To Dance or Not to Dance

Young people, feel free to send your questions to Gerard Van Groningen at Reformed Theological Seminary, 5422 Clinton Boulevard, Jackson, Mississippi 39209. Names of those asking questions will not be published.

YOUTH ASKS: “I still have problems with the idea that Christians should not dance. I know what Kuyper taught; I also know what the Christian Reformed church’s view of dancing is. But when I read, ‘Praise Him with timbrel and dance . . . let everything that breathes. praise the Lord’ (Ps. 150); and, ‘Let them praise his name with dancing . . . for the Lord takes pleasure in His people’ (Ps. 149), then I believe that the writer of Ecclesiastes was correct: ‘there is a time to mourn and a time to dance.’”

“My friends and I discuss this matter quite often. We hear from some of our classmates in Christian high school who go to dances, and also from other young people who belong to our church, about the fun they have at dances. Are my friends and I really cutting some clean fun and joyous fellowship from our lives by not attending?”

ANSWER: Yes, we read about dancing in the Bible. David danced before the Lord with all his might when the Ark of the Lord’s presence was brought into Jerusalem (II Sam. 6:4). David’s wife was not too impressed with her husband’s dancing. David danced unto the Lord, as the Psalms you quoted called on Old Testament believers to do. But David’s cynical wife (daughter of King Saul) did not find that dancing enjoyable.

There is no doubt about it: the Bible speaks approvingly of the dance. But as far as I can see, it does so in two specific contexts. Let me say a few words about these two.

First, the Bible speaks of the dance as an act of worship. In fact, the dance is an act of very joyous, exuberant worship. David’s dance was real worship of God. Psalms 149 and 150 call for the dance in this context and undoubtedly, Ecclesiastes 3:4 refers to this also. Other passages which refer to the dance as an act of religions worship are Exodus 15:20; Jeremiah 31:13 and Lamentations 5:15. The point to note in two of these passages is that this act of worship was engaged in by women only. However, when there is a reference to the dancing of men and women together in a religious setting, it is recorded that this met with sharp disapproval by God (Ex. 32:19). It should be added that the New Testament does not speak of the dance as an act of worship in the same manner that the Old Testament.

Second, the Bible speaks of the dance as a manner of play, as a children’s game, a pastime for the young. Job refers to this when he speaks of a happy prosperous community of people who are blessed by God (Job 21:11). The young ladies of marriage age who lived in Shiloh, came together in daytime for a young ladies’ dance Ger. 21:20). Jesus refers to the dancing of children in games (Matt. 11:17, Luke 7:32). But again, not all solo or female dancing is spoken of with approval.

Herod’s daughter’s dance for entertainment purposes is certainly not to be considered a model or example for us today. There is also a reference to the music and dancing in the home of the prodigal son; the occasion for this, you recall, was the son’s return to his father and home. No details are given as to the actual participants and the nature of this family dance.

From the few Biblical references to the dance we can draw some conclusions. In the Old Testament the dance was considered an act of worship in certain specific situations. The New Testament does not refer to the dance as a form or act of worship. The dance as a pastime is spoken of as an acceptable form of “play” in certain specific situations, particularly of children playing and of young ladies enjoying themselves. Having said this, it must be added: the dance is not discussed as a specific subject. It follows then that all that one would like to know about the positive values of the dances of today are not presented in a direct, forthright manner in the Bible. And the problem becomes the more difficult because the dancing the Bible does refer to was a part of Oriental life. H is very difficult to make simple comparisons between aspects of Old Testament life and of life today.

“Is this all that you have to say to us?” I can hear parents asking. I see young people with puzzled looks, “and so, what do we do?”

Let me suggest that we not outrightly condemn the dance. Let us rather see if the dance has a legitimate place in our lives today as an act of worship and as a legitimate pastime.

