable in one place may cause you to be looked down on in another. Even where a dance is accepted, if people recognize it as evidence of abandon, they consider all the participants to be alike. So every Christian will want to heed Paul’s counsel: “In no way are we giving any cause for stumbling, that our ministry might not be found fault with.”—2 Cor. 6:3.
So the divine counsel is: “Let each one keep seeking, not his own advantage, but that of the other person.” (1 Cor. 10:24) What is this advantage Christians should seek for others? It is their spiritual advantage. Being encouraging and kind is proper, of course, but such may not cost us anything; and Paul is talking about what costs us something so that the other person gets the advantage. It is a matter of conscience. Not all persons see things the same way. The Christian with an enlightened conscience may be able to do things with a good conscience but which might stumble others. The Christian must consider the all-vital objective: The salvation of others. We do not want to stumble others because of their conscience. This puts a brake upon our liberty and calls for self-restraint even in things that may be proper in themselves. We should act in such a way that nothing we do will hinder others from accepting God’s truth. This makes it a matter, not only of avoiding what is Scripturally wrong, but also of denying ourselves what we may have a right to, so as not to prejudice one against God’s truth.
If, then, we are willing to deny ourselves something that may be proper in itself, for the sake of not stumbling others, how much more so would we refrain from doing what is Scripturally improper!
Showing that the matter of stumbling others is not to be taken lightly are Jesus’ warning words: “Whoever stumbles one of these little ones who put faith in me, it is more beneficial for him to have hung around his neck a millstone such as is turned by an ass and to be sunk in the wide, open sea.”—Matt. 18:6.
We may not necessarily stumble others by a dance itself, but we could by the circumstances surrounding the dancing. For instance, what if the location where the dancing takes place has a bad reputation? A Christian would not frequent a restaurant that had a bad reputation, even if his interest there was merely for good food. He might stumble others. So location is also a determining factor. (1 Cor. 8:9, 10) Association is likewise a vital aspect, since “bad associations spoil useful habits.” (1 Cor. 15:33) A dance may in itself be proper but the whole entertainment improper if it is done in wrong association. Our entertainment should be in association with those who love God and have respect for his commandments.
It is well for Christians to remember that not every dance can be classified as either proper or improper. Many dances can be done either properly or improperly, depending upon the persons doing them. One’s motive could be wrong in a proper dance, so that it is turned into craving for sensual pleasure. A Christian, moreover, does not need a specific ruling for every new dance fad or style, because in most instances he can learn the facts and apply Bible principles. If the Christian wants to pursue an unmarried life, he may find it well for him not to dance with the opposite sex unrelated to him.
So find out what a dance basically is. What are its movements? What is its origin and development? What are people saying about it? What are the news media saying about it? What is its reputation in the community? If you danced it, what would be the effect upon onlookers? How happy we will be if, when there are reasons for doubt about the propriety of pursuing a certain course, we do the things that upbuild our brothers and do not stumble new ones! “Love builds up.”—1 Cor. 8:1.
While one’s choice of entertainment is a personal matter, a mature Christian will never insist on his “rights” in this respect when it disturbs the conscience of a fellow Christian or when it may be a cause for stumbling new ones. “Let us not be judging one another any longer, but rather make this your decision, not to put before a brother a stumbling block or a cause for tripping.” Let each one use the spirit of a sound mind. Let each one seek the spiritual advantage of others. Let each one conduct himself as he would in the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ and the holy God, Jehovah. Then “whether you are eating or drinking or doing anything else,” you will “do all things for God’s glory.”—Rom. 14:13; 1 Cor. 10:31.
1 New York Times, October 19, 1961.
2 Life, November 24, 1961.
3 Time, October 20, 1961.
4 New York Times Magazine, December 3, 1961.
5 New York Times, January 4, 1962.
6 Newsweek, December 4, 1961.
7 New York Times, November 15, 1961.
8 Ibid., issue of October 21, 1961.
9 New York Times Magazine, December 17, 1961.