Students are not allowed to social dance or go to dance clubs, bars or other inappropriate places of entertainment.
—Harding University Student Handbook, page 11
Another crowd of souls is led in their wantonness to abandon themselves to clumsy motions, to dance and sing, and form rings of dancers. Finally, raising their haunches and hips, they float along with a tremulous motion of the loins.
Arnobius c. 305 CE
Social dance–a major category or classification of danceforms or dance styles, where sociability and socializing are the primary focuses of the dancing.
Since the early days of the church, Christians, such as Arnobius, have struggled to make peace with the reality that they must live their lives in material bodies, complete with urges, instincts and natural cycles and rhythms. In an effort to set themselves apart from their pagan neighbors, many early Christians gave in to the philosophy of Gnosticism, which held that the body was inherently evil and impure, and that natural inclinations and urges such as sex and moving ones body to the rhythm of music were to be sublimated, and in most cases, subjugated completely.
For them it was all or nothing, with no room for nuance or discernment. Unfortunately, there is still much Gnostic residue that clings to Christianity today, particularly the Protestant evangelical forms which form the backbone of the American church.
My alma mater (Hail!), Harding University has long had a “no social dancing” rule on the books, but in reality has allowed for a great deal of movement from the student body. For instance, the annual Spring Sing Festival showcases the dance moves (er, I mean “choreography”) and singing talent of the school’s social clubs for large audiences at the Benson Auditorium.
For the most part, it’s been a real win-win for the administration and students like. The University gains the benefits of many visitors who spend a lot of money to attend the show and in many cases are impressed enough to send their kids there. For the students, it’s a great way to get a little “footloose” and blow off some pent-up hormonal steam around the time of the Spring equinox when human beings, probably for reasons lying very deep within the lower brain, seem programmed to party one way or another.
Of course Spring Sing, in typical Church of Christ fashion, is dancing done in a “fittin’ and orderly way.” That’s in contrast to the spontaneous and soulful kind that erupted on the Benson stage during the Robert Randolph & The Family Band concert last Friday night. As you can tell from this video of “the fiasco,” there’s still a fair amount of institutional angst over the idea of students shaking their boo-tays in a public way.
Several things are worth noting about this scene. First off, the song that RR was playing was called “Shake Your Hips,” a catchy little ditty which had it’s intended effect. Apparently it’s a tradition for RR to invite audience members on to the stage during that number, which he obviously did several times.
You’ll also notice that when the first couple of male audience participants came on to the stage, there was no reaction from security and concert workers. But when two female students join the fray from stage left, the powers-that-be start getting nervous and spring into action. Apparently (no real surprise here if you ever attended Harding) it’s okay for Adam to strut his stuff on stage, but woe be unto Eve should she show up on the scene and demand equal time. As it was in the beginning, Eve opens the floodgates to good times. Indeed, once again, “it was the woman.”
I showed this video to a veteran concert goer and expert on concert etiquette, Number One Son. Number One has seen his share of live performances, and as typically one of the lighter weight concert attendees, can often be spotted bobbing along, crowd surfing near the front row. Here is his reaction:
Of course he didn’t mean that in a critical or judgmental sort of way, but instead in a I-wish-was-there-and-in-the-middle-of-that sort of way. For him, and my other two sons who watched as well, there was a warm feeling of respect and camaraderie directed toward the Harding students who, in the momentary passion of a number well-played, did what came natural.
At this point I have to play the role of the responsible “old fart” that I’m supposed to be and empathize with concert organizers and the administration. I’m sure that RR signed a contract, whether he knew it or not, which forbade excessive amounts of “audience participation.” Secondly, there are always concerns when something like that happens of injuries, legal liabality, yada, yada, yada.
Besides, at most concerts in most places, audience members bum rushing the stage is typically forbidden. Try doing that at your typical Lynard Skynard concert, where the tooth-to-tattoo ratio of your average front row fan is extremely low, and you’re likely to find yourself being tossed offstage by bald, burley men with numerous body piercings wearing “SECURITY” t-shirts. And I promise you they’ll do it with considerably less timidity than Barney Barbara Fife.
Okay, now that we’ve got that out of the way, let me speak to the Harding student body as an alumnus of twentysomething years: WAY TO GO GUYS!
Although I’m sure you have your critics outside The Bubble in alumni-land, I think I can speak for many a Harding alum who bent, broke and smashed a few rules “back in ’82” in saying that we are so proud of you! Had you guys not taken the stage after being urged on by RR, you would have been remembered as the lamest concert crowd in music history and we would have given up hope altogether–assimilation would have been complete.
But as it is, you have sealed your legacy in Harding lore, and, in the tradition of all those who have gone before you who dared to agitate and stir the pot, given a conservative, button-down institution a touch of spice and a much-needed kick in the pants. I doff my hat and expose my balding head to you.
I suspect that after all the excitement has died down a bit and folks have had a chance to think it through, that the University response to this will be fairly even-handed. There’s really nothing to be gained from an excessive crackdown, especially with numerous nosy alumni bloggers hanging around rubbernecking. I suspect that quiet measures will be taken to try to insure that such a scene will not be repeated.
But still, the whole incident begs several questions: Is it wise to continue to ban “social dancing?” Wouldn’t it be better to make peace with the reality that Church of Christ college students can and do dance (and more often than not, don’t end up in bed together afterwards)? Is it time to consider policies that would produce a healthy venue (aside from highly-controlled choreography festivals) for students to give vent to their natural urges to “busta move” or two without resorting to “inappropriate places of entertainment” on the sly? Is it possible to institute such policies while remaining sensitive to the concerns and feelings of all involved?
I believe that it may be. In Part III, we’ll look for answers to such questions. Ironically, they can be found, not “near the foothills of the Ozarks,” but to the west, in the middle of the Ozarks themselves.