Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » Problems of the Age: 27: Dancing

Problems of the Age: 27: Dancing

By: Ardis E. Parshall - April 19, 2011

For links to other parts of this series, see this chart.

For a statement on the unofficial nature (i.e., personal interpretation for discussion purposes, not necessarily representative of church doctrine) of these lessons, see this notice.


Dealing with Religious, Social and Economic Questions and Their Solution.
A Study for the Quorums and Classes of the Melchizedek Priesthood. 1917-1918.

By Dr. Joseph M. Tanner

XXVII. – Dancing

Example of Russia. – Of all the nations of Europe, Russia has been most given to social and religious vagaries. Political activities were forbidden and improvements had little encouragement. The great masses of the people are “mujiks” or peasants. They have been in intellectual darkness for centuries, and therefore a prey to all kinds of delusions. Class distinction has been persistent and most oppressive to the people at large. The distinction was really based upon work. There were those who worked, and those who did not. Labor was a badge of inferiority. The rich aspired to social distinction and the excessive pleasures which idle lives beget. Petrograd was notorious as a den of vice, and the ball-room was the center of social ambitions. The ballet was never so popular in Paris as it was in the Russian capital. It was full of scandal and the source of sex corruption.

When the revolution of 1905 broke down, writers were under as severe a censorship as in the old regime. They turned their attention to fiction, as lascivious as the unbridled social life and the ball room could make it. The dance was often the center of the so-called Russian realism. It afforded an opportunity to play upon thoughts and feelings of those whose daily lives were a round of pleasure and dissipation. The social novel with its disgusting realism of life in Petrograd was remunerative and popular.

The Russian ballet dancers were famous the world over. Their movements catered to the more sordid instincts of men and women. At one time their vulgarities were too much for most of the European capitals, who frowned upon them. In time they were imitated, and gained more and more a world-wide reception. The degeneracy of the ball-room was nowhere more striking than in the domain of the czar. The censorship did not permit any more of its weird life to reach the outside world than could not be prevented. I quote from the New York Sun of Sept. 9, 1917, dated Petrograd, Aug. 5 (by mail):

Ballet girls are being permitted to enter the learned professions. A special commission to prepare reforms in the former imperial, now state, theatres, has pronounced for the abolition of the system under which the ballet pupil could never be anything but a ballet dancer.

At the age of nine years many girls entered the ballet school of the Marlinsky Theater and spent their childhood learning to dance, receiving scarcely any general education, and were ordered to go on the ballet stage. If they refused, they were excluded from all except the lowest occupations. They were further prevented from leaving the country without special permit. The demand was so great that such a barbarous system had to be inaugurated to keep up the supply.

Corruptions of the Dance. – The revolution has broken down Russian exclusiveness and revealed to the world what before was never half suspected. Interest in the life and conditions of that country has rebounded in the desire to know more about the country and its people. The papers are full of revelations of its inner life. Psychologists and sociologists have rushed to an explanation of causes and effects. They are enlightening the world about the hidden things in the social and religious practices of its people. In the mysteries of Russian degradation they have given prominence to the dance. As an institution, it is as old as the world, and in ancient and medieval times was closely associated with religion – religion of the kind which the Hebrews were forbidden to practice.

Here is what John D. Quackenbos, professor of psychology in Columbia University, has to say in one of the New York dailies:

There is nothing new about making a religious rite out of a lascivious dance. It is palpably in accord with the bias of wanton human nature to give to the poetry of motion an unchaste rhythm and to legitimize such action with the sanction of the gods. The records of the ancient world teem with revolting narrations of dancers in honor of licentious love gods, cunningly calculated to excite the grosser passions, and commit the riotous zealots to ineffably unbridled bacchanalia. In such appeals to the sexual side of their nature men and women were made to believe by interested priests that they were doing the will of heaven.

In course of time the lecherous dance lost its devotional character. Loath to die its natural death, it revived in the epidemics known as the dancing manias that swept over Europe in the Middle Ages in periodic outbreaks of religious delusion. Thereafter the sensual dance lost its devotional kinship, and found cloister in the bawdy-houses and circles of ill-fame, whence, to the odium of Christian communities, it has been dragged of late years, to pollute society at large with its lewd mazes and disgusting insinuations. The dancing mania of the twentieth century, none the less dangerous because dissociated from dogma, si the only religion of a host of addicts in this country.

The mania of the dance has usually been a symptom of social decay, and has represented society at its worst. It has foretold the day of calamity in more than one nation of the earth. Whether the dance represents the worship of some lascivious god idol, or is an object of devotion in itself, its devotees suffer a moral loss to themselves, and bring numberless thousands to the shrine at which they worship.

Not an Evil in Itself. – Has the dance no proper place in social life? Or is its abuse responsible for the sins which grow out of it? David danced about the Ark of the Covenant while on its way to Jerusalem, to the disgust of his wife it must be said. It is one of the most universal of all forms of pleasure. It combines intimate companionship with the rhythm of movement and joyous sounds of music. David danced in a spirit of divine joy. The object of his dance was the expression he felt for a God-given achievement. Undoubtedly such pleasure has its place in the mirth of social life.

Its Control. – Its dangers, however, have been fully recognized by the latter-day Saints, who sought to control it in such a manner as to free it from the excessive pleasures and temptations that might grow out of it. Dances were opened by prayer, and the old and young mingled freely together. Any movements or attitudes indecorous were frowned upon, and a spirit of gentility was cultivated as far as possible. We need not wonder that the Saints have felt with some alarm the influence of its mania which is now sweeping over the world. It is one of the most convincing indictments against the stability of society in this age. In places it amounts almost to a disease. The youth of the world today is under a heavy tribute to it. It is literally enslaving millions. It is perhaps the best expression of the irreligious condition of the world. Its addicts have lost respect for the Sabbath, have lost the moral sense of duty, have surrendered themselves to a life of mirth, and now worship at the shrine of pleasure. It is really giving serious cause for alarm. It dictates to fashion, ignores health, and fosters indecencies. Its abolition has never been accomplished, but today it passes all control.

