should christians dance - downtown demure

What’s the Big Deal About Dancing, Anyway?

should christians dance - downtown demure

This post is the second post in a three-part series examining common lifestyle/moral issues Christians face. (The first post was about drinking and alcohol. You can read it here). Lest you think I’m the Christian version of the Grinch who enjoys squelching all opportunities for happiness and fun, I’ll admit I had difficulty writing this post because I LOVE dancing. As with fashion, dancing can be a fun form of creative expressive and way to bond with other people. But when the Bible speaks, we must listen with open hearts and open minds motivated by the sincere intent to follow the commands of God.

As I did with the last post, I will start by reviewing key scripture on this matter:

The Good

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven […] a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; (Ecclesiastes 3:4 ESV)

Then Miriam the prophet, Aaron’s sister, took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women followed her, with timbrels and dancing. Miriam sang to them: “Sing to the Lord, for he is highly exalted. Both horse and driver he has hurled into the sea.” (Exodus 15:20-21 NIV) (Context: Miriam and the women rejoiced after God delivered his people from oppression under the Egyptians by enabling the Israelites to cross the Red Sea, drowning many Egyptian chariots in the process.)

As they were coming home, when David returned from striking down the Philistine, the women came out of all the cities of Israel, singing and dancing, to meet King Saul, with tambourines, with songs of joy, and with musical instruments. (1 Samuel 18:6 ESV)

And David danced before the Lord with all his might. And David was wearing a linen ephod. (2 Samuel 6:14 ESV) (Context: David is joyous after recovering Ark of the Covenant and bringing it into Jerusalem)

“Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ (Luke 15:25-27 ESV) (Context: these are two verses from the parable of the prodigal son.)

The Bad

And as soon as he came near the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, Moses’ anger burned hot, and he threw the tablets out of his hands and broke them at the foot of the mountain. (Exodus 32:19 ESV) (Context: Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the Ten Commandments of God, only to find that his brother, Aaron, allowed the people to engage in inappropriate revelry and idol worship.)

For when Herodias’s daughter came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests. And the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it to you.” (Mark 6:22 ESV) (Context: During a birthday celebration for King Herod, the daughter of Herodias, Herod’s wife, danced before him and his companions. Her dancing was so, err, convincing that it led King Herod to make a grave promise that resulted in the death of John the Baptist against King Herod’s better judgement)

As we can see, not all dancing is condemned in the Bible. The author of Ecclesiastes beautifully notes that there is a time for everything — even dancing. So if the Bible does not describe all dancing as sinful, what’s the big deal about dancing? Here are some reasons I think we should be cautious about dancing.

The Bible condemns sensuality.

The bible is clear about the sinfulness of sensuality:

And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” (Mark 7:20-23 ESV)

Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality (Galatians 5:19 ESV)

They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ! (Ephesians 4:19-20 ESV)

But sensuality can be an unclear term. Let’s get some clarity through definitions.

  1. Oxford Dictionary: The enjoyment, expression, or pursuit of physical, especially sexual, pleasure
  2. Merriam Webster: relating to or consisting in the gratification of the senses or the indulgence of appetite : fleshly
  3. The Greek word that ESV Bible translates as sensuality is “aslegia”, which, according to Strong’s concordance, means outrageous conduct, conduct shocking to public decency, wantonness and lewdness.

Sensuality covers every kind immoral and indulgent conduct of sexual nature. With these definitions, it’s easier to understand why the Bible groups sensuality with other seemingly worse evils, such as sexual immorality, orgies, and drunkenness. Sensuality indicates a lack of self of control and, ultimately, a lack of reverence for God and his plan for sex and sexual activities to be enjoyed within the confines of marriage.

Now we have to honestly ask ourselves if these definitions describe the popular modern dances we do today. The honest answer: yes. Which leads me to my next point…

Most modern social dancing is highly sexualized.

I do not intend to condemn all forms of dancing. But let’s be honest: Most of the dances we do in co-ed social settings these days are highly sexualized. I think anyone with eyes who has ever gone to a high school dance, the club or a bar would agree. Most of the dancing done in casual social settings involve illicit movements , close bodily contact and immodest dress for the express purpose of physical enjoyment. The big issue here is that these dances typically involve unmarried men and women, rendering a “harmless” social activity incredibly sinful.

