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Is it a Sin for a Catholic to Dance?

Most Catholics today will likely find the contents of this article rather shocking.  Many will surely cry that: “We are Catholics not puritans!”, and that is so, for we do not agree with the puritans, but nevertheless there is a grave danger for Catholics in dancing as we know it today.  And all too often this evil dancing is justified by Catholics, even by quoting the sacred scriptures or other sources out of context.

We will begin with a letter written by a Catholic priest (serving in the diocese of Baltimore, Maryland) 110 years ago:

To the Federated Catholic Societies of Allegany County

By Rev. Father Don Luigi Sartori, Rector of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church of Midland, Maryland.

Gentlemen:—I have before me a kind invitation from the Cumberland Federated Catholic Societies to be present at a reception to be held at Sts. Peter and Paul’s Hall, Fayette St. and Plum Alley, January 28th instant, tendered to the out of town Federated Catholic Societies of Allegany county.

The invitation to such a reception prompted me to write this open letter. Your Federation ought to be in Allegany a power to help pastors in the work of preventing scandals and eradicating vices and removing dangers alluring young people to sin. There are many evils antagonizing the work of a parish priest in this region, but I deem one a principal, i.e. dancing of any kind comprehending square dances, which in some respects are worse than round dances. In my experience in the ministry for over twenty-seven years I have discovered the evil tendency of the practice in the hearts of the young people, rendering them callous to Catholic duties, undermining modesty, which ought to be the distinct virtue of the young, especially of the young maid. I have seen the consequences of such an evil, and I became fully convinced that it brought ruin to an enormous number of young people. In fact, dancing of any kind is to-day one of the greatest evils in the United States. Young men and young women are rushing like maniacs to such a sinful diversion, which becomes a fierce torrent tearing away all kinds of embankments, which the priests of God have endeavored to erect with great labor, to check its mad rage.

This letter does not call for arguments to prove my assertions and my conviction. It is enough here to state that the practice is not in accordance with the letter and spirit of the Catholic Church and the teaching of her saintly Fathers. The people are not willing to give up for Christ this divertissement, which affords pleasure to the flesh. Priests feel that they are a failure in their earnest efforts to combat the evil for the salvation of souls.

Come forward, Federated Catholic Societies of Allegany county and nobly fight with the clergy this home evil, for Christ, His Church and for the welfare of the commonwealth.

Great to-day is the admiration for the Methodists of this country, who raised $20,000,000 as a thank offering, but greater still is my admiration for them for their noble stand against any kind of dancing.

This note was not suggested by anybody. I alone am responsible for it and I accept the consequences of unpopularity. I know my motives are sincere. I am fully aware of my exceedingly strong conviction in the matter.

Hoping you will condescend to consider this private note, I remain,

Yours sincerely,

Father Sartori. Midland, Jan. 4th, 1903.

Now what did this good parish priest have against dancing?  What indeed has the Catholic Church always taught about dancing that would lead him to write so strongly against it?  Is this simply the opinion of one overzelous priest from a century ago?

To begin we first must establish certain fundamental principles from which we can build to understand the teaching of the Church on this matter.  This is essential when looking at any subject of morality, especially when it comes to one that is difficult to accept or will often involve an excessive amount of emotion when it must be employed (i.e. end of life issues).  We must, in an even temper, look at these things coldly and understand how things are in reality and not be swayed by how we “feel” things are or “feel” they ought to be.  

This must be said because we are living in a society and a culture in the United States and the whole Western World for that matter which is (and has been for some time) living entirely at the level of the passions.

This is what we must understand then first of all: 1) what are the passions and 2) what does it mean when a person (or an entire society) is merely living at that level.

