Monday, August 16, 2010

Dancing With the Stars in Hell!

This week, Sue Benny, a big-rig driver from Three Way, Arizona, gets terpsicorian with Old Scratch; Valerie City, a yoga instructor from Intercourse, PA, skips a light fandango in lotus position with Baal; Duke Lozier, an urologist  from Fort Dick, CA, trips the light fantastic with dance-floor poison, Lucrezia Borgia; and Tailor Buoy, a seamster/old salt from Climax, CO, tries to keep his head after receiving seven veiled threats from his partner, Salomé.

It's Disco Inferno Night! Burn, baby, burn!

How did things come to this pas-de-diable? How did we get

FAULKNER, Thomas A. From Ballroom To Hell.
Chicago: The Henry Publishing Company, 1892.

Slash with me through the mists of time with Mr. Peabody's WABAC machete to 1581 when a strange little screed appeared on the scene that, while not the first such, is amongst the modern world's earliest prospective salutes to Studio 54, Dionysus, and depravity:

A Treatise of daunses, wherin it is shewed, that they are as it were accessories and depedants (or thinges annexed) to whoredome: where also by the way is touched and proved, that playes are joyned and knit together in a rancke or rowe with them. 1581; and of A godly exhortation by occasion of the late iudgement of God shewed at Parris-garden, the thirteenth day of Ianvarie ... by Iohn Field.((London, Printed by R. Walde-graue, for H. Carre, 1581. STC 10845).

Anti-dance sentiment dates back as far as the fourth century when St. Gregory advised Emperor Julian, the last Roman emperor to take an official stand against Christianity, that dance was okey-dokey if done in honor of God, but not when it mirrored the dissolute movements of the pagans. While early Christian fathers allowed dancing for sacred rituals, things began to get out of hand when the hands of men and women began to touch.

"The hierarchy of the Church warned that holy rites were corrupted by the inclusion of women who tempted male participants into licentious behavior. Matters were further complicated because early church members believed that because humans were created in the image of God, the devil was frightened away by the naked human body. In the midst of the dance, therefore, celebrants often ripped off their clothes. Church leaders grew increasingly concerned about the number of religious rituals that were deteriorating into sexual orgies" (Knowles, Mark. The Wicked Waltz and Other Scandalous Dances, p. 3).

In short, when the physical nature of dance overshadowed its spiritual element it spelled damnation. Dancing was allowed - the third Council of Toledo ordered St. Isidore, the sixth-century Archbishop of Seville, to create choreographies for certain council events - but be careful.

The introduction of medieval dance music and the social dance in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries created anxiety for the Church but it could not buck popular sentiment. Dance manuals began to appear through the fifteenth century, and by the sixteenth century the tension between the social and religious began to manifest itself with books like A Treatise of Daunces.

The seventeenth century struck up the band in 1606 with Jean Boiseul's Traitte contre les dances.

BOISEUL, Jean. Traitte contre les danses.
A la Rochelle: Les heritiers de Hierosme Havltin, 1606.

An early anti-dance treatise, this jolly manual provides a foundation for arguments that continued to the end of the nineteenth century, to wit, that dancing is a sin against God. Boiseul provides biblical chapter and verse, acknowledging that dance is mentioned in the Bible, yet he  points out that the dances were "joyous and spontaneous" and very different from the seventeenth-century social dances of his day: the courante, branle, and galliard are specifically attacked. Boiseul is particularly incensed by the dances of non-Christian "savages." From the minuet to Mephistopheles is just a bow and curtsy away, the bop in the bop-shu-bop-shu-bop, and foreplay to fornication.

GAUTHIER, François Louis (1696-1780).
Traité contre les danses et les mauvaises chansons...
Paris: chez Antoine Boudet, 1769.
Image courtesy of Michael R. Thompson Booksellers.

Fast-forward to 1769, and François Louis Gauthier writes not only against dancing but of  mauvaises chansons (bad songs) that have a dire effect on morality:

Traité contre less danses et mauvaises chansons dans lequel le danger & le mal qui y sont renfermés sont démontrés par les témoignages multipliés des Saintes Ecritures, des ss. pp. des conciles, de plusieurs evêques du siécle passé & du nôtre, d'un nombre de théologiens moraux & de casuistes, de jurisconsultes, de plusieurs ministres protestans, & enfin des paiens même [Treatise against the dance and bad songs in which the danger and evil contained therein are shown multiplied by the testimony of Scripture, the SS. pp. councils, several bishops of the past century and of ours, a number of moral theologians and casuistry, of lawyers, several protestant ministers, and finally even the Gentiles].

Gauthier would have a conniption fit if he heard the current Billboard Top Ten; he'd gag on Lady Gaga.

A Solemn Warning to Dancers.
New York : Published by N. Bangs and J. Emory
for the Tract Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church,, c.1824-1832.

But it is when Victoria ascends to the British monarchy in the nineteenth century that hell breaks loose. And when Victorian attitudes about social conduct and sexual morality met the fundamentalist strains of American Protestantism, they begat a slew of anti-dance tracts, particularly as social dances began to assume a  physical nature that raised questions and eyebrows, those eyebrows wiggling into leering overdrive ala Groucho Marx in the last quarter of the 19th through the first decades of the 20th centuries. The music was getting too wild, couples were getting too close, the movements too suggestive, and the dances too!

GARDNER, Rev. W.W. Modern Dancing: In Light of Scripture and Facts.
Louisville, KY: Baptist Book Concern, 1893.

