It has recently come to my attention that most Catholics have varying opinions regarding whether dancing is wrong or not.
Those against dancing often quote Saint John Vianney’s book, The Sermons of the Cure of Ars, and his vivid words condemning it. Some bring up the fact that Saint John the Baptist was beheaded as the result of a dance that bewitched King Herod. They also quote some of the Doctors and Councils of the Church asking the faithful to avoid wanton dancing at weddings and social events, and explaining how easily dancing can become a near occasion of sin.
Those who speak up for dancing say that even the Bible condones dancing. They mention that Miriam, the sister of Moses, danced after the Miracle of the Red Sea (Exodus 15). Some recount how David danced in front of the Arc of the Covenant (2 Samuel 6). Others remark that a number of the saints took part in dances in the Medieval and Renaissance Ages because they were members of the king’s court.
SAINT FRANCIS DE SALES - ON DANCING
I believe that Saint Francis de Sales in his book, The Introduction to the Devout Life, gives one of the most balanced and proper explanations of how a Catholic ought to react to dancing which I have ever seen (Part III/Chapter 33):
“In themselves, dances and balls are indifferent things. However, in actual practice they tend strongly toward the side of evil, and therefore are dangerous.People dance at night, and in darkened rooms. This favors certain familiarities. People stay up late and this results in their rising late the next day, causing the morning to be wasted. Consequently, they miss opportunities of serving God. Is it not foolish to turn night into day and day into night and to replace useful work with frivolous pleasure? Finally, at balls everyone tries to outdo everybody else in vanity, and vanity is favorable to the evil affections and dangerous loves which dancing so easily spawns.
Philothea, what physicians say about mushrooms or pumpkins I say about dances: The best of them are not worth much! However, if you must eat pumpkins, be careful how they are prepared, eat only a little of them, and that rarely. In the same way, if you cannot give up going to balls, be careful how you dance, doing so with modesty, dignity and the right intention.
Attend balls rarely, because no matter how carefully you conduct yourself at them, there is danger of excess in them, by becoming too attached to them.
Because they are spongy, mushrooms are said to attract the surrounding rot. The same is true of balls and other such night-oriented gatherings. They usually attract sin: quarrels, jealousies, mockery; sensual loves. These activities open the pores of the heart to be poisoned by some loose word or some folly or some wanton glance of love. Yes, Philothea, such amusements are usually dangerous. They scatter one's spirit of devotion, weaken one's strength and chill one's charity. They awaken countless evil affections in the soul. Because of all this, use them with great caution.
After eating mushrooms, one is advised above all to drink some good wine. I personally advise you to think some holy and good thoughts after a ball. These will counterbalance the bad impressions you may have received there.
What are some such holy and good thoughts? While I was dancing, some people were burning in Hell for sins committed at dances or occasioned by their dancing. While I was dancing, monks, nuns and other fervent Christians were chanting God's praise and contemplating His beauty, thus using their time far more profitably than I was. While I was dancing, many souls departed from this world in great anguish; thousands were suffering dreadful pains in hospitals... While I was dancing; the time of my earthly life was hurrying by and death was approaching nearer. See how he mocks and invites me to his dance! In that dance I shall take but one step from this life to the next.”
Dancing can easily become a dangerous pastime; however, young people will most likely still seek to partake in some type of dancing. Therefore, let us show them how to dance in ways that are respectful, so that they will stay far away from bad kinds of dancing. For those who would like additional guidance, here is a list ways in which we can know whether a certain type of dancing is good or bad:
1 – We should always dress appropriately for dancing. We should wear that which is modest, and not be vain and spend an abundance of time preparing our appearances. One should not wear clothes that does not cover oneself properly, which is tight, transparent or skin colored. If a certain type of dance requires one to dress immodestly, it should be avoided.
2 – We should always be conscious about personal space. Any dancing which requires us to be too intimate with another person can easily become a near occasion of sin against the virtue of purity.
3 – We should only go to dances which have a respectful and appropriate setting. Late night parties with dancing in a private setting or bar, having only young people and no parents, is often very dangerous. Instead, consider going to dances which take place during the afternoon or early evening, and which take place in a highly-respected public setting. Also, consider having a family member or close friend go with you.
4. – We should avoid all dancing which requires improper movements of the body. One also ought to refrain from that which requires a person to move indecently or makes one’s clothing fly improperly into the air. For participating in these kinds of frolics can easily become sins of sight for our neighbor.
If we follow these guidelines, are respectful of our neighbor, and try act always for greater honor and glory of God, dancing can easily become a means of edification rather than a dangerous occasion of sin. So, let us keep them ever-present in our minds before dances and while we are at them. Finally, let us pray to God that we may be pure and chaste at all times while attending such festivities, and that we may never be the cause of sin for another person.