In the soul there are the higher faculties of the soul and the lower.  The Intellect is that found in the higher part of the soul and in the lower are the passions (or appetites). Speaking simply, an appetite or passion is a tending of the soul toward a thing or away from a thing depending on whether or not it is perceived as good or evil.  The passions are broken down into two groups: the Concupiscible and Iracible.  And these are the following:

Concupiscible Appetites
1) Love – the most basic of the emotions
2) Desire
3) Pleasure (Joy)
4) Hate – initial negative response to a stimulus
5) Aversion – immediate emotional response to what we hate
6) Pain – if unable to distance oneself from the hatful thing then one experiences the emotion of pain

Irascible Appetites
1) Hope – when a desired good is not readily available without the overcoming of obstacles
2) Audacity/Courage (audacia) – when the difficult good is to be overcome
3) Despair – the emotion we have when the difficult good is perceived as unattainable
4) Fear – we doubt our ability to obtain the difficult good
5) Anger – when presented with a perceived (or real) injustice one then has a desire for revenge

The problem is that because of Original Sin our passions are disordered and we do not have perfect integrity as did our first parents.  This means that we suffer from a darkened intellect and a weakened will.  And the more we sin the more our passions become disordered and the more they will darken our intellect and influence more strongly our weakened will.  Until such point that we are merely living at the level of our passion and being utterly ruled by them.

So there can be a problem both with an excess of a passion or a lack of it.  For example we can look at the passion of anger, which in and of itself is not sinful.  Indeed, there is such a thing as just anger.  So it is just as wrong for a man to be yelling and screaming about some small perceived injustice toward him as it is for man to see a woman being attacked and not feel a just anger at the real injustice being perpetrated before him.  Without that just anger in the latter situation one could not then be driven to come to the aid of that women in a heroic manner.  Now if the assailant was merely trying to steal the woman’s purse and you come after him and beat him to death with your fists it would be clear that your anger had gone far past what was right in the case.

How does a passion or the passions in general become so disordered that they can actually rule over the intellect and have a seemingly irresistibly strong power to sway the will?  This comes from inflaming the passions.  This is done through sin and occasions of sin.  It is particularly bad when a particular sin is repeated many times.  To return to our example of anger if a man were to constantly give in to a temptation to blow up at a coworker when he felt he was wronged by them he would begin to inflame the passion of anger.  Over time then it would become increasingly difficult for him to resist those temptations and thus the blow ups would happen more and more and thus there would be a downward spiral.  And it is then bit by bit that one slips down into a worse state.  Finally, what began as a “bit of a temper” can end in such an excess of anger it results in his killing one of his fellow human beings.

Now that we hopefully understand these very important principles about human nature we can return to the main subject of this article.

Dancing is problematic because it, along with the music necessarily associated with it, tends to strongly inflame the passions, and in particular those of Love, Desire, and Pleasure.  Each of which in their proper place are good things but when misapplied can bring a soul to eternal perdition.

For a deeper look into the problematic nature of modern music, and it’s impact on our passions please see this conference:

First of all this has to do with the contact between a man a woman which has always been traditionally taught by the Catholic Church to be dangerous source of occasions for sins against purity and chastity, whether in mind or body.  Also, for the man in particular, there is the grave danger associated with looking for a prolonged period at the woman (in particular if she happens to be immodestly dressed).

Many might be shocked to discover that Pope Alexander VII (1655-1667) infallibly condemned the proposition that stated that “a kiss is only venial when performed for the sake of carnal and sensible delight which arises from the kiss, even if danger of further consent and pollution is excluded” (DS 1140).  Yes, passionate kissing outside of the context of marriage is a mortal sin.  But we should now see why this is so, because it inflames ones passion of desire for another to whom they are not married and this left unchecked will inevitably lead to fornication.  Thus to passionately kiss when unmarried a couple puts themselves in a near occasion of mortal sin, which act, if done deliberately and with full knowledge, is itself a mortal sin.

And so we have the same situation with dancing which has just as much power, if not more, to inflame the passions. And not just by the physical contact but for the man it is a danger for his eyes and also for the woman there is a danger that the man will take this opportunity to exploit her own weakness: her ears.  There is a reason why they call sweet talkers: “silver tongued devils” for they like Satan himself cause a woman to fall by speaking to her and inflaming her passions toward something that is not good for her.  This is strongly worded language here to be sure, but in so many cases men are ignorant of the danger their sweet talking poses to their female friend and just so I believe most good young Catholic ladies are totally unaware of damage they do by their immodest dress. We must also remember that modesty is not just to do with dress, but also with deportment.  One could be very modestly dressed but if they are writhing around on the dance floor in a suggestive manner they would still be acting in a very immodest manner.

