What Is the Christian View of Dancing?
MANY are the new dances spawned in recent years by the age of rock ’n’ roll music. They tend to last a short time and are soon replaced by others. Though fast dancing is preferred by some, others like the slow kind in which the man and woman dance together, holding each other. Among youths in some lands so-called “no touch” rock dances have become popular, the partners not actually touching but making a variety of movements. In view of such a bewildering array of dances today, a Christian may wonder, What is the proper view of dancing in the light of the Bible?
In ancient Israel, dancing was performed mostly in groups, particularly by women. When men joined in the dance, they apparently were in separate companies. There is no direct mention of mingling of the sexes in their dances.
In God’s Word 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 idolatry and dancing brought dishonor to Jehovah.—Ex. 32:1-35.
Among the ancient pagan nations, fertility dances were common. These were dances designed to stimulate the sexual passions of both participants and observers. The Canaanites performed circle dances around their idols and sacred poles honoring the fertility forces. The worship of Baal was associated with wild, unrestrained dances.
Moving forward in time, in the Christian Greek Scriptures we find dancing mentioned with no implication of disfavor. Jesus Christ, in fact, told a parable in which dancing was mentioned as part of a joyous occasion. At the homecoming of the prodigal son, his father rejoiced and prepared a celebration. Dancing took place in conjunction with the feast. (Luke 15:25) It is evident that the Son of God did not disapprove of dancing in itself; otherwise he would not have mentioned it as part of a worthy celebration.
But how should a Christian view modern-day dancing in all its variety? God, in his written Word, has set down principles that should guide a Christian in all his ways. In the light of these principles, the motives and objectives behind the dances themselves, the movements of the dancing bodies and the ideas such movements convey to participants and observers are important things to consider.
“NO TOUCH” DANCING
In virtually all rock ’n’ roll dances done by youths, the partners do not touch. The twist is viewed by many as having been the beginning of this type of dancing. An interviewer for Look magazine reported awhile back:
“The characteristic dances of our new age of revelry are all variants of the twist. . . . The dancers do not touch, they do not talk. . . . Each does whatever charade the name of the dance calls for. . . . They look as if their bodies are screaming.
“‘It’s a kind of fertility rite, designed to combat the sterility of modern life,’ says a young medical student, asked to account for his generation’s dancing style. But this is fertility magic without bodily contact. . . . A student nurse . . . says, ‘It’s sort of sexy . . . all those bodies grinding, but never touching.”’
Though rock dancing varies considerably, the movements in some of them are thus similar to those in fertility dances, and the effect can be the same. To the extent that any modern dance is an imitation of the erotic gestures of some pagan dance, then Scriptural principles would rule it out for Christians, since God’s Word warns against “shameful conduct” and “things which are not becoming.” (Eph. 5:4) Christian women are counseled by God’s Word to dress in a modest manner and to display “chaste conduct,” principles that also apply to the conduct of men. (1 Pet. 3:1, 2; Titus 2:4, 5; 1 Tim. 2:9) But many of the “no touch” rock dances are hardly modest or chaste.
It is important to keep in mind that it is not necessary for physical contact to take place for persons to have their passions aroused. Simply observing the movements of dancers may well excite passionate feelings. In particular, the male is powerfully affected in an erotic way by what he sees. That is why almost all pornography is sold to men. Hence, a young girl may not realize that dancing without touching can stimulate a young man tremendously, yet it can.
When there is fast rock dancing, with attention focused on an area of the body where the reproductive organs are, the girl may actually think it is inoffensive. Yet she is laying herself open for trouble. She may think that nothing is happening, but the boy’s passions may be whipped up, and he may want the girl in a sexual way.
Therefore, a girl should consider what kind of attraction a boy may feel for her. Is he attracted to her on the basis merely of the sexual arousal he gets from her? But he can get this pleasure from lots of other females who dress in tight clothing, gyrate their hips, and make various erotic gestures. So a girl needs to ask herself: Do I want to attract a man simply on that basis? Or do I want the kind of man who likes me for what I am? for my conversation? for the things that I feel are important in life? Am I interested in the kind of man who takes pleasure in doing things for me, or only in one who likes me for what he can get from me?
Some Christians may find enjoyment in dancing; but when any dance involves immodest behavior or is sexually suggestive (highlighting erotic movements of the breasts and hips), then they wisely avoid it, instead of feeling that they ought to follow the crowd. (Rom. 12:2) 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.
EFFECT OF MUSIC
Another thing to consider is the effect of some rock music. Concerning rock music, High Fidelity magazine said:
“No wonder parents flip at rock—sex is a cornerstone of the rock mystique, . . . ‘Let’s spend the night together’ urge the Stones, and their manager cynically states, ‘Pop music is about sex, and you’ve got to hit them in the face with it.’ Which raises the disturbing question, how much of all this is deliberate pandering to adolescent awakening physical desires?”
