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James Dodson

[from The Reformed Presbyterian and Covenanter, April 1868, 109-113.]


THAT is the tune for the light fantastic toe. We claim for promiscuous dancing the authority of the varied experience and the great name of Solomon, as well as the sanction of the Word of God. This is not only the logic of the irreligious, but many professors of religion thus defend the practice of dancing as an amusement. These latter persons will be thankful for a candid examination of the Scriptures on this subject. If they clearly sustain the custom, then it may be followed with no misgivings and with the assurance that they are in the line of duty. And if the Scriptures do not sanction promiscuous dancing, as an amusement, then they will not be misled, but will conform their practice to the obvious rule of propriety.

We will admit, for the present, that Solomon settles the matter that there is “a time for dancing;” that is, a proper time. But you will notice that he does not tell us when that time is, nor under what circumstances it is proper to dance—whether at sunrise or mid-day, at sunset or midnight; for it would be as criminal to dance at the wrong time as riot to dance at the right time. Religious persons in this country will agree that the Sabbath is not the proper time, though we cannot tell how soon the Parisian fashion may control even here Professors will admit that dancing, as an amusement, would not be proper at a meeting for prayer or religious inquiry. Nor would it be well to mingle the sound of the viol with the broken-hearted sobs of widowhood and orphanage at a funeral. It would shock the good sense of the community to read that the last night of the condemned murderer was spent in his cell with his friends in the merry dance. As there are many times where it would not be proper to engage in dancing as an amusement, it is strange that Solomon, so wise and thoughtful, had not settled the question absolutely by designating the proper time; but in vain do we look for any hint from him in that direction. There are only three ways in which we can regard his language: these we shall notice.

Is it a command?—If so, then dancing becomes a duty binding upon all, and especially upon all professors of religion—the old, the young, ministers, elders, deacons, vestrymen, and the whole rank and file. But a dancing minister, elder or deacon would hardly be endured by any evangelical church. But if the words of Solomon, “a time to dance,” are a command, we do not see how the officers of the church can perform their whole duty if they neglect dancing personally, and by exhortation urge it upon all the members. To forbid ministers would be as bad as the Roman Catholics, who exclude their priests from marriage, which is one of their seven sacraments. The context will allow us to receive the words as a command, for it reads “a time to kill, to break down, and to rend,” &c.

Is it a permission?—Does not Solomon, by this language, permit those who feel inclined to dance to engage in it as an amusement? Precisely the same permission that he grants to those who feel inclined “to kill” to engage in that as an amusement. By no principle of interpretation can we get from that text a permissive sanction for dancing that we do not equally get for killing. As Solomon has thrown no guards around any to shield them from the assassin’s knife, then all are equally exposed, and the assassin is permitted to make his choice, and, when arraigned for murder, plead at a bar the divine permission as given by Solomon. We cannot allow this; therefore, permission for dancing must be given up.

True meaning.—The King of Israel simply states the conclusion to which his observation had led his own mind; which was, that there are times when men do kill, heal, break down, build up, weep, laugh, mourn, dance, rend, sow, love, hate, make war and peace, &c., &c. But he leaves the responsibility for these acts with the persons who perform them. These form the great items of history in every age. “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose.” Ecc. 3:1.

Kind of Dancing.—As the words of Solomon give no intimation of the proper time to dance, so they are equally silent as to the kind of dancing which is proper and scriptural. The kind now in fashion is promiscuous dancing, or dancing in which males and females unite, and in some of them the personal juxtaposition is a peculiarity. Solomon does not tell us whether the men danced by themselves, or the women danced by themselves, or men and women mingled promiscuously. As he is silent upon this very important part, we are driven to other portions of the sacred volume for light. The word, in its varied forms, occurs about twenty-six times. An examination -of these would exhaust the scriptural testimony. These easily range themselves under three aspects.

As a Solemn Religious Act.—When the Red Sea was passed safely, then, the grateful nation expressed their thanks to God in songs and dances. Ex. 15:1. Miriam, then not less than ninety years old, “took a timbrel in her hand; and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dances.” Again (Judges 20:19-23) we read of the annual religious festival at Shiloh, where dancing formed part of the service. David also “danced before the Lord with all his might” on the occasion of the removal of the ark (2 Sam. 6:13-14), for connected with this was the sacrifice of oxen and fatlings. In Ps. 149:3, he says, “Let them praise his name in the dance;” and 140:4, “Praise him with the timbrel and the dance.” In all these cases the dance was not an amusement, but an act of religious worship. It occurred among a people accustomed to express both joy and sorrow by violent external actions. Joy by the dance and loud shoutings; sorrow by wailing, tearing the hair and garments, strewing themselves with ashes, and disfiguring the countenance.

