Friday 3 April 2015

The "evils" of dancing

Religions of many persuasions have had difficulties with dancing -- certainly the sort of dancing in which male and female made physical contact. Some religions have been ambivalent; others has been quite hostile. Even so, I was surprised at the intense animosity to dancing shown by my Gx3 uncle, the Rev. Francis W. Cox, one-time head of the Congregational Church in South Australia when it was still a British colony.

My surprise was because in many ways he was a radical clergyman and someone many decades ahead of his time. For instance, he was a great supporter of Aboriginal culture and did not believe that Australia's Aborigines should be forced to adopt British cultural ways. He also believed that state school education should be entirely secular, even to him opposing religious education classes and the placing of Christian bibles in school.

However, dancing was obviously another matter, as recounted in this extract on Dancing and Other Sins from Geoffrey Haydon Manning's out-of-print book A Colonial Experience - 1938-1910:

The Clergy Intervenes

In 1881 a youth hung himself 'under the influence of fear of detection of his peculations [theft] on his master's property' and it was alleged by Reverend F.W. Cox that 'the departure of this unhappy youth from the paths of rectitude was caused by his frequenting a dancing saloon in the neighbourhood.'  The same gentleman went on to describe some of the places of amusement:
    There is in North Adelaide occupied by men said to be of no repute, to which any girls can go free, the young men paying one shilling for admittance... In South Adelaide there is a house open to the lowest type of both sexes and several others are being opened in the city and suburbs.
He concluded a long epistle with a plea:
    Of what use are our efforts as ministers of the gospel, as Sunday school teachers, as instructors of the young, if hot-beds of vice are allowed to spring up and flourish among us? The sad story of the [suicidal youth], which made the hearts of many to bleed, is but the natural outcome of such places of unhallowed resort.
Another correspondent, under the pen name of 'Reform', cast aspersions upon the Globe Casino which he accused of being frequented by 'young men of the larrikin tribe', who discussed points as to partners in the dance 'in a most indecent manner.' The proprietor, Arthur F. Mills, took exception to the general tenor of both correspondents and said that 'it was detrimental to my character that such insinuations should be thrown out, as I know for a fact that only respectable young men and women visit our room.'
Further correspondence followed, some defending and others deprecating the existence of such establishments. Upon a careful perusal of the latter I found that they might fairly be divided into two classes - the one objecting to the existence of dancing saloons as inimical to the proper training of the youth of the present generation, and the other protesting more particularly against the gross indecency and the wrongful temptations to young people of both sexes, which were said to arise from the establishment of the saloons.
In what follows it must be understood that I do not attempt to deal in any way with the point raised by the former class of objectors. I do not propose to enter into any controversy as to whether public dancing saloons are not, under any circumstances, injurious to young people. My mission was carried out solely with a view of ascertaining whether there was a truth in the allegations that had already been made as to the improprieties which were supposed to be carried on at the saloons.
With this object I paid several visits to those saloons that were open to the public, and also attempted, but unsuccessfully, to gain admission to one or two which, if reports were true, were merely dancing brothels. As to the latter I have little to say. At one place I was refused admission and at the other, although I and my companion from the detective office, knocked a great many times, no notice was taken.
The room was lighted and the sound of music and of pattering feet showed, however, that dancing was going on within. There were no two opinions as to the desirability of closing places such as these. They were undoubtedly the cause of great evil. As to the women who attended these places, it could not be imagined that any of them were pure. Leaving those unsalutary places of resort I proceeded to visit the public dancing saloons - they were three in number.
I have since been told by a Baptist friend that some Baptist church halls in Australia had sloping floors so that they could not be used for dancing. She also told me that some Baptists in South Australia were once censored for attending an official ball to mark a visit by a member of the British royal family.

The Rev. Cox died in 1904 long before the invention of television, so I can only imagine what his reaction might have been if he had witnessed the deliberately-erotic and provocative performances on BBC's Strictly Come Dancing or its overseas franchised version Dancing with the Stars.

Finally an old joke: A conservative clergyman is preparing a young couple for their marriage and gets onto the subject of s-e-x. "One thing I should warn you against," he said. "Do not ever engage in love-making while in the standing position as this could lead to dancing."