Why we still need Mormon youth dances

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Not a picture from an actual Mormon dance. This is more aspirational than actual. Still.

(Shutterstock)

Not a picture from an actual Mormon dance. This is more aspirational than actual. Still.

Not a picture from an actual Mormon dance. This is more aspirational than actual. Still.

Not a picture from an actual Mormon dance. This is more aspirational than actual. Still.

In case you disagree with what I am about to say, I am front-loading this post with all the ammunition you need for arguing that I have no idea what I am talking about in regards to Mormon youth dances. You’re welcome.

1) I didn’t grow up in the Church, so I never attended one of these as a teenager. No sweaty palms, no agonizing about what to wear or whether some boy from the stake would ask me to dance (or, if he did, agonizing about whether he was asking because he had to, in an Eagle-Scout-I-will-dance-with-everyone kind of way, or because he actually wanted to).

2) In the years that I worked in various callings with the Young Women, I never attended one either. They always seemed to have enough chaperones who were parents of the teens from our ward. Or maybe they just thought I would eat all of the cookies. In any case, I was never asked.

3) I am the worst dancer in the state of Ohio, and possibly the universe. We need not dwell upon this last point.

However, having absolutely no authority on a subject has never prevented a blogger from having a firm opinion about said subject. This is no exception.

So: I hope we keep having Mormon youth dances.

One of the most popular stories on the Deseret News site right now is a piece by a Utah mother of five who, like me, thinks that church dances continue to be a good idea. They teach kids how to socialize like adults (or how to socialize, period, sans electronic devices), and help them build confidence in social situations. She says that we also need to listen to the complaints of teens who don’t attend because the music is outdated and the culture of pairing off rather than dancing in groups is obsolete; but rather than abandoning dances altogether, she says, we need to make them more relevant.

All of these are good reasons that I agree with. But here’s another thing I would add: we need to keep Mormon  dances because they’re one of the only church activities remaining for youth that don’t come armed with A Message.

Think for a moment about what Mormon teen life was like in the 1950s. Now, I know it is an old chestnut to claim that the ’50s were a kind of halcyon age because they were somehow more religious and less fun than life today. In Mormonism, however, that is precisely backwards. Being a Mormon teen back in the day was less religious and more fun.

Think about some of the purely fun activities that Mormon youth used to enjoy that are basically gone now.

It’s not that Mormons have become joyless. We still have tremendous fun, despite the disappearance of this once-all-encompassing social world. But the youth today have fewer church-sponsored activities that are just geared toward recreation and socialization.

Other religions used to actually criticize us for having church dances and theatricals. We were viewed as too light-hearted, too frivolous. No one would say that about us now. Even our pioneer treks can be a serious business.

So I hope our teen dances won’t go the way of the dinosaur. I’m not advocating that we should bring back the “Green and Gold Balls” of Mormonism’s past (though wouldn’t that be trippy and retro just for one night?), but we should keep some activities for no other reason than that they have the potential for fun.

 

 

  • Sharee

    I grew up in a small town in the “mission field.” The group that was baptized at the same time my parents and I were back in 1950, well, we kind of were the branch. Very small. We didn’t do roadshows or have girls camp, but we had fun. I don’t remember what we did in Primary, but when we hit Mutual age, we did a lot of hikes and put on some plays, had parties at the beach, etc. Actually, the beach parties were the whole branch and I guess they started back in my Primary days. We really did have a lot of fun. Yes, we had our Gold & Green Balls, but we didn’t really have any boys to dance with. I remember one New Year’s Eve dance, the mission president gave the missionaries permission to dance, so all of us teenage girls would have someone to dance with besides each other. I can’t see that happening today. I guess what the YM an YW do for fun today depends on where they live.

  • trytoseeitmyway

    We absolutely need more fun in the Church! For youth, for YSAs, and for everyone.

    Sadly I think that there is less interest in dances among young people generally. And of course some styles of dancing are problematic. Still, we need to pull everyone’s nose out of their phones and earbuds out of their ears, so that we can be reminded how much fun it is to do things together.

  • Rigel Hawthorne

    Thanks for writing this. I think it is an important piece. I find myself no longer on the ward council after making a comment that took the last word away from the Bishop. He said that he thought the worst possible YMYW activity would be a ‘game night’ (precisely because it had no message or service). I countered that games give kids the opportunity to be the center of attention for a moment in a fun way that can strengthen their social skills and take the anxiety away from more attention garnering center-of-attention requirements in life. He quietly gave one nod and went on with business, as if my comment was never made. As his years of Bishoping have lengthened, I think he as retreated a bit from the ‘anti-games’ position a bit.

