Shall We Dance? Part III

From the oldest of times, people danced for a number of reasons. They danced in prayer or so their crops would be plentiful… They danced to stay physically fit and to show their community spirit. And they danced to celebrate, and that is the dancing we are talking about. Aren’t we told in Psalms 149, ‘Praise ye the Lord, sing unto the Lord a new song, Let them praise his name in dance.’ It was king David that we read about in Samuel, and what did he do? He ‘danced before the Lord with all of his might, leaping and dancing’… Ecclesiastes assures us that ‘there is a time for every purpose under heaven.’ A time to laugh, a time to weep, a time to mourn, and there is a time to dance. There was a time for this law, but it is no more. Now, it is our time to dance. It is our way of celebrating life. It’s the way it was ‘In the beginning…’ and the way is has always been, and it is the way it should be now.

Footloose 1:15:07-1:17:20

I wouldn’t necessarily recommend that we take all our theological cues from Ren McCormack, but you have to admit that he does make some good points. Obviously, dancing is mentioned in a positive light in several biblical passages and is hardly expressively forbidden in a manner like, say, incest.

Still, reasonable minds might conclude that there are forms of dance which are not God-honoring (or, if you don’t believe in God, not wise given today’s sexually predatorial climate) and would best be avoided. Furthermore, reasonable minds might surmise that this is an area where discernment and nuance might come into play, and that it might be possible to discuss the merits of certain forms of dance and certain venues and come to a meeting of the minds over what is acceptable and safe and what is not.

As it turns out, reasonable minds have convened west of my alma mater at John Brown University, a nondenominational Christian located in Siloam Springs, Arkansas in the middle of the Ozark mountains. There a 90-year ban on “social dancing” was recently rescinded after a series of negotiations between students and administrators. Mark Oppenheimer wrote an excellent article “The First Dance” which appeared in last Sunday’s New York Times Magazine which details the give and take that led to the school’s first “theme” dance, a swing contest in the school gym, and the ways in which evangelical subculture is changing with respect to its view of dancing and other previously forbidden entertainments.

It is a sensitive and well-written piece, and Oppenheimer has obviously done his research. It will only be online for about another week and a half, so I would recommend that you print it and read it in full. For those short on time, here are a couple of money quotes:

J.B.U.’s about-face, while abrupt, was not totally unexpected. In the past 10 years, several of America’s most established evangelical schools, including Baylor University in Texas, Wheaton College in Illinois and Cornerstone University in Michigan, have lifted restrictions on dancing, even as they have kept various rules against activities like drinking, gambling, smoking and, of course, premarital sex. They are opting to allow formal dances, like swing or ballroom. Of course, it’s unlikely there will be hip-hop or bump-and-grind at J.B.U. They will not be krumping. But for millions of evangelical Protestants, dancing has become increasingly acceptable. There are still conservative Christians, particularly in Baptist, Pentecostal and independent Bible-church traditions, who don’t dance, but they are growing scarce. The old joke about why Baptists won’t have sex standing up — because people might think they’re dancing — has become antiquated.


They would have fun, as it turned out. And by dressing up nicely, but not suggestively, and dancing exuberantly, but not too closely, these students and professors would say with their bodies not only that Christians may dance but also that they should. It’s a message that would sound shocking to John Brown. But in today’s evangelical culture, J.B.U. students are not unique. Their appreciation for dancing is part of a turn outward, toward secular society and toward those Christians, including many from ethnic minorities and many from abroad, who never learned they weren’t supposed to dance. As Christian campuses become more diverse and seek to prepare students for a cosmopolitan world, they are aligning with the growing number of faithful who believe that dancing can glorify God, carry the Good News and even give a secular pastime a “redemptive” purpose.

Could such an earth-shattering event ever take place at Harding University? That would depend in large measure on whether or not students and administrators can learn to negotiate in mutual respect and trust, as they did at JBU. For administrators, that means modifying their views of students as sexual time bombs ready to get off at the drop of a dance step. For students, it means being known for more than rushing the stage at a concert, to actually put in writing (and yes, grammar and spelling do count) intelligent, articulate and workable proposals.

And then students must brace themselves for being told “no.” Over and over and over. But they must persist, if not for themselves, then for future students, and then someday, when the time is right, someone will listen to them and think ya know, that makes sense, and the powers-that-be will finally say “yes.”

That’s the way it works outside The Bubble, in the so-called “real world,” and it could happen on a conservative Church of Christ college campus as well. In fact, I know firsthand that it has.

Who knows, maybe the day will come when the rafters at Rhodes Memorial Fieldhouse will be rattled by more than the sound of 3000 screaming Rowdies cheering the Bisons on to victory. If it does, I promise that I’ll even make the trip over and “busta move” or two myself–if I’m still able.

Just don’t expect me to dance as well as Ren McCormack.

