Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » “Praise the Lord with … Dancing”

“Praise the Lord with … Dancing”

By: Ardis E. Parshall - February 04, 2011

(D&C 136:28)

Okay, so I don’t suppose there’s going to be any way to avoid snickering entirely, but try to control the guffaws, eh?

In 1917, the young ladies of Boise Ward’s teen class wanted to put on a special presentation for their Sunday School. Talks? Nah, everybody did that. Music, either vocal or instrument? Done that, too. Recite poetry? No! Something artistic! was called for.

They liked Charles Wesley’s hymn “Jesus, Lover of My Soul”:

Jesus, lover of my soul, let me to thy bosom fly,
While the nearer waters roll, while the tempest still is high.
Hide me, O my Savior, hide, till the storm of life is past.
Safe into the haven guide; oh, receive my soul at last.

Other refuge have I none; hangs my helpless soul on thee.
Leave, oh, leave me not alone; still support and comfort me.
All my trust on thee is stayed; all my help from thee I bring.
Cover my defenseless head with the shadow of thy wing.

Such dramatic images it created, with its flying, and rolling, and hiding, and hanging. Why, you could almost dance to it, couldn’t you?

Dance? Well, why the heck not?

Ladies and gentlemen, I bring to you the Pantomime Drill of “Jesus, Lover of My Soul,” presented by the Theological Class of Boise Ward Sunday School in the spring of 1917, under the direction of Sister Lydia W. McKendrick.

(Sisters Labrum, Taylor, McMillan, Worthington, Arthur, Daniels, and Asbury)



  1. Oh, my! What grace! What feminine beauty! What comedic possibilities!

    I really was hoping for some moving pictures, or at least a whole portfolio of stills!

    Comment by Mark B. — February 4, 2011 @ 8:16 am

  2. Maybe I should have put this up as a caption contest before telling you what it really was, to capture some of those comedic possibilities. Too late, oh, too late!

    This is, I am afraid, the single particle of that Pantomime to survive into the 21st century.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — February 4, 2011 @ 8:25 am

  3. The costumes and the poses are funny enough, but the icing on the cake is their choice of music. Adolescent girls thinking of Jesus as their lover and opening their arms to embrace him is good for years worth of laughs.

    Comment by Mark Brown — February 4, 2011 @ 9:20 am

  4. Another thing to consider. Those costumes didn’t make themselves. Combine the time and effort spent making costumes with time and effort spent in rehearsal and you get probably hundreds of hours. But they probably also enjoyed it as a group, so maybe that is where the value lies.

    Comment by Mark Brown — February 4, 2011 @ 9:26 am

  5. yet another perspective on the question, “Do Mormons Dance?” (We just answered this question at MW…too bad this came a day or two later!)

    Comment by Michelle — February 4, 2011 @ 9:31 am

  6. This made me think of a dance that was performed at the Jubilee celebration of the Manti Temple. I’ll scan a picture and send it to you Ardis.

    Comment by J. Stapley — February 4, 2011 @ 10:34 am

  7. Wow. It’s not often that I’m speechless, at least not in front of a keyboard, but wow.

    Comment by Researcher — February 4, 2011 @ 11:08 am

  8. Maybe the alternative to the caption contest, would be to suggest other tunes from our hymnbook for interpretive dance, including costumes. How about “If You Could Hie to Kolob?” Everyone could wink their eyes in unison at “in the twinkling of an eye”.

    Or “Put Your Shoulder to the Wheel,” complete with large wooden wagon wheel prop, and the original words “the world has no use for the drone”, with someone in a bee costume?

    Still, it’s a nice picture here, before you know the full story, and then snickering, although discouraged, is almost inevitable.

    Comment by kevinf — February 4, 2011 @ 11:51 am

  9. It’s so totally alien to our aesthetic and worship, isn’t it? But it fits in so well with other artistic performances from the period … of which the pageants at Manti, the Hill Cumorah, Nauvoo, and elsewhere are the only 21st century vestiges. The 1920 exercises described in this earlier post are not that much different, too.

    I have some pictures of other events in this vein and guess I’ll post them from time to time.

    J. Stapley has sent in the picture he refers to in #6. Rather than crowd it into a small comment box, I’ll post it separately. If the Boise Pantomime Drill tickled you, his picture is going to put you in stitches.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — February 4, 2011 @ 12:32 pm

  10. Thinking of religious dances, my mind went back to David, who had his own problems with dancing:

    2 Samuel 6:14-16

    14 And David danced before the Lord with all his might; and David was girded with a linen ephod.

    15 So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouting, and with the sound of the trumpet.

    16 And as the ark of the Lord came into the city of David, Michal Saul’s daughter looked through a window, and saw king David leaping and dancing before the Lord; and she despised him in her heart.

    Tough dance critic, that Michal!

    I hope the young ladies of Boise got better reviews.

    Comment by Mark B. — February 4, 2011 @ 12:42 pm

  11. And now from a dancer/dance professor:

    This photo, and story, brought a smile – not a snicker or guffaw – of appreciation and awe.

    This event happened during the time of Isadora Duncan (considered by many to be the mother of modern dance), Ruth St. Denis, and a very young Martha Graham. “Interpretive dance” was gaining momentum as the breakaway from ballet’s strict forms, rules, posturing. People everywhere were finding they could express themselves in new ways of movement.

