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Can Catholics Dance?

TIA correspondence desk
TIA has received several questions asking us if dances could be considered legitimate recreation for Catholics and, if so, in what conditions. We will return in this article to this topic which we have already addressed here, here, here and here. Let us enter into some specific dances that could be performed within the limits of Catholic Morals.

Ballroom dancing

Ballroom dancing - then...

ballroom dancing

Later ...

ballroom dancing

Now ...

The subject of dancing has been wrought with controversy for many years. Saints have condemned it, apparently indiscriminately, while worldly-minded Catholics applaud all forms of dance as good entertainment and healthy activity. Dancing in itself is not wrong, as is discussed in this articleand here. However, the dangers that arise from persons of the opposite sex coming in close contact have led Saints to oppose dancing.

Fr. Lasance explains the problem of dance in The Catholic Girl’s Guide:

“That the enemy of innocence is frequently met with in the ballroom, and that dancing is, for the most part, fraught with no little danger to chastity, are established facts which no sensible man will think of denying.

“I do not mean to say that dancing is in itself, and under all circumstances, a dangerous thing. On the contrary, in and by itself it is a perfectly harmless amusement; that is to say, moving about in time to the music is no more to be objected to than any other kind of gymnastic exercise. Indeed, in many excellent Catholic schools the pupils are occasionally allowed to amuse themselves by dancing. In this case no danger to innocence can possibly exist; any more than when brothers and sisters, or other near relatives, dance together.

“For these family gatherings the only evil is that they tend to awaken and foster a taste for what so often proves to be a dangerous amusement. Thus we see that dancing is not, in itself, a danger to chastity; it is rendered perilous only by the circumstances attending it. A great deal depends on the person with whom one dances.” (pg. 263)

Family gatherings with dancing

mioddle ages dancing

A medieval circle dance

In the Middle Ages, dancing appears to have been a common form of entertainment - although it was not permitted to be carried to excess. Feasts and holidays at the royal courts would often be accompanied by dancing.

St. Elizabeth of Hungary and her holy husband, Ludwig IV of Thuringia, participated in dancing at the royal courts. Their wedding celebration lasted for three days with joyous dancing and tournaments. St. Elizabeth would give up some dances as a sacrifice, but there does not seem to have been a moral issue with dancing itself. (1) These medieval dances did not involve the embrace between couples, but were rather line/chain or circle dances in which only the hands were joined.

Irish dance

An Irish folk dance for adolescents

In Ireland in recent times, good priests condemned the dance halls and ballroom dancing; however, they permitted the traditional Irish folk dances to be performed with strict supervision.

A lady from Ireland explained her traditional upbringing regarding dance in this way:

“Parents must be firm and resolute on this issue. Your daughter's chastity and purity will be under severe threat if you allow her to engage in modern dancing.

“Of course folk dancing is a different issue entirely and is a commendable pastime. On holiday from boarding school, there was no chance that we would be allowed to go to dances. But we were allowed to go to traditional Irish dances, where there was minimal touching between boys and girls. They were held in broad daylight at crossroads. Like all entertainments where boys and girls interact, however, there must be present adequate supervision to protect moral standards.

“There is one thing about which we can be certain. Wherever there is mixed company we also find Satan, simply awaiting his opportunity.”

Saints who danced

To give further evidence that some forms of dance are not wrong, we will include quotes from lives of the saints below.

innocent dancing

Innocent dancing is not wrong

First, we find in The Admirable Life of Mother Mariana, Volume II:

“The sisters (of the Royal Convent of the Immaculate Conception in Quito) would spend the night of the 24th before the Créche, each one making her praises of the Child Jesus. They would sing sweet songs and recite beautiful eulogies, celebrating and laughing with happiness.

“They would also dance in praise of the Christ Child, just as our father St. Francis had done on that Night so truly good. No one should be scandalized by this, for we read in Holy Scriptures that King David played the harp and danced before the Ark of the Covenant.

“So these good sisters, the religious of the Immaculate Conception, would dance before the Manger on this night – not with profane worldly dancing; rather, they danced like religious, the spouses of Our Lord Jesus Christ, filled with jubilance and celebrating the Birth of the Son of God on earth. For dancing in itself is not a sin. It is the perverse world, with its common depravity, that corrupts and perverts it, introducing its shamelessness and vomiting its infernal venom into worldly men.” (pg. 99)

Mother Saint Mary Mazzarello

Sister Mary Mazzarello & her nuns receive counsel from St. John Bosco

Second, in the Life of St. Mary Mazzarello, the woman whom St. John Bosco chose to found his order for women, an interesting incident is related regarding dancing:

“As carnival drew near, Mary tried to think of ways to keep the girls with her and away from the nightly dances and other public entertainments that were so dangerous to their souls. She discovered a girl who could play the accordion and invited her to the workroom. Then Mary urged all the girls to stay away from the public dances. If they came to her, they would have a good time without being in danger of offending God.

