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 She says that we also need to listen to the complaints of teens who don’t attend because the music is outdated and the culture of pairing off rather than dancing in groups is obsolete; but rather than abandoning dances altogether, she says, we need to make them more relevant.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.
- Road shows, once an annual festival of homespun entertainment mostly for its own sake, are a thing of the past almost everywhere in Mormondom. (However, as you can see here, not everyone loved them.)
- Church athletic teams and leagues, which didn’t work logistically once the Church grew past its Wasatch home base, were mostly discontinued in the 1970s.
- Things like Girls Camp were, from what I hear, actually a good time.
- And while we’re at it, Primary used to occur on a weekday after school and emphasize having fun more than teaching doctrine.
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.