In some form or another dancing is as old as the world, and has been practiced by rude as well as by civilized peoples. The passion for amateur dancing always has been strongest among savage nations, who have made equal use of it in religious rites and in war. With the savages the dancers work themselves into a perfect frenzy, into a kind of mental intoxication. But as civilization has advanced dancing has modified its form, becoming more orderly and rhythmical. The early Greeks made the art of dancing into a system, expressive of all the different passions. For example, the dance of the Furies, so represented, would create complete terror among those who witnessed them. The Greek philosopher, Aristotle, ranked dancing with poetry, and said that certain dancers, with rhythm applied to gesture, could express manners, passions, and actions. The most eminent Greek sculptors studied the attitude of the dancers for their art of imitating the passions. In a classical Greek song, Apollo, one of the twelve greater gods, the son of Zeus the chief god, and the god of medicine, music, and poetry, was called The Dancer. In a Greek line Zeus himself is represented as dancing. In Sparta, a province of ancient Greece, the law compelled parents to exercise their children in dancing from the age of five years. They were led by grown men, and sang hymns and songs as they danced. In very early times a Greek chorus, consisting of the whole population of the city, would meet in the market-place to offer up thanksgivings to the god of the country. Their jubilees were always attended with hymn-singing and dancing. The Jewish records make frequent mention of dancing, but always "as a religious ceremony, or as an expression of gratitude and praise." As a means of entertainment in private society, dancing was practiced in ancient times, but by professional dancers, and not by the company themselves. It is true that the Bible has sanctioned dancing, but let us remember, first, that it was always a religious rite; second, that it was practiced only on joyful occasions, at national feasts, and after great victories; third, that usually it was "performed by maidens in the daytime, in open air, in highways, fields, or groves;" fourth, that "there are no instances of dancing sanctioned in the Bible, in which both sexes united in the exercise, either as an act of worship or as an amusement;" fifth, that any who perverted the dance from a sacred use to purposes of amusement were called infamous. The only records in Scripture of dancing as a social amusement were those of the ungodly families described by Job xxi, 11-13, who spent their time in luxury and gayety, and who came to a sudden destruction; and the dancing of Herodias, Matt. Xiv, 6, which led to the rash vow of King Herod and to the murder of John the Baptist. So much for the history of dancing.
The modern dance in which both sexes freely mingle, irrespective of character, purely for amusement, at late hours, at which intoxicants, in some form, are generally used, is, essentially, an institution of vice. The modern dance is as different from the dancing of ancient times, and from the dancing sanctioned in the Bible, as daylight is from dark, as good is from bad. The modern dance imperils health, it poisons the social nature; it destroys intellectual growth; and it robs men and women of their virtue. Let us understand one another. To attend one dance may not accomplish all of this in any person. One may attend many dances, and he himself not see these results marked in his character, but some one else will see them. For in the nature of the institution the modern dance affects in all these particulars those whom it reaches. The tendencies in a single dance are in these directions. In a way peculiar to itself the modern dance imperils health. Though detestable and out of date, as are the modern kissing games, yet no one ever heard of one of those performances continuing until three and five o'clock in the morning. Young people do not stay up all night, ride five, ten, and twenty miles to play authors, or to snap caroms, or to play charades, as interesting in a social way as these innocent amusements may be. The fact that one will go to this extreme in keeping late hours to attend the dance, and will not keep such late hours for any other form of amusement, proves that the dance, as an institution, is at fault in producing such irregularities. And then who ever heard of one having to dress in a certain way to attend a purely social gathering. But let a young lady attend a fashionable ball or a regular round dance of any note, whatever, and if she wears the civil gown she will be thought tame and snubbed. She must dress for this occasion, and thus, from a health point of view, so expose her body that after the excitement and heat of a prolonged round she takes her place in a slight draught of air, and a severe cold is contracted. And this exposure is further increased by the sudden change from a close, hot room to the damp, chilly air of the early morning, on her journey home. It is possible to guard against all of this, but are those persons who attend such exercises likely to be cautious in such practical matters. At least, this risk of exposure for men and women is peculiar to the dance, and it is certain that many are physically injured in this way. The modern dance poisons the social nature. The chief exercise at the modern dance is dancing. Those who have attended dances, as a social recreation, have complained that they never have an opportunity to get acquainted with one another. Such a luxury as a complete conversation on any theme is out of the question. It is a form of amusement that stultifies the communicative faculties, and fosters social seclusion. Some one might say this may be a good thing, since every grade in moral and social standing are represented. Yes, but this only acknowledges the lack of opportunity for social fellowship. It is not true that the dance, as an institution, is not patronized by the most capable in conversation and companionship? Certainly this is true in the so-called higher society, among those whose sole ambition is to excel in formal manners and in personal appearance at the gay function, and at the social ball. To be communicative one must have something to communicate, and this means a cultivation of the mind and heart. True social fellowship is one of the sweetest pleasures of life and always has its source in the culture of the soul. Whatever may be said for or against the modern dance, it is true that because of the mixed characters of its attendants, and for want of opportunity to communicate, the social nature becomes neglected and abused, and may be fatally poisoned.