The ball room is responsible for the waste of untold millions; it teaches frivolity and delights in extravagance; it is classifying society by its exclusion of parents and the older members of the community; it snatches from home life and its sanctity those who need most its protection, and it obliterates God in the thoughts and feelings of its devotees.

The dancing craze is more than a symptom; it is a disease. In the New York Sun, Sept. 9, 1917,l Jane Dixon writes:

The toddle, friends, is New York’s latest dance delirium. As yet the delirium has not become epidemic. The germ of the toddle first manifested itself in the brain of one G.H.B., official delineator of the dance for the Isle of Manhattan. From the dome of this terpsichorean demon the toddle germ rapidly spread to his feet, where it manifested itself in all its violence, breaking forth in a movement half way between a fat suburban gentleman running to catch the 5:55 and a lazy ‘possum that has just dined heavily on persimmons. Do not think the toddle is Mr. W.’s only output. His is by no means a one-track mind. He has invented a pretty little idea he calls, ‘Hello, pals.’ Not a song, mind you; a dance. Hear him: ‘”Hello, pals” is the successor of our “Paul Jones.” It is a plain, unvarnished one-step. But there is a plus sign after the one-step. Partners do the one-step until a signal from the music is given, when they shake hands and recite a little poem. It goes:

‘“Hello, pals, I’m glad to meet you;
Hello, pals, I’m glad to greet you.”’

Its Sacrifice to Mammon. – How inspiring! From different parts of the world come candidates for training to this famous dancing master, soon to be a millionaire. The glare of his wealth attracts the ambition of the lesser lights. They, too, see the glitter of gold, and there are millions today in the dancing business. The dimension of this industrial life has grown into enormous proportions. Dancing is the new spirit of the age. Our little ones take to it with fresh delight. Parents who see these rare gifts pour their gold into the pocket of the dancing artist and modistes in unstinted measure. We may object, but we hesitate. Parents are old-0fashioned. They want to do what is for the best. To deny children what they seriously want is a social offense. If a decision is delayed. The dancing master is brought to the house. His persuasion is convincing. Maybe we are behind the times. Social requirements are the meat and drink of the age. We dare not ostracize our children. If we still hesitate, it is because we do not love these monsters of cruelty! Who dares face the accusation? The pace is set and we are going in full speed.

An Element of National Destruction. – The dance has the respectability of being the most ancient of customs. It was one of the strongest competitors in the race for national ruin of the ancient empires of Mesopotamia. The literature of those ancient times is full of nauseating details of dance debauchery. Those nations all went down when they had most to boast of; when in the age of their greatest glory. “Eat, drink, and be merry” is the siren of destruction. The current of modern life is tempestuous. Who can withstand it? Is the picture overdrawn? Read what Max Muller, the greatest of Oriental scholars and translators, says: He declares that had he not made in his translations copious expurgations, he would have been prosecuted for circulating obscene literature.

Duty of the Church. – Do the ball room and the Church have anything in common? One represents the joyous side of life, the other religious. The Church must have its guide and its guardian. The ball room is without either unless, as among the Latter-day Saints, it comes within the regulation of Church organizations. It is not easy outside of these organizations to control the excessive tempting pleasures of the dance.

From the Ball Room to Hell is the title of a book by one who professed to know the dangers of the dance. The book created some comment at the time it was published. It has passed out of memory. The passions of pleasure rarely yield to reason. Are we yielding to what we know to be a dangerous social condition? It is hard to withstand a constant pressure. We grow tired and break down very often. Society is honeycombed to the center by all kinds of excesses, extravagances, delusions, improprieties, vices, and shames. “A calamity howler” is no answer to the signal of social dangers. The war is laying bare many of the world’s shames which before had been covered by artistic drapery.

Dancing is now a profession. Its devotees must be up-to-date. There is money in every newly invented dance. Professionals have sprung up by the thousands. New steps are the rage. Formerly this form of pleasure was conducted at night. Now it goes on day and night. Schools of instruction are multiplying rapidly. It was once one of the cheapest of all pleasures; now it is most expensive. Once it was a pastime for the entire community; now children would be ashamed to see an attempt on the part of the parents and elders to dance. It is creating a class distinction, always a source of danger to social life. Shall the mania be suppressed? Can it be cured? The disease is in the mind. It is vastly more difficult to cure mental diseases than physical ones. The coming generation will be inheritors of the dread disease. It is said that nothing today contributes more to race suicide than the dance. The habits of youth are not easily broken off by married life. Children are in the way, they are an obstacle which must be prevented. Conversations in the home and in up-to-date society too often hinge upon the discussions of the ball room. Criticisms and snobbery are rife. Ridicule is encouraged. The serious side of life is barred.

Revelations. – “Say nothing but repentance unto this generation. Keep my commandments, and assist to bring forth my work, according to my commandments, and you shall be blessed” (Doc. and Cov. 11:8).

“Do you believe in a personal devil?” That is often a question put by even many of our own people. Where does the devilish spirit of an abandoned age come from? It is a disease of the mind, we are told. Just a disease that may be cured by some scientific treatment, we are told. It is not popular to believe in a devil. What has God said about the devil?

“And it must needs be that the devil tempt the children of men, or they could not be agents unto themselves, for if they never should have bitter they could not know the sweet” (Doc. and Cov. 29:39. Read more of same section).


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