  1. GKB

    Ah, but can you really have the sort of dialog necessary for this sort of change to happen when administrators are expressing concern for the “spirit of rebellion”

  2. Mike the Eyeguy

    I’ve had meaningful (and productive) dialog with all kinds of people. You should give it a whirl. You might be surprised.

    Update 7:15PM: GKB, that may have sounded a little short and I didn’t mean it to. You’re right, that’s an unfortunate quote, and not a steppingstone to good dialog.

  3. todd

    That was a great series of articles. I hope that my alma mater and its current students has ears to hear.

  4. Mike the Eyeguy

    Thanks Todd.

    I know they’re reading. Listening? Well, we’ll see.

  5. Amanda

    Interesting discussion — I’m also a semi-disgruntled Harding alum that was heartened to see and read about the “spirit of rebellion” (wow, they really said that?) taking place since I’ve been gone.

    Mostly, though, I’m commenting because you are the only other Harding-alum, Duke fan, soccer fan I’ve ever seen. We are indeed a rare breed. But an awesome one.

  6. Mike the Eyeguy


    Let me clarify in saying that I’m not really disgruntled, semi or otherwise–I love my alma mater.

    I love my sons too. And sometimes I speak plainly to them because I do.

    Ah, a rare breed indeed! Go Duke, beat those ‘Hoos!

  7. seattle

    I too am a Harding alumus of the 80s and I did dance while at Harding. I still love to dance. Dancing is a gift from God. Dancing can be very elegant, and submission is required for those following the lead, or it could get really sloppy. Maybe would should use dancing to teach couples about loving submission, to make an effort to reduce the Harding alumni divorce rate. Wait, that would be way out of the box. Instead we pressure students into marriages with the whole marriage factory scene, which definitely needs to go away.

  8. Mike the Eyeguy

    seattle–I think that what you’re proposing is no more out of the box (actually, less so) than some of the stuff Joe Beam does.


  9. GREG

    There was a lot of dancing when I was there, although I don’t recall any of it being on the Benson stage (since, evidently, Spring Sing doesn’t count.)

    Of course, I never did it. Not because it was morally objectionable, but rather visually objectionable (to those nearby.)

  10. Amanda

    Well, I’m not sure how “gruntled” I am; I only graduated in 2005, so with some distance I’ll probably grow to appreciate some of the frustrating things a little bit more. I definitely had some great times at Harding, so at the worst, I’m semi-gruntled. 😉

    In other news, I’m going to the Duke/Carolina game next week. I think we’re doomed, but I know we’ll definitely put up a good fight!

  11. Mike the Eyeguy

    Greg–I don’t believe that for a second. I heard you were quite adept at doing the Duke Shuffle.

    Amanda–Time and distance are usually good for what ails ya. As for your Big Ticket, I’m insanely jealous. Since you apparently don’t care much for Real Madrid, I’m guessing that you will at least tolerate my taste for FC Barcelona.

  12. GREG

    That reminds me… a local radio station was playing the 85 Bears “Super Bowl Shuffle” this morning.

    I officially don’t like Amanda. (I’m just kidding… sort of.) They said they were doomed in 95, and I don’t think the distance between these two teams is as great as those two, but I could be wrong.

    Despite objections from my wife, I still want to get a GTHC T-shirt.

  13. Amanda

    Ouch, Greg. Don’t envy me too hard; I’ll be in the student section, standing up for three hours or so. (Or is it because you’re a Carolina fan? In that case, I can’t help you.)

    Mike — yes, Barca is much better than Real. I don’t usually pay that much attention to the Spanish league, but man. Barca is awesome. Of course, I’m cheering for Real Sociedad, so I’m clearly not interested in *good* teams.

  14. mE

    Amanda is a soccer troll, Mike. You can almost count on her turning every topic toward the beautiful game at some point. You should discourage her.

    Alan says, “Go Heels”, btw.

  15. Mike the Eyeguy

    Greg–I don’t have the shirt, but I did get in big trouble with Eyegal for yelling that in the middle of the living room last year.

    Amanda–I can assure you that Greg bleeds Blue Devil Blue.

    Some of you may be wondering: Eyeguy, do you dance?

    Answer: Very poorly. I’ve had one group lesson a few years back. But my feet are starting to get a little antsy, though. I think it’s time to hit the dance floor again.

    *Eyegal nods vigorously in the background*

  16. Mike the Eyeguy


    Au contraire. Amanda is a kindred spirit of the rarest kind. If she is a troll, she can terrorize this blog anytime.

    Tell Alan to go to, uh, never mind.

  17. Dr. Burt

    Sometimes I wonder if Harding has kept its rules to keep business. I guess the idea would be that parents do most of the paying for college and oftentimes CofC parents will tell their kids, “We’ll pay for Harding and YOU pay if you want to go somewhere else.” Parents like the idea that curfew, websense, no dancing, no shorts, chapel every day, and the dry county will keep their kids incubated for four more years. — drburt

  18. Amanda

    Wow, Dr. Elrod, I’m hurt. Considering some of the examples of trolling you’ve had at your place recently, I’d think you’d know the difference by now.

