In 1990 dancing continued to be a controversial subject in the Mennonite churches. Social dancing involving the physical contact of men and women is the type of dancing that has caused the most concern. The reasons most frequently cited for this concern include the potential for sexual stimulation, creating an image that weakens the Christian witness, and breaking down the spiritual life of the members of the church.
Theologically, condemnation of the social dance was frequently rooted in the doctrine of nonconformity. Together with other amusements, social dancing conformed the Christian to the world instead of the character of Jesus Christ.
Square dancing, though seldom encouraged among Mennonites, has generally been more acceptable. The young people of some Old Order Mennonite and Amish groups have a history of Sunday evening square dancing (Horst, Heritage). In 1910 J. E. Hartzler wrote that, "The square dance, if it were kept square, would not be so bad."
While many Mennonites hold fast to these convictions, many others have recently become more involved in a variety of recreational activities, including social dancing. Youth often participate in high school dances, and a growing number of Mennonite colleges allow social dancing on their campuses.
In a 1989 survey of five North American Mennonite denominations, 9 per cent of respondents said they participated in social dancing regularly, and another 24 per cent participated occasionally. These are double the percentages of a similar 1972 survey. By 1999 the percentages would have continued to increase. Statistics isolated to Canada are not available.
Numerous leaders who have spoken out against social dancing have also acknowledged that the Bible records positive examples of dance. Frequently cited are the dances of Miriam (Exodus 15:20-21) and David (2 Samuel 6:14-16), both offered to God in a spirit of thanksgiving and praise.
A growing number of Mennonites are reclaiming sacred dance as an expression of worship, in the tradition of the Israelites and the early church. in some North American congregations ongoing creative movement or liturgical dance groups offer accompaniment to congregational singing or special music during the Sunday morning service. In some African Mennonite congregations, traditional music and dance have been incorporated into worship. The offering in Zairian Mennonite churches is brought forward in the midst of lively singing, clapping, and dance, all to the glory of God.
Deitering, Carolyn, The Liturgy as Dance and the Liturgical Dancer. New York: Crossroad, 1984.
Kauffman, J. Howard and Leland Harder, eds. Anabaptists Four Centuries Later: a Profile of FIve Mennonite and Brethren in Christ Denominations. Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 1975: 122-23, 281, 288, 308.
Kauffman, J. Howard and Leo Driedger, eds. The Mennonite Mosaic: Identity and Modernization. Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Pres, 1991: 192, 194.
Mennonite Reporter (14 March 1988): 8
Friesen, Peter M. The Mennonite Brotherhood in Russia (1789-1910), trans. J.B. Toews and others. Fresno, CA: Board of Christian Literature, 1980: Index.
Hartzler, J. E. Paths to Perdition. Scottdale: Mennonite Publishing House, 1910: 177-84.
Horst, Mary Ann. My Old Order Mennonite Heritage. Kitchener, Ont.: 26-28.
Horst, Isaac R. "Should Christians Dance?" (undated pamphlet from Mennonite Historical Library, Goshen).
Kauffman, Daniel, ed., Bible Doctrine. Scottdale: Mennonite Publishing House, 1914: 514-18.
Shaner, Richard H. "The Amish Barn Dance." Pennsylvania Folklife 13 (Winter 1962-63): 24-26.
Steiner, M. S. Pitfalls and Safeguards. Elkhart, Ind., 1899: 107-14.
Wenger, J. C. Separated Unto God. Scottdale, Pa.: Mennonite Pub. House, 1951: 75-87, 113-15, 279-81.
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Waterloo, Ontario, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 5, p. 215. All rights reserved. For information on ordering the encyclopedia visit the Herald Press website.
©1996-2013 by the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. All rights reserved.
MLA style: Becker, Ann Weber. "Dance." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1989. Web. 24 May 2013. http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/D252ME.html.
APA style: Becker, Ann Weber. (1989). Dance. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 24 May 2013, from http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/D252ME.html.