Why is dancing an activity in which we do not participate? The world has corrupted dancing, but is there a proper form of dancing, or is it all wrong? If we condemn all dancing, this would seem to contradict the scriptures, which speak of dancing in many places. Ecclesiastes says that there is a time to mourn and a time to dance. Psalm 150:4 speaks of praising God by dancing. David danced before the Lord. How must we view dancing?
There are three main Hebrew words and one Greek word for “dance” or “dancing” in scripture, and they all have the same basic meaning: to whirl, to twirl, to writhe, or to turn. Often the word is used poetically, such as in Psalm 114:14, where “the mountains skipped like rams.” Dancing in the Bible is an expression of joy, gladness and excitement, often because of some great victory or deliverance. In Exodus 15, Miriam led the women of Israel in dancing, because God had destroyed the Egyptians in the Red Sea (v. 20). In Judges 11, Jephthah’s daughter celebrated his victory over the Ammonites by dancing (v. 34). In 1 Samuel 18, the women in Israel celebrated David’s victory over the Philistines by dancing (v. 6). In 2 Samuel 6, David “danced before the Lord with all his might” (v. 14), because the ark of the covenant was brought to Jerusalem. Finally, in Luke 15, the household danced at the repentance of the prodigal (v. 25). Such dancing, a whirling about in joy and excitement in celebration, was appropriate, chaste, and godly.
However, not all dancing in Scripture is praiseworthy. When Israel made the golden calf, they danced around it naked. This was the lewd dancing with which the pagans worshipped their idols (Ex. 32:19, 25). In Matthew 14, the daughter of Herodias danced before Herod and his guests, which was the activity of a young woman dancing (possibly naked, or at least scantily clad) in front of a group of lecherous, lustful older men. That dance led to the foolish oath of Herod and the unlawful killing of John the Baptist!
Which of those two forms of dancing does modern dancing (in discos, wedding receptions, nightclubs, and other places) more closely approximate? The biblical dancing of Exodus 15 or 2 Samuel 6 was not a dancing of men with women. It was a dancing of individuals (David) or of women with other women (Miriam and the Israelite women). Modern dance moves are designed to simulate the sex act, with men rubbing their bodies against women, with gyrating, with suggestive movements, often with seductive and provocative music, dimmed lighting, and immodest dress. Add alcohol and drugs to the mix, and you have a recipe for disaster. The same thing applies to watching filthy music videos on MTV or whatever the modern channel is today. According to the Heidelberg Catechism, the seventh commandment “forbids all unchaste actions, gestures, words, thoughts, desires and whatsoever can entice men thereto” (Q&A 109). How many have been enticed to fornication and adultery by the unchaste actions and gestures of dancing?
It would be dangerous folly for the Christian to try to “redeem” dancing, as if by playing with that fire (by making a so-called “Christian dance”) he would not be burned. Instead of trying to guess how we might make dancing an acceptable recreational activity for Christians, we should avoid it altogether, lest the devil use it as a snare for our souls.
The reader mentions that dancing was a form of Old Testament worship. If we understand dancing as a visible expression of joy, we will not fall into error. “Thou hast turned for me my mourning into dancing: thou hast put off my sackcloth, and girded me with gladness” (Ps. 30:11). In the Old Testament, mourners wore sackcloth, while celebrants danced. But remember what I wrote above about the manner of their dancing. If we want to dance in the worship services when we are happy, do we also want to wear sackcloth when we are sad? Psalms 149:3 and 150:4 call us to praise God joyously, enthusiastically, and effusively. In the Old Testament, such joy was (on occasion) expressed in dancing. The psalms are poetry, and they reflect the Old Testament practices of a variety of musical instruments, of incense, and even of animal sacrifices (Ps. 66:15; 81:3; 141:2). Not all such worship practices are appropriate today. Dancing is not carried into Reformed worship today.
Solomon says that “there is a time to dance” (Ecclesiastes 3:4). He certainly does not mean that there is a time to go to the nightclub to cavort with the filthy dancers of the world. He certainly does not mean that there is a time to dance like the daughter of Herodias. He means that there are times when we are so happy that it appropriate to twirl, to skip, or to leap for joy. May the Lord give us many such times in our lives!