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Dancesby Phyllis C. Jacobson
In 1830 when the mormon Church was organized, many Christian denominations were hostile toward recreation and play, particularly dance. However, the Prophet Joseph Smith and his successors advocated dance and participated in recreational dancing. Joseph Smith was a skillful dancer and enjoyed hosting dances in his home (Holbrook, p. 122). Brigham Young and the Quorum of the Twelve "danced before the Lord" to the music of a small orchestra in the Nauvoo Temple after long days of joyous participation in temple ordinances (Hc 7:557, 566; Holbrook, p. 123).
The revealed doctrine that the body and spirit together comprise the soul tends to encourage physical activity (D&C 88:15). Early Latter-day Saints commended dancing as healthful to body and mind, but only when conducted in accordance with Church principles. Emphasis was on propriety, good company, and the spirit of praising the Lord. During their difficult trek west, the pioneers danced as "camps of Israel." President Brigham Young said "I want you to sing and dance and forget your troubles . Let's have some music and all of you dance" (Holbrook, p. 125). Around the campfires they danced polkas, Scotch reels, quadrilles, French fours, and other figures.
In the West, the Saints continued to enjoy dancing. Brigham Young emphasized that fiddling and dancing were not to be part of formal worship (Holbrook, p. 131), and he counseled that those who cannot serve God with a pure heart in the dance should not dance. Under these guidelines, dance continued as an integral part of Mormon culture.
The Deseret Musical and Dramatic Society was organized in 1862, and theatrical dance soon became a favorite attraction. Worship services and social activities were usually held in the same place, although at separate times. This practice, which prevailed in the frontier "brush bowery," continues today in LDS meetinghouses, which typically feature a cultural-recreation hall, complete with stage, adjacent to the chapel.
In the early and mid-twentieth century, the Mutual Improvement Association sponsored recreational and theatrical dance training and exhibitions (see Young Men and Young Women). Gold and Green Balls were annual social events in each ward and stake. All-Church dance festivals held in Salt Lake City from 1922 to 1973 gained national recognition. After 8,000 dancers in bright costumes participated at the festival in 1959, a national news magazine described the Church as the "dancingest denomination" (Arrington, p. 31). In 1985, 13,000 dancers performed in the Southern California Regional Dance Festival with more than 100,000 viewing the two performances. Dance festivals continued at local levels from 1973 to 1990, when they were finally discontinued as major performances.
Dancing, however, continues as an integral part of youth and adult activities in the Church. It permeates many facets of campus life, entertainment, and performing arts programs at Church- sponsored schools. For example, more than 12,000 Brigham Young University students enroll annually for academic credit in ballet, ballroom, folk, modern, jazz, tap, aerobic, and precision dance courses. Student performing companies in ballet, ballroom, folk, and modern dance have gained national and international recognition.
Arrington, Georganne Ballif. "Dance in Mormonism." In Focus on Dance X: Religion and Dance, ed. Dennis J. Fallon and Mary Jane Wolbers. Reston, Va., 1982.
Holbrook, Leona. "Dancing as an Aspect of Early Mormon and Utah Culture." BYU Studies 16 (Autumn 1975):117-38.
Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol. 1, Dance
Copyright © 1992 by Macmillan Publishing Company