We read in Sacred Scripture very clearly that one should:

“Use not much the company of her that is a dancer, and hearken not to her, lest thou perish by the force of her charms. Gaze not upon a maiden, lest her beauty be a stumblingblock to thee.” -Ecclesiasticus 9:4-5

And the Moral Doctor of the Universal Church, Saint Alphonsus Ligouri, teaches us:

“Almost all our rebellious passions spring from unguarded looks; for, generally speaking, it is by the sight that all inordinate affections and desires are excited. Hence, holy Job made a covenant with his eyes, that he would not so much as think upon a virgin. (Job 31:1) Why did he say that he would not so much as think upon a virgin? Should he not have said that he made a covenant with his eyes not to look at a virgin? No; he very properly said that he would not think upon a virgin; because thoughts are so connected with looks, that the former cannot be separated from the latter, and therefore, to escape the molestation of evil imaginations, he resolved never to fix his eyes on a woman.”

And what does dancing in public provide but an opportunity for this terrible occasion of sin.  Even for a spousal couple to dance in public is a problem because while there is no problem or danger for them there is certainly a possible issue for those who watch.  But more the danger will come from those onlookers seeking to join in the dancing and entering in to dance with a member of the opposite sex to whom they are not married.  And considering that a “First Dance” of a married couple is ubiquitous at Catholic weddings today it is very interesting to note the 53rd Canon of the Synod of Laodicea held in 363 AD which said:

“Christians, when they attend weddings, must not join in wanton dances, but modestly dine or breakfast, as is becoming to Christians.”

Sadly, we all have had experiences at Catholic wedding receptions where it seemed that this was not heeded, but then where would they or those who attended have heard this teaching when the teaching of Catholic morality has been essentially non-existent for the last 40 or so years.  We certainly do not impute any sin to these people for they are almost certainly ignorant of what they did.  Yet it makes one sad to think of such things being so commonplace.

At the beginning of this article was offered for your consideration an open letter of a parish priest, and so let us now consider a sermon given by another parish priest on the subject of dancing:

There is always the person who says to me: “What harm can there be in enjoying oneself for awhile? I do no wrong to anyone; I do not want to be religious or to become a religious! If I do not go to dances, I will be living in the world like someone dead!”

My good friend, you are wrong. Either you will be religious or you will be damned. What is a religious person? This is nothing other than a person who fulfills his duties as a Christian. You say that I shall achieve nothing by talking to you about dances and that you will indulge neither more nor less in them. You are wrong again. In ignoring or despising the instructions of your pastor, you draw down upon yourself fresh chastisements from God, and I, on my side, will achieve quite a lot by fulfilling my duties. At the hour of my death, God will ask me not if you have fulfilled your duties but if I have taught you what you must do in order to fulfill them. You say, too, that I shall never break down your resistance to the point of making you believe that there is harm in amusing yourself for a little while in dancing? You do not wish to believe that there is any harm in it? Well, that is your affair. As far as I am concerned, it is sufficient for me to tell you in such a way as will insure that doing this I am doing all that I should do. That should not irritate you: your pastor is doing his duty. But, you will say, the Commandments of God do not forbid dancing, nor does Holy Scripture, either. Perhaps you have not examined them very closely. Follow me for a moment and you will see that there is not a Commandment of God which dancing does not cause to be transgressed, nor a Sacrament which it does not cause to be profaned.

You know as well as I do that these kinds of follies and wild extravagances are not ordinarily indulged in, but on Sundays and feast days. What, then, will a young girl or a boy do who have decided to go to the dance? What love will they have for God? Their minds will be wholly occupied with their preparations to attract the people with whom they hope to be mixing. Let us suppose that they say their prayers–how will they say them? Alas, only God knows that! Besides, what love for God can be felt by anyone who is thinking and breathing nothing but the love of pleasures and creatures? You will admit that it is impossible to please God and the world. That can never be.

God forbids swearing. Alas! What quarrels, what swearing, what blasphemies are uttered as a result of the jealousy that arises between these young people when they are at such gatherings! Have you not often had disputes or fights there? Who could count the crimes that are committed at these diabolical gatherings? The Third Commandment commands us to sanctify the holy day of Sunday. Can anyone really believe that a boy who has passed several hours with a girl, whose heart is like a furnace, is really thus satisfying this precept? St. Augustine has good reason to say that men would be better to work their land and girls to carry on with their spinning than to go dancing; the evil would be less. The Fourth Commandment of God commands children to honor their parents. These young people who frequent the dances, do they have the respect and the submission to their parents’ wishes which they should have? No, they certainly do not; they cause them utmost worry and distress between the way they disregard their parents’ wishes and the way they put their money to bad use, while sometimes even taunting them with their old-fashioned outlook and ways. What sorrow should not such parents feel, that is, if their faith is not yet extinct, at seeing their children given over to such pleasures or, to speak more plainly, to such licentious ways? These children are no longer Heaven-bent, but are fattening for Hell. Let us suppose that the parents have not yet lost the Faith. . . . Alas! I dare not go any further! . . . What blind parents! . . . What lost children! . . .

