Library of Congress


The Library of Congress > Teachers > Classroom Materials > Collection Connections > An American Ballroom Companion

Back to Collection Connections

[Detail] Cover of "How to Dance," 1878

These materials provide information on the art form's history and its growing popularity in conjunction with the rise of the American middle class. Topics represented in this collection include the use of dancing manuals in teaching physical education and etiquette, and opposition to dancing in the form of legislation and anti-dance literature.

Anti-dance Literature

From the early days of the American colonies to the early days of rock and roll, dancing has often been associated with immoral thoughts and actions. Many religious leaders throughout United States history have opposed dancing on moral grounds. A search on antidance yields a number of pamphlets condemning ballroom dancing for the feelings and actions it incites. One early example of anti-dance literature comes from Jacob Ide's 1818 sermon, "The Nature and Tendency of Balls," in which Ide criticizes the expenses associated with balls and dancing's "tendency to excite a vague, indiscriminate love of company" (page 15).

A more direct accusation of the corrupting influence of dancing appears in Reverend George Heckmann's "Dancing as a Christian Amusement." This 1879 treatise proclaims, "dancing is one of the propelling forces which plunge men and women down to profligacy, ruin and death," (page 24). Heckmann acknowledges that he has not danced himself but he knows that his criticism of dancing is accurate because it is based on observation and common truths:

I know it from confessions made to me. I believe it from my knowledge of our poor, passionate nature . . . I know it from remarks made and eyes feeding upon the forms of those in the dance whom we would never have looked upon but with purity, respect and honor . . . I know it from the reason many have given . . . for the intense love they have for the dance.

page 25

One member of the anti-dance movement, however, had a great deal of personal experience with dance as an instructor. T.A. Faulkner's descriptions of the evils associated with dancing in "From the Ball-Room to Hell" (1892) and "The Lure of the Dance" (1916) feature accounts of former students who were "ruined" by dance. One example from his second pamphlet reads:

She had also met the fate many others do on the way home from some dance, where their character is weakened by coming in close contact with the opposite sex while dancing . . . With a look of reproach . . . she said: "Mr. Faulkner, when you close your dancing school and stop the business which is sending so many girls by swift stages on the straight road to Hell, . . . then, sir . . . have you the right to ask me to reform. . . ."

page 11

  • What accusations do the writers of anti-dance literature make against dancing?
  • What definitions of morality are these accusations based upon?
  • Why do you think that people who opposed dancing associated so many dark emotions and situations with it?
  • What other sorts of social activities have been disparaged for being immoral in the United States during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries?
  • Why do you think that dance is so often associated with questions of morality?
  • What are the similarities and differences between the accounts of religious leaders who did not participate in dancing and that of Faulkner who was a dance instructor? What kinds of language do these religious leaders use? What are their specific objections to dancing? What motivates their objections? How does each person's background affect your evaluation of his arguments?