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Antidance Literature

Ritual and ceremonial dancing had played a significant role in ancient Rome. Dance had also been important in early Judaism in the ancient Near East, and there is mention in both editions of the Talmud and in the responsa. However, dance was not part of early Christian religious practices because, as author J. G. Davies (1998) has noted,

[in Christianity] the journey of the soul was regarded as a never-ending war against the flesh, because body and soul were conceived of as being in opposition. This quite unbiblical denigration of the physical aspect of human nature supported the view that dance had no place in Christian devotions.

Although there are records of sacred dancing within the medieval Christian church, the official position of medieval church clergy was ambivalence. Vehemently against any aspects of pagan ceremonies, church leaders could not, however, deny that dance was mentioned in early biblical writings as part of joyous celebrations. Medieval religious visual arts often represented positive images of dance and music, but dance was never admitted into the Roman Catholic liturgy. (Some leniency was extended to certain churches that had already established dance as part of religious ceremony, for example, Spain's El baile de los seizes). However, the early church was not successful in stopping social dancing, and its ongoing, enormous popularity is attested by numerous church documents that condemn the practice.

Often, early antidance literature did not object to dance per se but attacked contemporary social dances. This was reflected in Jean Boiseul's 1606 treatise, Traité contre les danses, published in France. Boiseul claimed that while biblical dance was "joyous and spontaneous," seventeenth-century social dances, including the courante, branle, and galliard were immoral. In 1869, more than two hundred sixty years later, W. Wilkinson in The dance of modern society claimed dance was perfectly innocent; however, the "modern manner of dancing" was unacceptable, and he noted that a ball was simply a "massing together of a jostling crowd of mute or merely gibbering animals." Thomas Faulkner's colorful 1892 treatise From the ball-room to hell, was completely devoted to the dangers of the waltz.

Most antidance treatises acknowledged the presence of dance in the Bible and offered numerous apologies. In 1867, J. G. Jones's An appeal to all Christians claimed that biblical dance was the result of "fervent piety, and a heart over flowing with gratitude." The most popular explanation, which appeared in a large portion of this literature, was based on the assumption that dance in the Bible was danced by and for women and only for religious purposes. Embellishments on this theme included the suggestion that dancing in biblical times was performed in the fresh air of the outdoors during daylight hours, never in closed rooms or during the night as was the practice with balls. While women were generally viewed positively in these circumstances, Thomas Faulkner's 1916 The lure of the dance and Revels A. Adams's 1921 The social dance both stated that women should not dance because, by nature, they were weak. Indeed, they preached that women needed protection from dancing and from the potential lustfulness of men.

Other arguments against dance in the nineteenth century included suggestions that dance was bad for health and was a waste of time and money. Examples of such ideas can be found in N.L. Rice's 1847 A discourse on dancing; Jonathan Crane's 1849 An essay on dancing; G. Heckman's 1879 Dancing as a Christian amusement; James Hubbert's 1901 Dancers and dancing; and the anonymous 1904 Immorality of modern dances.

By the nineteenth century, antidance literature was widely published and disseminated, especially in the United States. Often, the literature was based on sermons. The nature and tendency of balls consisted of two sermons given by the Reverand Jacob Ide in 1818. Ide noted that not only was dance contrary to Scripture, but balls were too expensive and excited undesirable feelings adding that the resulting love of company would end in idleness. Social dancing inconsistent with a Christian profession, an 1849 sermon of B.M. Palmer of South Carolina, warned readers that those who danced were "fallen and depraved, subject to the domination of wicked passions." Kentucky author W. Gardner's 1893 sermon, Modern dancing, preached that dance was dangerous to health, piety, and usefulness.

Some antidance writers based their arguments on the Ten Commandments. Carl Bogatzky's 1750 Schriftsmässige beantwortung der frage, published in Halle, Germany, added gambling to areas in need of reform and his treatise was an attempt to prove that dancing (and related behaviors) broke the covenants. The anonymous Observations sur les danses, published in Lausanne in 1830, noted that just as the biblical golden calf had represented idolatry, the pleasure derived from dance also represented idolatry, thus breaking the First Commandment.

Often antidance manuals contained expansive testimonials from important church or civic leaders such as the anonymous 1904 Immorality of modern dances and M. C. Drumm's 1921 The modern dance. Although the purpose of Mordecai Ham's 1916 The modern dance was to "save many young men and women from one of Satan's most fetching appeals to the lust of the flesh," his manual contained one of the more interesting testimonials against social dance. In this work, famed ballet dancer and actress Lydia Lopokova, purportedly gave a testimonial against the social dance practices of the era.

Two authors specifically targeted the large German-speaking population of immigrants who settled the midwestern United States. In 1901, G. Pfefferkorn published Ist Tanzen Sünde? and, in 1910, Don Luigi Sartori published an especially virulent attack in Die Modernen Tanze. (The work also appeared the same year in English as Modern dances, by Satori).

While most of the concepts in antidance manuals follow similar paths, some authors utilized novel and creative approaches to the subject. W.E. Penn's 1884 There is no harm in dancing used trees as metaphors, noting that it was the fruit of the tree that might prove dangerous; the "fruit" on the tree of dancing included "pride, lasciviousness, lying, drunkenness, embezzlement, fornication, cruelty, idolatry, prostitution, abortion, and assassination." In his 1899 treatise, An account of the trial of social dance, the Reverand George Davis used his training as a lawyer to present his "trial" against dance including a "jury" composed of the public conscience and "witnesses" with names such as Mr. Round Dancing Master and Miss Chicago Barmaid.

Important companions in this literature include Public dance halls, Ella Gardner's 1929 summary of regulations for public dance halls in one hundred cities and the 1914 Dance halls, which defined the city of Buffalo, New York's requirements for operating a public dance hall; and Louise E. de K. Bowen's 1917 investigation of the conditions of public dance halls in Chicago, The public dance halls of Chicago. (See the Bibliography for further reading on dance and religion.)

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