Is there any place, any time, any occasion wherein so many sins of impurity are committed at the dancehalls and their sequels? Is it not in these gatherings that people are most violently prompted against the holy virtue of purity? Where else but there are the senses so strongly urged towards pleasurable excitement? If we go a little more closely into this, should we not almost die of horror at the sight of so many crimes which are committed? Is it not at these gatherings that the Devil so furiously kindles the fire of impurity in the hearts of the young people in order to annihilate in them the grace of Baptism? Is it not there that Hell enslaves as many souls as it wishes? If, in spite of the absence of occasions and the aids of prayer, a Christian has so much difficulty in preserving purity of heart, how could he possibly preserve that virtue in the midst of so many sources which are capable of breaking it down?

“Look,” says St. John Chrysostom, “at this worldly and flighty young woman, or rather at this flaming brand of diabolical fire who by her beauty and her flamboyant attire lights in the heart of that young man the fire of concupiscence. Do you not see them, one as much as the other, seeking to charm one another by their airs and graces and all sorts of tricks and wiles? Count up, unfortunate sinner, if you can, the number of your bad thoughts, of your evil desires and your sinful actions. Is it not there that you heard those airs that please the ears, that inflame and burn hearts and make of these assemblies furnaces of shamelessness?”

Is it not there, my dear brethren, that the boys and the girls drink at the fountain of crime, which very soon, like a torrent or a river bursting its banks, will inundate, ruin, and poison all its surroundings? Go on, shameless fathers and mothers, go on into Hell, where the fury of God awaits you, you and all the good actions you have done in letting your children run such risks. Go on, they will not be long in joining you, for you have outlined the road plainly for them. Go and count the number of years that your boys and girls have lost, go before your Judge to give an account of your lives, and you will see that your pastor had reason to forbid these kinds of diabolical pleasures! . . .

Ah, you say, you are making more of it than there really is!

I say too much about it? Very well, then. Listen. Did the Holy Fathers of the Church say too much about it? St. Ephraim tells us that dancing is the perdition of girls and women, the blinding of men, the grief of angels, and the joy of the devils. Dear God, can anyone really have their eyes bewitched to such an extent that they will still want to believe that there is no harm in it, while all the time it is the rope by which the Devil pulls the most souls into Hell? . . . Go on, poor parents, blind and lost, go on and scorn what your pastor is telling you! Go on! Continue the way you are going! Listen to everything and profit nothing by it! There is no harm in it? Tell me, then, what did you renounce on the day of your Baptism? Or on what conditions was Baptism given to you? Was it not on the condition of your taking a vow in the face of Heaven and earth, in the presence of Jesus Christ upon the altar, that you would renounce Satan and all his works and pomps, for the whole of your lives–or in other words that you would renounce sin and the pleasures and vanities of the world?

Was it not because you promised that you would be willing to follow in the steps of a crucified God? Well then, is this not truly to violate those promises made at your Baptism and to profane this Sacrament of mercy? Do you not also profane the Sacrament of Confirmation, in exchanging the Cross of Jesus Christ, which you have received, for vain and showy dress, in being ashamed of that Cross, which should be your glory and your happiness?

St. Augustine tells us that those who go to dances truly renounce Jesus Christ in order to give themselves to the Devil. What a horrible thing that is! To drive out Jesus Christ after having received Him in your hearts! “Today,” says St. Ephraim, “they unite themselves to Jesus Christ and tomorrow to the Devil.” Alas! What a Judas is that person who, after receiving our Lord, goes then to sell Him to Satan in these gatherings, where he will be reuniting himself with everything that is most vicious! And when it comes to the Sacrament of Penance, what a contradiction in such a life! A Christian, who after one single sin should spend the rest of his life in repentance, thinks only of giving himself up to all these worldly pleasures! A great many profane the Sacrament of Extreme Unction by making indecent movements with the feet, the hands and the whole body, which one day must be sanctified by the holy oils. Is not the Sacrament of Holy Order insulted by the contempt with which the instructions of the pastor are considered? But when we come to the Sacrament of Matrimony, alas! What infidelities are not contemplated in these assemblies? It seems then that everything is admissible. How blind must anyone be who thinks there is no harm in it . . .