DAVIS, Rev. George. An Account of the Trial of Social Dance.
Rondout, N.Y.: Kingston Freeman Printing House, 1899.

Rev. George Davis, a pastor of the Reformed Churches of Marbletown and North Marbletown as well as a lawyer, takes a novel approach in preaching his anti-dance position with An Account of the Trial of the Social Dance (1899). The jury for this trial is composed of The Public Conscience. Witnesses include Mr. Worldly Fun, Mr. Roman Catholic Bishop, Mr. Round Dancing Master, and Miss Chicago Barmaid. The trial proceeds and, in Davis' summary, the jury's verdict against the defendant, social dance, is GUILTY! You won't be seeing this procedural on Law & Order anytime soon.

Beryl and Assoc. (eds.). The Immorality of Modern Dances.
New York: Everitt and Frances Co., and F. McLean and Co., 1904.

In 1904, Beryl and Associates presented The Immorality of  Modern Dances, declaring  that "The vice of modern dancing has become so prevalent in all classes of society that it has begun to be looked upon as good form to dance on all possible occasions. To extirpate this vice will require not only the utmost exertion, but first the united power of those specially chosen by Divine Providence to watch over the flock of Christ to protect it, to defend it from all evil, and, as good shepherds, to lead it to God in holiness after the example of Jesus, who said, 'I am the good Shepherd' (John x. 2); secondly the united power of the laity.

"How, then, are the true shepherds of Christ's flock to be united in strong battle array against a vice which is causing such havoc in the flock? In a battle which, to many of them, seems to have but one end--their utter rout. They recognize the havoc caused by modern dancing to the souls of their flock, but they seem powerless to suppress the evil. They know full well that many men and women who pose as pillars of the church are at times very much interested in clubs and societies which give dances, and that to speak against dancing would cause them to be unpopular and would lessen their collections; and, rather than endure either the unpopularity or the decreased receipts, they allow their parishioners to dance wherever and whenever they see fit. Such pastors are cowards. They lack the courage of their convictions. They are not true shepherds, but are self-interested hirelings; and no wonder that the wolf of the Saturday night dance snatches and scatters the sheep which should be in their pews on Sundays, but are not" (The Immorality of Modern Dances, pp. 11-12).

Saturday Night Fever indeed; John Travolta/Tony Manero as Beelzebub's best bud and Brooklyn's favorite fallen angel.

LYTLE, H.W. & John Dillon. From Dance Hall to White Slavery.
The World's Greatest Tragedy.
Chicago: Charles C. Thompson, 1912.

No comment necessary on From Dance Hall to White Slavery. Ten-cents a dance, anyone? Half-and-Half and Around-the-World, extra. If she had only known...

KOVEN BOWEN de, Louise. The Public Dance Halls of Chicago.
Chicago: The Juvenile Protective Association of Chicago, 1917.

The Public Dance Halls of Chicago is a revised edition of a work based on an investigation done in 1910 regarding the conditions of public dance halls in Chicago. The authoress complains about the late hours, liquor, and the low behavior of males noting, "... men wear their hats; they all smoke and expectorate freely." Koven Bowen  accuses waiters and other dance hall employees of providing information on the location of "disreputable lodging houses." Finally, she delivers a condemnation against masquerade and fancy dress balls because many women are found "attending in male attire." Oh-oh.  Look out below!

We know what this will lead to...

...And this.

Don't get me started...

Arthur Murray meets the Kama Sutra, c. 1952.

The magic of the mambo: Less touch, mas pasión.

It takes two to tango and, ahem, etc.

That social dancing since the 1920s has become a ritual of symbolic sexual activity is now a given; it is just too overt to ignore. Yet it is accepted by all but the most orthodox in their religious beliefs.

Anti-dance literature has faded from view and when media now portray anti-dance sentiment it is in movies in opposition to narrow fundamentalism, i.e. Footloose. Let the kids kick up their heels, it won't kill 'em.

And, of course, in the apotheosis of anti- anti-dance stories, Dirty Dancing, the tale of an impressionable ingenue who meets a slick but sincere Catskills resort dance instructor, is liberated, and then, after the credits have rolled and the stage is struck, gets a rhinoplasty that ends her career as an actress. The moral: Circumcise your ethnic nose at your eternal peril, girls; Yahweh is watching.

But the old and rare literature against dancing remains rich and collectible, and while we can laugh at the dire predictions espoused in it we cannot deny that the warnings were not without merit and that the Cassandras were correct. We're all headed to hell in a handbasket. Let's dance!

Which brings us up to date and anxiously awaiting the judges' decision.

And tonight's winner is...Tailor Buoy and Salomé! Head's up, Tailor!

Illustration for Oscar Wilde's Salomé by Aubrey Beardsley.


And so ends another episode of Dancing With the Stars in Hell. Roll credits:


For an interesting look at anti-dance literature see the Library of Congress's An American Ballroom Companion: Dance Instruction Manuals 1490-1920 overview.


  1. Gliding through on such full tempo'ed essay on the evils of dance, thank you Sir. Excellent- the dance and going to Hell has to be linked again today-I am so surprised it hasn't been taken up by the Right. Family lore says my great great grandmother Jennie danced the souls of her shoes OFF one night-there is also the questionable parentage of my great grandmother's
    birth. All has turned out pretty well-however?

  2. Made me jump up and do the Monster Mash! Another excellent, witty post....


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