My unscientific guess is that sexual dancing is so popular because it gives an opportunity to act out ‘forbidden’ desires in a socially acceptable way. Most of us still balk at the idea of causal sex, but it’s perfectly fine to recreate sexual acts with fully clothed strangers on the dance floor. Sexualized dancing is so common now, even Christians debate whether it’s sinful or harmless fun. I’ll admit I was one those Christians who tried to justify dancing by incorporating toned down versions of overly sexual dances (i.e., subtle swaying of the hips and a little hair tossing). But ‘toning down’ my movements didn’t erase the impurity and lust that motivated such dances — it only led to increased opportunities for temptation.

I think it’s time to get real about the dances we hold so dear to our hearts. A common objection to the no-dancing argument is that not all dancing between a girl and guy is sinful. It can be “innocent.” There is a word we young people typically assign to innocent dancing between guys and girls: “lame.” When we argue about dancing, we aren’t really arguing about the lame, innocent dancing we don’t typically do. We’re arguing about the sensuous dancing that is much more exciting.

So one good reason to refrain from dancing: most of the modern dances we love are sensual in nature, and are consequently abhorrent to God if done by people who aren’t married to each other.

The positive examples of dancing in the Bible do not condone the sexualized, co-ed dancing we do today.

I’ve seen people cite positive examples of dancing in the Bible as justification for dancing in general. But it’s important to consider the scriptural and historical context of each of those passages . Most of the oft-quoted passages feature examples of dancing as a means for public worship and rejoicing during moments of great blessing. They likely did not involve intimate contact with members of the opposite sex. They were not done simply because the dancers wanted to have fun.

It’s no coincidence that the examples of dancing done purely for amusement and physical pleasure are negative. Perhaps the closest examples we have to the sensual dancing we do today are that of the inappropriate dancing and revelry in Exodus 32:19 that led to the death of 3,000 unfaithful Israelites, and that of Herodias’ daughter that led to the death of John the Baptist. These may seem like extreme examples of the consequences of dancing. But maybe we need to consider the extreme possibility that we are endangering our spiritual selves by stubbornly clinging to cultural activities for our own selfish pleasures.

It is our responsibility to encourage and protect — not tempt — each other.

But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matthew 5:28 ESV)

It is tempting to read this verse and assume the burden of responsibility lies with the man lusting over the woman — he should learn to control his desires and avert his eyes, right?! Right. But several chapters later, Jesus paints a fuller picture of accountability.

“Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes! (Matthew 18:7 ESV)

With these few words, Jesus increased the level of responsibility for both parties — the one committing the sin and the one tempting the sinner (which in turn makes that tempter a sinner).

When we intentionally draw attention to our bodies by moving them in suggestive ways, we can arouse sinful desires within other people. And we are accountable for that temptation. Even if you personally aren’t affected by dancing, you don’t know what kind of dancing might trigger lustful thoughts within someone else. I’m not thinking solely of my Christian brothers; I’m also thinking of myself and other girls I know have been tempted at unforeseen moments due to the suggestive nature of guys’ actions towards us.

In the spirit of 1 Corinthians 8, we should be more considerate of others’ oft-unspoken battles with temptation. I also think it’s important that older Christians encourage younger brothers and sisters, who are likely to face greater temptation to dance provocatively, to make Christ-centered decisions, even on the dance floor. We shouldn’t encourage them to attend functions that enable promiscuous dancing (like semi-formal and prom).

The world is full of enough unsolicited temptation as is. We should work to encourage one other to live holy, blameless lives instead of finding excuses to participate in and promote social activities that tempt people to sin.

As I mentioned in the beginning of this post, not all dancing is sinful. But before we use that freedom as an excuse to fulfill the desires of our hearts, we should examine our actions and our motives to make sure we aren’t engaging in activity that can lead others to sin and be dishonorable to God. Instead of asking, “why can’t I dance?” which signals a desire to justify our actions, we should ask ourselves, “why should I dance?” If there is little glory to God and little encouragement to ourselves and others, we should approach with caution. Let us not forget who our bodies really belong to:

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20 ESV)

I think I’ve said enough. I’d love to hear from you, dear reader. Do you think it’s OK for Christians to dance? What are the circumstances that permit dancing? Please share your thoughts!



