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Unfortunately today, when we live in an atmosphere of
complete moral tolerance for all the vices as a consequence of Council
Vatican II, it is not rare to see a weak moral approach, even in
conservative and traditionalist priests. Although these priests often
take good positions on other topics, when it comes to dances, they
orient their parishioners in a way that, before the Council, would
hardly escape a reprimand.
Your question gives TIA the opportunity to provide an extended answer on
the topic to help you and, also, those faithful who have uncertainties
on the matter, so that laymen can clearly see what is correct and act
This answer is based on the text by Fr. Théophile-Marie Ortolan O.M.I. –
Oblates of Mary Immaculate – (1869-1937). He wrote an extensive article
on dance for the
Dictionnaire de Théologie Catholique - DTC, which is a
collection quite prestigious for its scholarship. If any criticism were
to be made of the general orientation of the DTC, it would be that it
leans to liberalism in morals.
Dance is an art turned to express beauty with the means at its disposal.
Now, any art, whatever it is, while it expresses beauty is not
intrinsically bad. It becomes bad insofar as it is favors bad morals.
Dance has existed for as long as recorded history. To be fair,
theologians have acknowledged that dance is basically a neutral
activity. It can be either good or bad depending on the circumstances
and the way it is done.
King David dances before the Ark of the Covenant; below, Salome performs to seduce Herod
The Old Testament gives us examples of good dance when the Jews
incorporated choreography as a means to express religious piety. King
David danced before the Ark of the Covenant, and some women of Israel
would dance to celebrate the military victories of the Chosen People.
However, strict rules applied to the activity, and it was standard for
the Jewish men and women of the Old Testament to avoid the danger of
sensuality by dancing separately, not together. These examples show that
dance can, in an idealized form, be acceptable.
Outside of Israel, the situation was much worse. Many dances of the
Greeks and Romans were conceived specifically to provoke sensuality.
Often such dances were made in honor of pagan gods, such as Bacchus or
Mercury, and ended in orgies. These pagan dances were condemned even by
pagan writers, such as Cicero, who denounced dance as the last vice that
follows all the other vices (gluttony, vanity, sensuality etc).
Due to the strong influence of Greek and Roman culture, these degenerate
dances began to affect the Chosen People. Let us recall that, at the
time of Our Lord, St. John the Baptist was beheaded as the result of a
sensual dance that captivated King Herod, who promised Salome to grant
her any request.
Teaching of the Church
By the time of Our Lord those good ancient Jewish dances had largely
degenerated under the influence of the Roman and Hellenic cultures.
Later, in the early Christendom, the bad leaven of pagan heathen dance
led the Church to condemn dancing as unfit for Christians.
Bulgarian dancers show that sexes can dance together without embracing or dressing immodestly; below, Brazilian gaucho pairs prove the same thing
The Council of Laodicea (363 AD) forbade Catholics to join in wedding
dances. The Third Council of Toledo (589 AD) condemned dancing at the
commemorations on the eve of Saints’ feast days and repeated the warning
for Catholics to avoid participating at weddings where love was the
subject of songs or dances. The Council of Trullo (692 AD)
excommunicated any layman who participated in theatrical dancing; it
also deposed any cleric who did so.
Despite these condemnations a certain amount of liberty has been given
for the innocent folk dances that preserve modesty. Children’s dances
and military dances also fall into the category of dances permitted.
Fr. Ortolan quotes theologians who stress that dancing can be an
occasion of sin, both for oneself and for others. One must be especially
conscious of the sin that one may commit by inciting others to
sensuality through dance.
Although some folk dances may fall into the category of innocent, it
must be remembered that the waltz and the polka were condemned, since
they involve embraces, a romantic atmosphere or even the interlacing of
fingers. Passions that arise from such dances and balls are considered
deliberately provoked temptations. Several theologians state that going
to such dances is, at the least, to invite sins of sensuality, and,
consequently, this risk may constitute a mortal sin against the virtue
of prudence. The musician who provides the music for sensual dances is
deemed unworthy of absolution.
Looking at more contemporary times, Ortolan and other theologians
condemn the performing arts, such as ballet, that involve tight
clothing, pastel or skin colored apparel and revealing or transparent
dresses. Such attire alone is deemed a grave sin against modesty and
this is often compounded by the illicit and immoral positions and
movements that are part of the dance itself. It is not a mark of virtue
that one’s sensitivity to such flagrant immorality has been dulled by
overexposure to such immodesty, as is often the case today.
The author reminds us that in times when the Catholic Faith and acts of
piety diminish, sins in dancing become the rule rather than the
exception. He also notes that those who sin in dance are far more
numerous than those who do not.
Given this information a few conclusions seem inevitable.
These immodest outfits and poses are not permitted by Catholic Morals
* When one considers the kinds of dances condemned in the 1920s and
1930s – the waltz, polka, ballet and masquerade balls – it is not
difficult to see that most of the dances we find in the 20th and 21st
centuries are not fitting for Catholics;
* Regrettably, almost all dances today are unacceptable by Catholic
standards. Rock n’ roll, jazz, the twist, swing dancing, and nearly
every other dance contrived in the last century – such as tango, samba,
rumba, salsa, calypso and even more “conservative” dances like the
blues, bolero and fox-trot – fall under the same restriction;
* More rigorously the dreadful-sensual movements that pass for dance in
most nightclubs and the modern rock concerts should be rejected.
Criteria for parents
As a practical advice for parents, the general criteria to judge a good
dance for a young woman and a young man are to check whether or not:
Basque dancers in colorful traditional dress Below, Basque girls learning the traditional folk dances in the town square
The dresses are modest – no exposition of the body parts except the
head, hands, lower arms and lower legs (skirts below the knees), no
transparent or see-through clothing, no tight apparel that reveals the
shape of the body, especially when it is skin colored;
The positions are appropriate – no close embraces where the bodies
touch; no leaning of woman’s head on the man’s shoulder; no faces
touching; no interlacing of fingers.
The movements are decent – no sensual twisting or vibration of the
waist, no lifting of the legs or jumps that reveal what the dress
covers, no fast twirling that allows the skirts to fly outward, no
provocative positions of the derrières, no challenging protrusion of the
breasts, no languid abandonment of the arms.
Let us conclude following the advice of St. Francis de Sales. If we have
to attend a dance, we should try to counteract this risk by framing a
pious state of mind. We should think about the many souls who went to
Hell for dancing or sinned because of dancing.
We should take into consideration also the dissipating effect dances
have on the mind of a Catholic, and think about those who, in contrast,
profitably employ their time in prayer and meditation about God.
Even if one avoids the sins of vanity, immodesty, sensuality and
indiscretion, we should remember what St. Francis de Sales said: Even
the best of balls are of no value.