HU’s stance on dancing has been anything but stable in its nearly 125 year history, but students have always had opinions on the subject.
By Kaleb Ketchum, Contributor
No, you may not have this dance!
At least not for 113 years if you were a student in the fall of 1897 at Huntington University (then called Central College.)
On campus dances were not allowed until March of 2011 — 113 years after the establishment of the University.
The first ever University sponsored dance took place on March 31, 2011 in the upper level of the Merillat Centre for the Arts. Wavers were signed by attendees at the door agreeing to uphold the Community Life agreement. Songs had to get the OK from the SCC (student concerns committee).
At HU, the community life agreement lays out the standards by which students are to conduct themselves while attending the University. Sometimes these standards apply on campus as well as off campus. In the case of alcohol, for example, all current undergraduate students are prohibited from alcohol consumption on and off campus.
HU’s position on dancing has changed over the years, but it was never a full “yes” until 2011.
During some administrations, the no-dance policy was taken very seriously.
“A past dean of students would go to community events to make sure that students weren’t dancing,” said an alumnus from several decades ago, who preferred to stay anonymous.
HU wasn’t the only upholder of a no-dance policy in Christian education. A Baylor University press release in 1996 (during the life of HU’s no-dance policy) discussed the monumental decision to explicitly allow dancing on campus for the first time in the school’s 151 year history.
Ninety-four percent of Baylor’s student body was in favor of the decision to allow dancing. Fifteen years later, HU followed suit.
“The Student Senate had interest in it,” Ron Coffey, vice president for student life at Huntington University, said.
Coffey noted that because other Christian institutions had successfully incorporated dancing on campus, the school was comfortable making the transition in policy.
The reason for the policy existence goes back a long way. One student handbook from the mid-eighties gave an explanation:
“The United Brethren Church has traditionally taken a stand against social dancing. Many members of our constituency and campus community would be offended if it were a recognized campus activity. Therefore, campus groups or organizations are not to sponsor dances on or off campus.”
Mike Dittman, the United Brethren director of national ministries and visiting professor of Th.D. studies at Evangelical Seminary, responded to questions related to the idea of a religious-based forbiddance of dance. Dittman didn’t think that some reasons used to support a no-dance attitude were to be looked down upon.
“’Holiness movements’ wanted to avoid anything that would lead to sin.” He said that the avoidance of dancing “in many ways was trying not to sin.”
Dittman also used biblical examples when sharing his thoughts during a phone interview.
“All the pharisees’ laws were to keep from sin,” he said.
Dittman thought that, in general, a departure from these attitudes had to do with freeing people from what many consider as the burden of legalism. He also noted that he “was not a historian,” and that his remarks did not directly correlate with specific points in the United Brethren denomination’s history. He was describing the occurrence of a religiously supported forbiddance of dancing in general.
Kathryn Dickason, in an article in The Conversation, discusses the history of the church toward the subject of dancing throughout Christian history. She claims that early Christian thinkers like Augustine of Hippo were not exactly warm to the idea, and they associated dancing with the worship of pagan gods and fleshly desires. Dickason went on to say that between the ninth and sixteenth centuries, dance became an accepted way of worship in the Christian religion. With the advent of the protestant reformation in the sixteenth century, the acceptance of dancing in Christendom waned from the levels it enjoyed in the Middle Ages.
While church fathers like Augustine looked at dancing negatively, some past HU students disagreed with such a view.
“The Bible has failed to state thou shalt not: dance, drink, or hold hands,” a former student said in an October 1971 Huntingtonian issue. “Huntington College has failed to see that in making all its rules and all its regulations it has created not harmony and understanding but discontent and dissatisfaction. Shouldn’t Huntington College revise its blueprint to fit 1971?”
A current student who is taking advantage of being able to dance on campus is sophomore Alyssa DeLibero. DeLibero is a proud member of Huntington’s Undignified dance club.
“I met some friends thorough it and I got some of my friends to join me,” DeLibero said. “Really it was something that kept me accountable to get my homework done before 8 p.m. on a Sunday and gave me something to end my weeks with that I enjoy.”
DeLibero also discussed what being a member of Undignified has meant to her spiritually.
“I think maybe a traditional dance group wouldn’t impact my spiritual life that much, but with Undignified, we try to make this for God. We pray before every practice. Dance groups aren’t necessarily good for your spiritual life, but Undignified does a really good job of adding that spiritual aspect.”
HU’s current policy on dancing can be found on the website, which says that HU students are permitted to engage in social dancing at University sponsored dances. This leaves room for one to wonder if, even in 2022, an HU student might get in trouble for dancing off campus in a non-University sponsored event.
Fortunately for the groovin’ kind, Ron Coffey puts these worries to rest: “Those days are long gone.”