The Council of Aix-la-Chapelle forbids dancing, even at weddings. And St. Charles Borromeo, the Archbishop of Milan, says that three years of penance were given to someone who had danced and that if he went back to it, he was threatened with excommunication. If there were no harm in it, then were the Holy Fathers and the Church mistaken? But who tells you that there is no harm in it? It can only be a libertine, or a flighty and worldly girl, who are trying to smother their remorse of conscience as best they can. Well, there are priests, you say, who do not speak about it in confession or who, without permitting it, do not refuse absolution for it. Ah! I do not know whether there are priests who are so blind, but I am sure that those who go looking for easygoing priests are going looking for a passport which will lead them to Hell. For my own part, if I went dancing, I should not want to receive absolution not having a real determination not to go back to dancing.

Listen to St. Augustine and you will see if dancing is a good action. He tells us that “dancing is the ruin of souls, a reversal of all decency, a shameful spectacle, a public profession of crime.” St. Ephraim calls it “the ruin of good morals and the nourishment of vice.” St. John Chrysostom: “A school of public unchastity.” Tertullian: “The temple of Venus, the consistory of shamelessness, and the citadel of all the depravities.” “Here is a girl who dances,” says St. Ambrose, “but she is the daughter of an adulteress because a Christian woman would teach her daughter modesty, a proper sense of shame, and not dancing!”

Alas! How many young people are there who since they have been going to dances do not frequent the Sacraments, or do so only to profane them! How many poor souls there are who have lost therein their religion and their faith! How many will never open their eyes to their unhappy state except when they are falling into Hell!

This was given in a little country parish Church in France called Ars by a man we know now as Saint Jean-Baptist Marie Vianney, the Cure of Ars and Patron Saint of All Parish Priests.

A little more than a century earlier another French Priest walked all across southern France (which remains the most Catholic portion of France to this day thanks to him) preaching the Faith.  His incredibly effective means employed a series of Catechetical Hymns which he wrote himself and set to popular tunes of the day to make them stick in the minds of the peasants to whom he was preaching.  Here then is what Saint Louis Marie de Montfort had to say about the evils of dancing and please mark well what he says in this for it is very profound and a text most worthy of our consideration and even meditation:

Hymn #32 – Second Snare: The Dance and the Ball

1. Lord, the world wants to damn me
By the snare of dance.
Free me from this devious trap
Set to snatch my innocence.
Worldly people dance, snubbing You,
O Lord, help us.

2. Behold the incense to Venus
And her pleasant school,
Behold the plaything of Bacchus,
And the devil’s circle,
Behold his clever invention
For our damnation.

3. Yes, Satan is the inventor
Of malicious dancing.
He is the principal creator
Of this happy plague,
Damning people joyfully
And so subtly.

4. At dances, he is king,
Where he is rendered homage,
Where he promulgates the rules
Of joyous wantonness,
Here he holds court,
His throne right at the center.

5. The devil sets everything in motion
In this accursed practice,
Slipping in his poison,
His malice and his flames.
From him flows the desire
For this deadly pleasure.

6. He incites the dancers
To dance, to sing and cackle;
There he wins their hearts,
Their bodies and his empire,
Performing all the movements,
All the steps and whirls.

7. He slips into the voices
So all sing gracefully,
He enlivens the oboist
To perform without fatigue;
He executes the harmony
And the instruments’ tunes.

8. He slips into the body
Of men and women dancers,
Kindling the rapture
Of his flaming passion;
He directs the feet and eyes
Of these poor wretches.

9. Their body is bewildered,
Their mind is bedimmed,
Their heart is bewitched:
That is what the devil does,
Making them call scrupulous
Whoever does not follow them.

10. Among the pagans, the devil
Ordinarily receives this tribute,
He doesn’t seek their goods
But that they dance to please him;
Satan may even promise them
Some reward for dancing.