    I would comment that I did go to weekday primary and there were gospel themed lessons. Summer Primary, on the other hand, was totally cool back in the day and very very fun!

  • EG

    The only issue I have with youth dances is……where I live it is always a Tri-Stake dance (the other two stakes are from neighboring towns and sports rivals). The building can’t hold that many kids…it is difficult to move around, and the dance floor is packed, mainly people standing around because there is no where else to stand. The building is overflowing with people. That many people packed in like a can of sardines violates fire codes. My concerns fall on deaf ears.

    Also the kids don’t have much fun ( some have told me) because there is no room to move. And the kids really do not like it tri-stake. I know, I chaperoned one dance before. Refused to do it again.

    But yes, there needs to be more fun activities for the youth, and not just sports activities.

  • I have a 14-year-old son who would give your post two enthusiastic thumbs up, Jana. I was very shy as a teen and never went to youth dances, so I have no firsthand experience either, but my son loves them, for precisely the reason you cite: they’re unstructured socializing time in a way that seminary and Sunday school and weeknight activities and youth conference aren’t.

  • A Happy Hubby

    Another oh so true post from Jana. I am in my early 50’s and even though I lived in the mid-southern US. We did roadshows and such. We really did have more fun. My ward just did a talent show and had lots of “farce” talents shown (such as skits from Napoleon Dynamite that had everyone rolling). It was just fun and it made me realize how unusual this was. I saw the term, “Christ-centered boredom” and it sure hit home.

  • I grew up with Church dances and I can say they were cheese and terrible. I can also say I wouldn’t have given them up for the world. As a 14 year old, I could talk to girls in a non-date but cooler than hanging out with parents because we couldn’t drive kind of way. At 16 it was a way to meet girls and get to know if they were friend or potential dating material. I grew up in an area where the only Mormon girl my age was my sister. Those dances were literally a God send. I had no clue anyone was talking about ending the dances. That happens and there will be plenty of people dating early, marrying non-members and not going on missions. It really is the backbone of the youth program.

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  • Raymond Takashi Swenson

    Last Sunday, my home teacher talked about how he met his wife at a church dance. That was true for me, too. Indeed, we understood that the main purpose of holding them (especially when we reached adulthood) was to help us meet each other at our best so we could think about pairing off into families.

  • Rick C

    I’m not sure that because an activity is not primarily for recreation and socialization, that it doesn’t serve that purpose. I would allege most of our activities, primarily for youth, include recreation and socialization. I’m just not sure that should be the only purposes.
    . I’m not sure I really agree with holding dances. Keep in mind I am a fan of dances and dancing. I didn’t meet my wife at a dance, but it is where we started our real relationship. The challenge I see with dances is that they aren’t doing the job. I have been in YM and chaperoning YM /YW activities since I became an adult more than 30 years ago, and have DJed for both Church and School dances. Over the years, our youth have lost the concept of dancing. When there is any dancing, it’s usually a youth demonstrating what he’s learned by emulating a YouTube dance.
    But we do need to have activities where YM and YW interact with each other. I like the idea of game nights for the reason Rigel Hawthorne…

  • Rick C

    I have to admit my real concern is that we are doing a poor job of teaching our YM and YW how to interact. We have almost completely discouraged dating, whether intentionally or not, and our kids aren’t learning how to develop a relationship. All they get from the world is hook up with someone.
    I remember having a conversation with some youth at a Youth Conference more than 20 years ago, and the prevailing attitude was that if you date more than one person, you’re a slut, and you should go steady. Today, our youth members have little one on one contact with the opposite sex, and it’s not until they are often off their missions, and the pressure is on to get married. And we wonder why they are waiting until they are older (and it’s much more difficult to find mates) to think about getting married.

  • David

    Amen and hallelullah!

    Church dances were the single most important aspect of my social life as a teenager. I didn’t go to parties or out with school friends on the weekend because alcohol was ever present.

    But I could look forward to dance 1-2x per month. And they were seriously fun in Virginia and Maryland. We often had 300 to 500 youth attend and they were easily more fun than homecoming or prom. I’d often have 10 or so non-Mormon friends come along who would ask, “when is the next Mormon dance”? A few were baptized into the church and a couple are in temple marriages today. All left with positive impressions of our faith, even when a DJ accidentaly played the “I like big butts” song (he threatened to stop the dance if any other innappropriate song requests wer submitted.

    The combination of morality and sociality makes people take notice. It is among our best missionary tools.