The world’s people do not desire the dance as a religious act. Nor have we yet heard that professors of religion put their dancing parties on the same ground as they place the prayer-meeting and the preparatory lecture, as a solemn religious service. To mingle prayer, the reading of the Scriptures, and an exhortation not to be conformed to the world, with the sound of the viol, the polka, and the reel, would be regarded as an unequal yoking of diverse kinds. It would shock piety and dampen amusement. It is amusement, and not worship; it is pleasure, and not religion, that is sought after. Thus far the Scriptures only speak of dancing as a religious service.

As a Public Expression of Joy.—When Jeptha returned from his conquests, his daughter, as an expression of her thankful joy, “ came out to meet him with timbrels and dances.” Judg. 11:34. When David came back from the slaughter of the Philistines (1 Saml. 18:6) “the women came out of all the cities of Israel singing and dancing.” This incident is referred to in two other places, in each as an expression of grateful thanks, but never as an amusement. When the Prodigal Son returned, the father in his gladness killed the fatted calf, and the elder brother when he drew near the house heard music and dancing. Luke 15:25. It was the way that people at that age expressed their joyful gratitude. The prophet (Jer. 31:4-13) as also the Psalmist (30:11) tell of the tabret and dances, as the evidence of blessings restored; and when affliction is sent upon them, he speaks of the dance turned into mourning. Lam. 5:15. The utter ruin of Babylon is noted by satyrs dancing there. Isa. 13:21.

Connected with Evil.—When Moses came nigh unto the camp (Ex. 32:19) he saw the calf and the dancing. This was the golden calf, and with shoutings they danced before it in the idol worship. This did not please Moses, for his “anger waxed hot.” It was when the Amalekites “were spread abroad upon the earth, eating, and drinking, and dancing,” (1 Saml. 30:16) that David smote them. As then, so now, eating and drinking are the associates of dancing as an amusement. “The harp and the viol, the tabret, and pipe, and wine are in their feasts; but they regard not the work of the Lord, neither consider the operation of his hands.” Isa. 5:12. When Michal, the wife of David, “looked through the window and saw him leaping and dancing, she despised him in her heart.” 2 Sami. 6:16. The reason is thus explained (verse 20): “How glorious was the King of Israel to-day, who uncovered himself to-day in the eyes of the handmaids of his servants, as one of the vain fellows shamelessly uncovereth himself.” She thought it unbecoming in him, as the king, to dance, even as a religious act. For in that day dancing, as a personal amusement, was so incongruous with respectability, that it was practiced only by the “vain fellows.” Cicero in his day says, “No one dances unless he is drunk or mad.” The respectable Romans had hired dancers; persons whose trade it was to dance for pay, and not for their own amusement. In Matt. 14: 6 we read that the daughter of Herodias danced before them and pleased Herod. The tragical result was, that John the Baptist was murdered. The stubbornness of the Jews was illustrated by those who would not dance when they were piped unto, nor would they lament when they were mourned over. Matt. 6: 17.

There remains only one more passage. Job 21:6-15. Here the worldly prosperity and fullness of pleasure is set forth; but the contemplation of it deeply affected the pious patriarch. “I am afraid, and trembling taketh hold of my flesh.” “They send forth their little ones like a flock, and their children dance. They take the timbrel and harp, and rejoice at the sound of the organ. They spend their days in wealth.” The result: “Therefore they say unto God, Depart from us; for we desire not the knowledge of thy ways. What is the Almighty that we should serve him? and what profit should we have if we pray unto him?” Here is the result: The pen of inspiration has recorded it, that the dance, when practiced as an amusement, alienates the heart from God, and makes spiritual religion unwelcome.

It is a fact, that dancing-parties are not a means of grace, either to the unconverted or to professors; that the dancing members are not the most spiritually-minded, and the most steady and active at the prayer-meetings and self-denying labors for the spiritual welfare of their fellow-men; are not the joy and comfort of their pastors, and are not regarded by the world as the best specimens of consistent piety. Surely pious parents can hardly desire thus to train their children. Nor can they imagine that such a training is in keeping with the vows made at their baptism.

Conclusion.—Having thus carefully examined every text in the Old and New Testaments in which the word occurs, we are led to the following conclusions:

1. That dancing was a religious act among idolaters as well as the worshipers of the true God.

2. That it was practiced as the demonstration of joy for victories and other mercies.

3. That the dances were in the day time.

4. That the women danced by themselves; that the dancing was mostly done by them.

5. No instance is recorded in which promiscuous dancing by the two sexes took place.

6. That, when the dance was perverted from a religious service to mere amusement, it was regarded disreputable and was performed by the “vain fellows.”

7. The only instances of dancing for amusement mentioned are of the worldly families described by Job, the daughter of Herodias, and the “vain fellows.” Neither of these had any tendency to promote piety.

8. That the Bible furnishes not the slightest sanction for promiscuous dancing as an amusement, as practiced at the present time. The dancing professor of religion must not deceive himself with the impression that he is justified by the Word of God. If he still holds on to the practice, let him find his justification from other sources, and say frankly, I love the dance, and am determined to practice it, Bible or no Bible.—N.Y. Independent.