11. At Saturday’s late hour, witches,
It is said, have the practice
Of dancing after meals
A diabolical bop;
Dancing is the incense, the deadly cult
Of this infernal spirit.

12. Almost all the doomed
Believe that dancing is permitted;
But those who will be saved,
The Church’s true children,
All loathe it, holding it
In abomination.

13. Now speaking in general,
Dancing is neutral;
In itself, it is not evil,
And can then be innocent,
For David danced with fervor
Before the Ark of God.

14. But dancing without sinning
Demands so many conditions
That one can hardly refrain
From sinning by dancing.
Ordinarily, it is bad,
An immense disorder.

15. The manner, time, and reason,
Plus the person dancing,
All spit out so much venom
That innocence is lost;
Misfortune follows dancers
And even those who watch them.

16. How does one get involved
In this clever, shameful decadence?
By dousing with perfumed powder,
Smearing make-up on the face,
By cunning nudity,
Extravagance and vanity.

17. How do worldly people dance?
The style is so notorious:
Everything kindles the toxin
Of a most impure passion:
These sweet, piercing glances,
These hold-me-close dances.

18. The steps are so measured,
The beat is so pleasing,
The dancers so well dressed
And the song so up-to-date!
Who could refrain from loving,
Burning, being set on fire?

19. What about those kisses
At the dance’s end,
These cruel, accepted signals
Of a foul passion?
Are they not the devil’s seals
Imprinted only in his name?

20. We well know the motives
Why many people dance;
They are hidden but so lewd:
Yearning to love, to please,
To arouse or be aroused,
To see, or better, to be seen.

21. Bouncing to ballads
Filled with love affairs,
Dancers easily get hooked
By this notorious nonsense;
After dancing they dare say:
“God was not offended.”

22. Dances are held on days it’s forbidden
Even more than on others;
During this time lost
Satan does business;
So we make the Day of the Lord,
The Feast of the Tempter.

23. Alas! all think nothing of time
Wasted in dancing,
Although time is a great gift
And of immense price;
Time so short, time so precious,
Given to win heaven.

24. If dancing among pagans
Is always to be condemned
What among Christians?
Oh abominable sin!
Traitors, renouncing the vow
They made to their God.

25. Have they not renounced
All the devil’s pomps?
Dancing has always been considered
The most notable of them all.
Dancing is a cruel dishonor
To the Most Holy Lord.

26. Dancer, caricature of a Christian,
Jesus Christ is not your master.
But Satan has claimed you as his own
Like an apostate, a traitor.
Be gone, disciple of the evil spirit,
You’re a disgrace to Jesus Christ.

27. A criminal dies
Swaying on the gallows;
In deadly peril,
A soldier dances and laughs.
O folly, O cruel misfortune
Of dancers so criminal!

28. Oh giant fool, twirling on the edge
Of the eternal precipice,
Without fearing death,
Nor even God in His justice!
Ah! Satan has blinded him,
He will kill the fatted calf.

29. The dancers, in their frenzy
Of arms, feet and head
Plus the rest of their body,
Are crazier than animals;
A lot less spirited are horses;
They’re calmer than the dancers.

30. Both New and Old Testaments
Condemn all dancing
And strongly threaten
With terrible vengeance
Dancers, buffoons,
Their patrons and spectators.

31. God curses their finery,
Their perfume, their rhythms,
Their romantic affairs,
Their imprudent gestures.
He forbids us to copy them,
To frequent their shows.

32. Dancing is even a tyrant,
Perhaps the most cunning of all;
It caused the death of Saint John,
Our Master’s Precursor.
O great God, how it has caused ruin
Both of soul and body!

33. The holy fathers, the doctors,
The canons, the Church,
Have all condemned dancers,
Declared them anathema
Together with buffoons,
Actors and jesters.

34. Men are blinded
By dancing, says one of fathers,
Children are confused,
They despise father and mother.
Women lose their honor
And the grace of the Lord.

35. Dancing makes one transgress
All the laws of the Church,
It also makes one break
The entire law of Moses;
A dancer has lost the faith
And no longer obeys the law.

36. Whenever there’s dancing, wherever,
Heaven weeps with grief;
At this affront to God
All hell rejoices,
While the saints lament
And the ungodly screech.