    As an LDS dancer/dance teacher, I can fully appreciate the desire these women had to express their faith and love of the Lord through dance. There are many people who just don’t understand that sometimes words and music just aren’t enough. Sometimes you just have to MOVE.

    I applaud their commitment, hard work, courage to create and perform, and deep faith. I wish I could have been there.

    Y’all ought to check into some modern dance history. Your impression of this photo and what it means might be a little different.

    (Check out history of dance in the church, too. Did y’all know Brigham Young and his fellow brethren danced in the celestial room of the Nauvoo temple? :) )

    Comment by Mel — February 4, 2011 @ 5:22 pm

  12. Yes, many of us knew that. Brigham wasn’t doing a free-form expressive dance, though!

    Thanks for your comment, Mel, and the way it was delivered.

    I’ve held off on writing some posts I have in mind about pageants and tableaux until I can figure out how to do them right. It’s inevitable that something so foreign (familiar, maybe, but alien to our present tastes) will draw smiles and more; still, I’d like us to understand what they meant to our grandparents, even if we aren’t successful in appreciating them in the same way.

    How about a guest post on Mormonism and dance, any aspect, from any part of our past, recent or distant?

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — February 4, 2011 @ 5:42 pm

  13. Mel,

    I appreciate your comments, too, and would love to see a guest post on this subject. You have to realize that I am pretty much unable to dance any kind of dancing, due to a genetically impaired sense of rhythm and movement. I either look like I’m counting real slow (which is true) or unable to control my feet in relation to music (also true). As a result, I’m jealous of those who can dance, and my only defense is to make fun of them before they can make fun of me. My wife will attest to my complete failure as a dance partner of any kind.

    What this picture did bring to mind was the Ladies Guild of River City, dancing to the poem Ode to a Grecian Urn, which must have been near to this same time frame. I suspect that this particular performance may have been better done.

    Comment by kevinf — February 4, 2011 @ 5:54 pm

  14. The River City ladies was exactly what I thought of!

    Comment by Carol — February 4, 2011 @ 9:35 pm

  15. Ardis,

    I’d love to write a post about dance and the church. Let me work on it – I’ve never made an official post of any kind, and I want to make sure I do it right.

    Thanks for the invitation.

    Comment by Mel — February 5, 2011 @ 7:42 am

  16. Unfortunate that we aren’t open to dance as worship.
    Michael mocked David’s expression of love and devotion. Which of the two would we rather be?
    Some of our comments about this photograph remind me of the repressive, repressed husband in D.H. Lawrence’s The Rainbow, who objects to his wife’s dancing prayer to the Lord, alone, she thought, her body heavily pregnant body and nude.
    D.H. got a lot of things right.

    Comment by Steve — February 6, 2011 @ 4:02 pm

  17. I think comments have been far more a startled reaction to an unfamiliar art form than outright disapproval.

    If a ward group unexpectedly put on this performance today, out of the blue (the way this picture and the whole idea took readers by surprise), we would interpret it as affectation and irreverence. That would be an appropriate reaction, I think, according to present understanding, taste, and experience, because if anyone surprised us with this in a church meeting today, she would be deliberately choosing to break the pattern of worship and probably to shock.

    Whether or not dance-as-worship would convey worship today or not, I think Keepa readers have demonstrated a remarkable ability to understand startling events and practices in the Mormon past, as long as there is an adequate explanation of what was going on, and why. I couldn’t provide that kind of context for this exercise — I recognize that the dance was intended to be devotional, but I didn’t know and couldn’t explain *why* these sisters found it devotional. Mel has begun that education in a small way by suggesting that for some people, in some situations, movement is necessary in order to express their deeply felt emotions, and by hinting at the background culture of the then-blossoming interpretative dance movement.

    I hope that Mel can deepen that understanding of what was going on here with a guest post … or two or three … that will help us feel a shared sense of worship and Mormon-ness with these young women of the early 20th century.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — February 6, 2011 @ 4:20 pm

  18. “Lovely ladies, lovely. Now turn. Take the body with you. Lovely. Now let’s have a go at our Grecian Urns.
    One Grecian Urn…
    Two Grecian Urns…
    And a fountain…trickle, trickle, trickle.
    Splendid, ladies. I predict that our Delsarte display will be the highlight of the Ice Cream Sociable. Now gentlemen if you’re ready — And ladies remember — don’t make me tell you again. Always keep your face to the audience.”

    – from “The Music Man”

    Comment by SLK in SF — February 7, 2011 @ 10:04 am

  19. I’m late checking this post, but I am surprised to find that one of the young women is probably my aunt! My father’s family (Arthur) grew up in Boise. There are eight young women pictured, and only seven names listed, so I’m not quite sure which one she would be,,,*rats*

    Comment by Julie — February 9, 2011 @ 9:41 pm

  20. Cool, Julie — I wish I could help about the names. I noticed the disparity in the numbers, and am guessing that the director/choreographer/whatever she is, Lydia McKendrick, is the additional young woman. That doesn’t help you sort out who is who, though.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — February 10, 2011 @ 12:54 am

  21. Did this come from the Juvenile Instructor? Could you give me a citation? Thanks!

    Comment by Julie — February 11, 2011 @ 11:40 am

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