The modern dance destroys intellectual growth. The person who has the dance-craze cares no more for mental improvement and growth than a starving man cares for splendid recipes for fine cooking. The thought of a problem to be solved, of a book to be read, of an organ exercise to be practiced, of all things, are most tame to the one who is filled with dreams of the last dance, and with visions of the one that is to come. To grow, the mind must be free from excitement. The fault with the dance in this respect is that it has in it a fascination that does not exist in the ordinary social amusement. Some persons complain that they can not get an evening to go off well without dancing. But this is only an open confession to mental vacuity, to intellectual poverty. For one need know but little to flourish at the dance. And always, where little is required, intellectually, little is given. It is the rule that those who are in the greatest need of mental cultivation and growth are those who make up the dancing crowd. And the fact that the dance, as an institution, in no way stimulates intellectual thought, destines those who dance to remain on the lower intellectual plane.
Last, and worst of all, the dance robs men and women of their virtue, and this often at the first unconsciously. If it is not for health and physical vigor that one follows up dancing; if it is not the peculiar social tie that binds dancers together; if it is not the incentive to intellectual growth and equipment, what is it? A secret lies hid away somewhere in the institution of the modern dance, that makes it the chiefest attraction of worldly-minded and often of base-hearted people. What is that secret? Ah, my friend, it is the appeal to the most sacred instincts and passions of a man and of a woman! This appeal is peculiar to the modern dance by the accident of physical contact that men and women assume in dancing, and also by the circumstances that attend it, namely, mixed society, late hours, and the customary use of strong drink. No honest, normally passionate person, who has made it a practice of attending dances, will deny the truth of this charge. One may never have thought of it in this way, but when he stops to think he knows that it is true. It is through ignorance of these circumstances, and of their bad effects, that many a well-meaning person, presumably to have a good time, or to acquire heel-grace, goes into the dance, secures a passion for dancing, and through its seductive influences are led into sin and shame. The following is an incident out of his own experience related by Professor T. A. Faulkner, an ex-dancing master. Professor Faulkner is the author of the little book entitled "From the Ball Room to Hell." A book which every person who sees no harm in dancing should read.
"Here is a girl. The one remaining child of wealthy parents, their idol and joy. A dancing-school having opened near their home, the daughter, for accomplishment, was sent to it. She came from her home, modest, and her innate spirit of purity rebelled against the liberties taken by the dancing-master, and the men he introduced to her. She became indignant at the indecent attitudes she was called upon to assume, but noticing a score of young women, many of them from the best homes in the town, all yielding to the vulgar embrace, she cast aside that spirit of modesty which had been the development of years of home-training, and setting her face against nature's protective warnings, gave herself, as did the others, to this prolonged embrace set to music. Having learned to dance, its fascinations led her an enthusiastic captive. Modesty was crucified, decency outraged, virtue lost its power over her soul, and she spent her days dreaming of the delights of the sensual whirl of the evening. Hardly conscious of the change she had now become as bold as any of the women, and loved the embrace of the charmer. The graduation of the class was, of course, the occasion of a waltzing reception. To that reception she went, attended by her father, who looked with a proud heart on the fulsome greeting his dear one received. After a little the father retired, leaving his daughter to the care of the many handsome gallants who danced attendance upon her. The reception did not close until the small hours of the morning. Each waltz became more voluptuous; intoxicated by sensuality, the dancers became more bold, and lust was aroused in every breast. How many sins that reception occasioned, I do not know; this, at least, is sure, that this girl who entered that dancing-hall three months before, as pure as an angel, was that night.robbed of her honor and returned to her home deprived forever of that most precious jewel of womanhood -- virtue. Her first impulse the next morning was self-destruction; then she deluded herself with the thought of marriage with her dancing companion, but he still further insulted her by declaring that he wanted a pure woman for his wife. What was her end? Shunned by the very society which egged her on to ruin, her self-respect was gone with her lost purity, she went to her own kind, and in shame is closing her days." "Of two hundred brothel inmates to whom Professor Faulkner talked, and who were frank enough to answer his question as to the direct cause of their shame, seven said poverty and abuse; ten, willful choice; twenty, drink given them by their parents; and one hundred and sixty-three, dancing and the ball-room." "A former chief of police of New York City says that three-fourths of the abandoned girls of this city were ruined by dancing." Of the dance, one says: "It lays its lecherous hand upon the fair character of innocence, and converts it into a putrid corrupting thing. It enters the domain of virtue, and with silent, steady blows takes the foundation from underneath the pedestal on which it sits enthroned. It lists the gate and lets in a flood of vice and impurity that sweeps away modesty, chastity, and all sense of shame. It keeps company with the low, the degraded, and the vile. It feeds upon the passion it inflames, and fattens on the holiest sentiments, turned by its touch to filth and rottenness. It loves the haunts of vice, and is at home in the company of harlots and debauchees." George T. Lemon says: "No Church in Christendom commends or even excuses the dance. All unite to condemn it." The late Episcopal bishop of Vermont, writes: "Dancing is chargeable with waste of time, interruption of useful study, the indulgence of personal vanity and display, and the premature incitement of the passions. At the age of maturity it adds to these no small danger to health by late hours, flimsy dress, heated rooms, and exposed persons." Episcopal Bishop Meade, of Virginia, declares: "Social dancing is not among the neutral things which, within certain limits, we may do at pleasure, and it is not among the things lawful, but not expedient, but it is in itself wrong, improper, and of bad effect." Episcopal Bishop McIlvaine, of Ohio, putting the dance and the theater together, writes: "The only line that I would draw in regard to these is that of entire exclusion..The question is not what we can imagine them to be, but what they always have been, will be, and must be, in such a world as this, to render them pleasurable to those who patronize them. Strip them bare until they stand in the simple innocence to which their defenders' arguments would reduce them and the world would not have them." A Roman Catholic priest testifies that "the confessional revealed the fact that nineteen out of every twenty women who fall can trace the beginning of their state to the modern dance."