“The girls turned out in large numbers. The musicians played, and the girls were permitted to jump around to their heart’s content. This was a real novelty and the joyous shouts must have reached the stars. Some were dancing in the yard, others in the room, still others in the hallway. Some simply watched, but everyone enjoyed herself immensely. Mary was very pleased with all this movement. She encouraged them to keep on, pointing out how they could be happy without offending God.” (2)


A joyful family dance in the home

Third, in the life of Sister Marie de Saint-Pierre, the Carmelite devotee of the Holy Face, the following is reported:

“At Christmastime she showed her joy and piety in various ways; she contemplated with a radiant countenance the statue of the Infant Jesus in the crib, took it in her arms, lit tapers before it, and sang for the Divine Babe her sweetest songs of praise; sometimes, even, like David before the Ark, she began to dance, inviting her companions in the Novitiate to do the same.

“The Mother-Prioress expressed astonishment and warned her against dissipation. ‘Oh, no, Reverend Mother,’ she answered, ‘I do it to honor the Infant Jesus, and to make amends for all the guilty dances that offend Him.’” (3)

Therefore, when dancing is done in a spirit of giving honor to God rather than simply for the pleasure it arouses and so long as it is in accordance with Catholic Morals, Catholics may participate in innocent dances.

Caution on dancing

Certainly the safest manner of dance is when the dancing takes place among members of the same sex or family members. In these instances, a Catholic need not fear joining in the dancing as long as the dances are permissible and they are done in the correct spirit. In regards to choosing what dances to attend, a Catholic should first carefully inquire about the circumstances surrounding it. Some include:

First: Is it to be held at a private gathering or is it open to the public?

A good Catholic should avoid public dances, particularly in today’s world, because unrespectable persons may attend, endangering the innocence of the dance. It is far better to attend a dance hosted by a trusted relative or friend, who carefully chooses virtuous men and women to invite.

Second: Will it be supervised with adults as well as young people?

dancing pesant

An innocent peasant circle dance with youth in their traditional modest garb

There is a great danger that comes from allowing young men and women to be alone together. This should be avoided at all costs. An innocent dance should include all ages, or at least older persons should feel comfortable watching the dancers. Parents and adults should always be present at a dance, carefully watching to prevent any immodesty or excess in the dance. If the dance a young Catholic is considering attending is only for young persons, it would be best for him to stay at home.

Third: Are there requirements for modest attire?

A Catholic should not participate in dances in which some are immodestly dressed, as this may incite impure thoughts. The host should clearly set out the standards of modesty for the dance: men in long sleeve shirts and pants, women in long skirts and long sleeves with modest necklines.

Fourth: Is the music revolutionary or traditional?


The waltz is imbued with undue touching

All modern line dances and country dances as well as tap dances are revolutionary, in that they are based on either Blues, Jazz, or Rock. The movements in these dances are also often immodest, with high kicks, hip sways, or other questionable steps, and the general attitude of the dancers is far from innocent. Even though there may be no direct contact between partners in these line dances, the very movements inspired by the beat of the music are typically sensual and conducive to impurity.

Traditional folk dance music is often accompanied by live performers, such as a fiddler, a string quartet or a small band. This is ideal, although recordings of the music are sometimes used. The music itself is innocent and merry, without the hypnotic backbeat found in revolutionary music.

Fifth: What type of dances will be presented?

irish jig

An Irish jig danced on the town square

Dances that have any form of embrace, such as the Waltz, Polka and Swing dances, are not morally permissible for Catholics. The most contact a man and woman should make in the course of the dance is through the hands or perhaps linking the arms briefly. Other things to avoid are instructions to gaze into the partner’s eyes as is common in many of the regency dances, which leads to romantic feelings and the excitement of the passions.

If there is even one "couple dance" planned, it would be best to avoid the party as one may be tempted to take part in that dance. However, if the dancing does not involve an embrace or other close contact, it is generally safe to participate in it, as long as the other principles are followed.

Some examples of acceptable dances include traditional Irish folk dances, English country dancing and other ethnic folk dances. But a necessary word of caution must be stated about folk dances, because even some folk dances include Waltz or Polka movements. Therefore, each dance must be carefully analyzed before deciding whether or not it is acceptable.

Below are examples of acceptable Dances for men and women:
Dances women

Below, the famous Schuhplattler has a long history

dance men
Dances for women: Dances for men: In conclusion, these are the specifics we can offer to our readers interested in engaging in some dancing according to Catholic Morals.

  1. These instances in the life of St. Elizabeth of Jungary are described in further details in the Life of St. Elizabeth of Hungary by the Count de Montalembert
  2. Saint Mary D. Mazzarello: Co-Foundress and First Superior General of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians by Father Ferdinand Maccono (Volume 1), Alexander Hamilton Printing Company, Paterson, New Jersey, translated by Sister Catherine Hurley, pg. 106
  3. The Manual of the Holy Face by A.M.P., Saint Paul Press, Dallas, Texas, 2018, pgs. 375-276

Blason de Charlemagne
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Posted March 4, 2024

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