The dancers to such music may say that they do not listen to the words of a song; ‘they just dance.’ But if the words are immodest or immoral, or verging on such, these thoughts are still impressed on the youthful minds. In fact, the dancers can often repeat the lines they profess not to listen to. But it is not just the words of such rock music that at times goes beyond the bounds of modesty; it is the effect of the music.
Recently a researcher for the United States President’s Commission on Pornography made a study of what arouses the sexual feelings of young girls. In her study, this authority, Mrs. Patricia Schiller, found that young girls are often sexually aroused by pop and rock ’n’ roll music, especially when they are with boys. She said: “Music, by playing on girls’ emotions to arouse love and affection, frequently serves as a catalyst for love and thereby a stimulus for sexual arousal in the adolescent female. . . . The music surfaces this feeling.”—Denver Post, July 23, 1971.
So youthful Christians need to be careful as to the kind of music to which they dance. Since females, more so than males, are affected by what they hear, this is particularly important advice for them. Rock music that stirs up passionate feelings or incites to wild abandon is something that wisely should be avoided if they desire God’s approval.
What, then, about conventional dances, slower ones, in which the partners hold each other? Here the emphasis is often more on grace of movement. Married persons often enjoy this kind of dancing. A husband and wife who share in “ballroom dancing” together over the years may derive considerable relaxation and pleasure from applying their skill in such dancing, all the while having enjoyable companionship together.
But since unmarried persons might also be involved in this type of “close” dancing, the question comes up as to the extent to which they need to exercise caution. Illustrating why this is a potential source of moral danger, Dr. Fritz Wittels, M.D., comments in his book Sex Habits of American Women:
“The idea of the ball room dance . . . is to give two people of opposite sex a chance to be and to stay for a while closer together than our social habits would otherwise permit. . . . Syncopated dance music has not been favorable to prolonged maintenance of virginity.”
‘But is that not rather extreme?’ some may wonder. Interestingly, the New York Times Magazine of June 18, 1972, mentioned, regarding slow ‘contact dancing’ at high-school proms, that the boys look on it as “a legitimate excuse to put their arms around a girl and hold her close.” Is the delight involved that of graceful foot patterns and other artistic movements of the dance? The article continued: “Slow dances are five-minute hugs, back-rubs, bottom-pats.”
That sensual pleasure frequently is involved in many dances is borne out by the fact that a young man, so anxious to dance before marriage, often finds that after marriage his interest in dancing lags. His wife now may have to coax him onto the dance floor to share in the graceful dancing that she so much enjoys.
A young man may enjoy dancing, yet he may not altogether understand why. This is because natural forces in his own body are newly asserting themselves, and the young man knows they bring him a feeling of gratifying pleasure. But he has never experienced the culmination of it because he is not married. So a young man may do this with no bad intention. But if he really understands these things and tries to live by godly principles, he will seek to do as the Bible says: “Deaden, therefore, your body members that are upon the earth as respects fornication, uncleanness, sexual appetite.”—Col. 3:5.
So, if you participate in ballroom dances, considerately recognize the possibility that your partner could be stimulated improperly even though you may feel that it is not close enough for you to develop sensual pleasure from the dancing. Some married persons have decided to restrict their dancing to their own mates, thus avoiding any complications.
Each one, then, should examine his own motive in regard to dancing. Some may truly enjoy the dance itself and may have no improper motive. Not all ballroom dancing need involve holding a partner so near that there is close bodily contact. Many dances can be done in either a decent or an indecent manner, depending upon the persons doing them.
AVOIDING CAUSES FOR STUMBLING
Even though a Christian may feel he can participate in a dance with a good conscience before God because of having no wrong motive, there is something more to consider. He should consider the effect upon the onlooker. Is the onlooker likely to feel that the Christian is indulging in immodest behavior? The onlooker knows what may go on in his own mind when he sees a sensual dance, and he assumes that such thoughts are going on in the minds of the dancers. One’s saying, “My mind and conscience are clear,” is not enough, because the Scriptures are emphatic about the importance of keeping “from becoming causes for stumbling.”—1 Cor. 10:32.
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. If people recognize a certain dance as evidence of abandon, they consider all the participants to be alike. So every Christian does well to heed the apostle 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.
Also, the mature Christian will take the viewpoint of the Holy Scriptures regarding any new dance that may develop. Is such dance conducive to holy conduct? God’s Word says: “Become holy yourselves in all your conduct.” The Bible speaks out against “cravings for sensual pleasure.” It calls upon Christians to show modesty. And they 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.
So a young person, or an older Christian, in considering the Christian view of dancing, can ask himself or herself: ‘How does the dance I have in mind measure up to those Scriptural requirements?’ As the moral standards of this wicked system continue to collapse, it will not be surprising that you find quite a number of dances today are not becoming to God’s holy people. Therefore, all Christians, regardless of youth or age, should keep in mind what the apostle Paul counseled: “Whether you are eating or drinking or doing anything else, do all things for God’s glory.”—1 Cor. 10:31.