Leave a Comment

The Comments

  • Avatar

    This post really hits on a lot and it’s very good! There are a lot of people who would look down on the type of dancing that you see in bars and stuff but they don’t see anything wrong with slow-dancing and stuff because it’s more “socially acceptable”. But it’s still just as wrong! The only time I think dancing is okay is if it is a husband and wife dancing together in the privacy of their own home, like a slow dance or something. I think a lot of the dancing you hear about in the Bible was not really like the dancing you see nowadays but more like a dancing of joy, like rejoicing. Also, what you said, that “it is our responsibility to encourage and protect–not tempt–one another” is so true! I wish Christians would get a hold of that! I’m really loving this series of posts and would love to see more like this 🙂

    • Elizabeth
      > Elizabeth

      Thank you for the kind words and support, Elizabeth. It’s amazing how even seemingly harmless things like slow dancing change under objective review of God’s word. Slow dancing is still very intimate and seems more like an attempt to walk that dangerous fine line. It’s always a treat to read your comments. I’m so encouraged by your faith. Thank you for reading!

  • Avatar
    Wilma Hendrick

    I think this is a very good article. Thanks for writing.
    God bless you.

    • Elizabeth
      > Wilma Hendrick

      Thank you for the kind words, Wilma!

  • Avatar
    Jan Fojt

    Hi, I like your qoutes and I would try to elaborate a bit more in favor of dancing. As suggested, there is a time to dance, dancing is God given expression, which every baby shows when listening to music. It is an interesting connection of music and movement. It can be full of beauty and elegance. Most of us can connect music with beauty, we all can sing. And that is a very joyful activity, which fortunately no one forbids. Dance if not seductive and provocative is very similar. Dancing in a pair allows for enjoying this together with the opposite sex and can be done in a pure way, I believe. I am in favor of standard dances also because they help in relationship roles. Man has to learn to lead, woman has to learn to submit, otherwise they will not enjoy the beauty of the movement with the music.

    • Elizabeth
      > Jan Fojt

      Hi Jan! You bring up some really good points. I’ve never considered how dancing can affirm biblical relationship roles with the man leading and woman following. I suppose in that sense dances can be honorable and pure. I intended for my article to address the more popular modern dances that are typically done in social settings. I’d argue that most young people aren’t dancing innocently in pairs because that’s not what their peers think is cool. I also think that it’s difficult to maintain innocence if the dancing requires close contact. At some point, biology and natural responses kick in. Thank you very much for your thought-provoking comment!

  • Avatar
    Rachel G

    A very interesting perspective. Dancing is certainly one of those areas it’s worth it to be aware of, because certain songs and types of dances can definitely be very vulgar. However, personally, I don’t feel convicted that all dance, or even all partner dance is wrong. The dance I have the most experience with is Swing dancing–often done to the “Big Band Music” of decades ago. My husband and I used to go swing dancing often–it’s a very fast dance, and the only physical contact in the standard (non-arial) moves is hand-holding. I feel totally comfortable when my husband swing dances with my sisters and cousins (who also enjoy it)–most who are experience with it would swing is definitely not a seductive dance, but more of a high-speed aerobic workout to music. Swing was very popular among the high school and college students in the last town I lived in, and I don’t believe it’s a bad hobby to have.

    • Elizabeth
      > Rachel G

      Hi Rachel! Like you, I also don’t think all dancing is wrong. There’s a certain amount of freedom we have in this area that we should use wisely. I should clarify that I was primarily speaking to the newer kinds of modern dancing that are popular today in dances, bars, clubs, etc. It seems like the kind of swing dancing you and your husband do isn’t lascivious or enticing, so this may be a good example of acceptable dance! As with any form of a dancing, I’m sure there is room for lasciviousness or impurity with close contact, inappropriate dress, or even doing it with Christians who aren’t as diligent as you to discern the differences between pure and impure dancing. Still, good example. Thank you for sharing!

  • Avatar

    Hi!! I want to thank you so much for this article… I grew up “worldly” and recently became saved and have had such a tough time wrapping my head around the whole not dancing thing. I, too, was a partier and dancing and going to clubs was a favorite of mine. The church my family and I attend have a “no dancing” clause in their church covenent and I just couldn’t really see the harm in it and believed it to be “innocent”. But this article really helps me to realize that it can be inappropriate, provocative, and frowned upon by God. I look forward to reading more articles and thank you for your openness!

    • Elizabeth
      > Ashley

      Oh, I’m so glad this post was helpful for you, Ashley! I completely understand where you’re coming from, as have a very similar background (as you’ve likely already discerned). I want to urge you to pray about this issue and look up the scripture I referenced in the post as well. I firmly believe that if we approach all of our actions with the intent to glorify God, He will guide us to an understanding that does just that.