Since the New Testament gives no indication at all that the dance was considered an acceptable form of worship when God’s people meet for communal worship, one would be very hard pressed to find a Biblical basis for including any kind of choreography (dancing) in any formal worship service. Whether or not some forms of dancing, which some people consider an aesthetic art, could be called worship, calls for more thought, discussion and evolution than we have time or space for here and now. This must be said, however, if one wishes to engage in dancing for aesthetic artistic purposes -let it be for only that. If this is done, most of modern dancing will be shunned.

Dancing as a pastime is really the problem that we as parents and young people face in the course of our daily lives. And it seems to me that we should be quite ready to distinguish at least five categories of dancing. Let me enumerate these and add a few comments on each.

1. The playtime dancing of children. This is an innocent form of play; of wholesome exercise and of some social value because children have to learn to coordinate themselves in various ways with others.

2. The folk dancing of children, young people and adults. This type of dancing, when strictly controlled, can be entertaining and relaxing. However, these dances must include only acceptable forms of social interactions. That is why I called for strict control of these. If this control is not there, folk dancing can degenerate very readily into very unwholesome activities. I won’t go into detail; I could tell you of some very unhappy experiences 1 have had as a Youth Leader—when folk dancing was used as a door to other activities. As young people we should realize that this is a real possibility. Therefore, when some parents and community leaders frown on folk dancing, please understand their concerns.

3. Ballet dancing. This is considered to be a highly aesthetic form of human bodily activity. All who have witnessed the graceful movements of the ballet dancers will have to agree that ballet dancing can be beautiful and can lead one to admire the Creator’s handiwork in the forming of the human body. Ballet dancing, however, can be and often is, soiled by lack of sufficient clothing or by certain types of suggestive clothing and by suggestive movements. Let it suffice to say that soiled art is neither beautiful, entertaining, nor worshipful.

4. Ballroom dancing. The place is elegantly decorated. The young ladies wear their new formals. The young men arc dressed in their best. The music is produced by a reputable group of instrumentalists. The chaperones are watchful and firm in their control. This is the situation accepted by many people today as suitable (some have said “beautiful”) for young people to exercise social graces and virtues. But I am not at all convinced that the ideal ballroom dance is a reality. I have not heard of only young ladies attending ballroom dances (something like the virgins of Shiloh, Judges 21). The fact is that front-to-front, cheek-to-cheek dancing by male and female is not socially graceful nor virtuous. It seems to me that the postures, physical closeness of the dancing partners are appropriate only for a husband and wife couple—and that in the privacy of their homes. If ballroom dancing is intended to be an aesthetic, wholesome and worshipful exercise, its character will have to be drastically altered. As it is today, ballroom dancing cannot be considered an appropriate form of entertainment for Christians.

5. The dance hall activities. The dance hall is the popular hangout—with noisy crowds, blaring horns and varied steps (including twirls, jerks, contortions, etc.). The moral tone of these places is low, the intentions of many young males are anything but laudable and many a girl has become a “victim” after a night at the dance hall. Often alcoholic drinks arc included—and this factor compounds the resultant tragedies so often initiated on the dance floor, on benches along the wall, or in dark corners outside. The dance hall is no place for a Christian. And I am convinced that the character of the “popular dance” is such that it cannot be made acceptable by transferring it to a church hall or basement, to a home or school gymnasium.

A basic factor involved in the popular dance situation, regardless of the place where it is held, is morality—specifically, sexual morality. And when I write this, young lady, I know what I am saying. In case you don’t know, let me be explicit: beware of young fellows whose red blood becomes exceedingly hot blood in a very short time! And don’t blame them for this natural reaction. Your physical closeness and the movements of your dancing body have a most exciting effect.

I conclude my reply to the query on dancing by quoting the Scriptures (1 Thess. 4:2, 3, 7, 8): “For we know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification, that you abstain from immorality . . . . For God has not called us for uncleanness, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.”

Please consider all your entertainment in the light of this divinely inspired instruction.