  19. greg

    Or is it because you’re a Carolina fan

    Only death would be worse. Nevermind. Even that’s not true.

  20. Carolinagirl

    I enjoyed your quote from the movie, “Footloose.” You don’t know how dear that movie and soundtrack is to me as it came out in the spring of my senior year in high school. Being a preacher’s kid, not to mention grandkid…well…you can draw your own conclusions. Still, my parents allowed me to attend dances and so I did.

  21. Mike the Eyeguy

    Dr. Burt–there may be something to that theory. Interestingly, Lipscomb has been loosening the leash quite a bit recently, and as the father of a HS senior, I can tell you that they are using that in their sales pitch. It will be interesting to see how the competition between the two schools plays out over the next few years.

    BTW, I think we may share SW VA roots. I grew up just south of Roanoke in Franklin County.

    Greg–Easy there big guy. I think the record’s straight now.

    Cg–Ren sure used a lot of scripture to make his point, didn’t he? I think he may have been doing a little preaching himself.

  22. Lisa

    Footloose came out my freshmen year at Harding, and I distinctly remember an admonition in chapel that we not go see it. Which, of course, assured the Rialto had a weekend of sold-out shows.

    I’m glad I found your blog, Mike. I’m a Duke fan too.

  23. Mike the Eyeguy

    Who knows Lisa? Maybe we were there at the same time, shuffling our feet together!

    And I ‘m glad that another HU grad/Duke fan has found her way here. Carolina fans are welcome as well, so long as they don’t persist in inflating the number of national titles that they’ve actually won.

  24. Kate

    Okay, these are all really long, but I can’t wait to come back and read them.

  25. Laura

    Mike, you know what Jamie said about Harding. I will refresh. She wasn’t interested because it was too strict. This is coming from a girl who dosn’t party except in good environments. She does enjoy herself but in a good Christian way. Then you let us know that the rule she didn’t like was modified the week after she visited. My family were good dancers but I never got that talent. I wish I did because I think it would probably be my favorite exercise and I would love to learn. I havn’t had time to read all of your posts but my feeling is there is a place for everything and dancing is not wrong. There I am a grandchild of a elder in the church and let me tell you. He could do a jig in his days. I think you have to make your own decision but my two daughters had the time of their life two weeks ago at the Grissom High Jam dancing together. They both came home talking about how much fun that was. Well, tell me what is wrong with that. They say more of the girls dance then the guys do. I know we are at a very bad public school that would allow such things but my girls were having fun in a safe environment. Well there is my 2 cents and I consider myself pretty conservative but that was one thing my elder granddad never had a problem with.

  26. GREG

    so long as they don’t persist in inflating the number of national titles that they’ve actually won.


    By the way, was that Sean Woods playing for Virginia in the closing seconds last night??? I thought Paulus’ shot was in. (as well as Josh’s at the end of regulation.) So many chances…

  27. Mike the Eyeguy

    Kate–that’s cool, come back when you can and let me know what you think.

    Laura–I just want to let everyone know that when you talk about our “very bad public school” that you are speaking very tongue-in-cheek. It’s an inside joke, folks.

    Greg– As I commented elsewhere today, it’s obvious to me that UVa’s Sean Singletary is a churchgoer. How else to explain those two answered prayers?

    Clemson, on the other hand, has called in a priest, a rabbi, and a mullah to try to figure out what they did wrong.

  28. Laura

    Mike, yes, sorry it is very tongue-in-cheek.

  29. GREG

    sounds like the start of a joke…

    “A priest, a rabbi and a mullah walked into Littlejohn Coliseum…”

  30. Jenny V

    Mike- you have made very good arguments for allowing dances (in a controlled environment no less!)– any ‘powers that be’ reading this by chance?
    Of course, it would be one more thing to monitor- but worth it.
    It’d be so great because it’d give the kids something wholesome to do- exercise- in a wholesome environment!

    Rather than eating eating and more EATING! I speak from experience-all those banquets and sitting in 1981-85.
    Say NO to the Freshman 15!! (not to mention ‘avoiding all appearance of evil’– gluttony)

    At the end of the day a person’s behavior is between him and God- so HU, let the kite string out some and let the kids test their wings—– most have good foundations and be moderate and reasonable. Plus it’s fun!

    ps- I like what Seattle said about dancing teaching submission- wow- an interesting concept!

  31. Mike the Eyeguy

    JV–thanks for stopping by and the comments.

    So long as many members of the Board of Trustees and certain high-contributing alumni remain committed to “no social dancing” and other 1950ish norms and notions, I doubt that there will be much room for moderation.

    But one can always hope. Although, I wouldn’t recommend holding one’s breath.

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