37. God often severely punishes
Dancers with sudden death,
In a moment vomiting
Their accursed souls.
From balls and games,
Suddenly they fall into hell.

38. Be gone, world and your friends,
In spite of what I have said,
Tell everyone that it is permitted
Both to dance and to cackle;
Be gone, scandalous world,
Be gone, unfortunate world!

How shocking are these words to our modern ears, but how we need to hear them for the sake of the salvation of our souls!

Even in the United States in the middle of the 19th century the Tenth Council of Baltimore (1869) issued a Pastoral Letter of the Conciliar Fathers about dances, warning the faithful:

“We judge that it falls to our pastoral mission to warn you once again to avoid the new kind of dances, where the occasion of sin is increasingly frequent. This whole type of diversion is all the more dangerous to the degree it is considered innocent and persons fling themselves into it as if they did not profess our Religion. Notwithstanding Divine Revelation and ancient wisdom, experience and reason themselves clamor in unison warning against this type of diversion which, even when contained within the limits of modesty, always engenders more or less danger to Christian souls.”

Let us take heed of the words of these pastors of our forefathers.

The Fathers of the Church spoke most vehemently against the evils of dancing.  And it is no wonder for it was an evil that even plagued one of our great Fathers the great Doctor of the Biblical Sciences, Saint Jerome. who gave this account of his temptations when in Bethlehem working on translating the Latin Vulgate:

“In the remotest part of a wild and stony desert, burnt up with the heat of the sun, so scorching that it frightens even the monks who live there, I seemed to myself to be in the midst of the delights and crowds of Rome…. In this exile and prison to which through fear of Hell I had voluntarily condemned myself, with no other company but scorpions and wild beasts, I many times imagined myself watching the dancing of Roman maidens as if I had been in the midst of them. My face was pallid with fasting, yet my will felt the assaults of desire. In my cold body and my parched flesh, which seemed dead before its death, passion was still able to live. Alone with the enemy, I threw myself in spirit at the feet of Jesus, watering them with my tears, and tamed my flesh by fasting whole weeks. I am not ashamed to disclose my temptations, though I grieve that I am not now what I then was.” 

My fellow Catholic men, if this holy and great saint suffered temptations from having seen dancing women, even with such incredible penance to quench the fire of passion within him, how can we think we will escape from this danger?  We must always be on our guard and not allow ourselves through human respect to participate in activities that will cause us to sin.  Let us heed Saint Alphonsus who again says:

“The evil thought that proceeds from looks, though it should be rejected, never fails to leave a stain upon the soul. Brother Roger, a Franciscan of singular purity, being once asked why he was so reserved in his intercourse with women, replied, that when men avoid the occasions of sin, God preserves them; but when they expose themselves to danger, they are justly abandoned by the Lord, and easily fall into some grievous transgressions.”

And so too you Catholic women must avoid these activities so as not to be an occasion of sin for your brothers in Christ and which sins you too will be in part responsible for and will be called to atone for.  Not to mention the peril you may put yourself in by inflaming your own passions.  Rather do as the Sacred Scriptures say:

“Let your modesty be known to all men.” -Philippians 4:5

And do not become one of those that Saint John Chrysostom speaks so vociferously about:

“You carry your snare everywhere and spread your nets in all places. You allege that you never invited others to sin. You did not indeed, by your words, but you have done so by your dress and your deportment. … When you have made another sin in his heart, how can you be innocent? Tell me, whom does this world condemn? Whom do judges punish? Those who drink poison or those who prepare it and administer the fatal potion? You have prepared the abominable cup, you have given the death dealing drink, and you are more criminal than are those who poison the body; you murder not the body but the soul. And it is not to enemies you do this, nor are you urged on by any imaginary necessity , nor provoked by injury , but out of foolish vanity and pride.”

Or of whom Saint Anthony Mary Claret speaks:

“Now, observe, my daughter, the contrast between the luxurious dress of many women, and the raiment and adornments of Jesus. Tell me: what relation do their fine shoes bear to the spikes in Jesus’ Feet? The rings on their hands to the nails which perforated His? The fashionable coiffure to the Crown of Thorns? The painted face to That covered with bruises? Shoulders exposed by the low-cut gown to His, all striped with Blood? Ah, but there is a marked likeness between these worldly women and the Jews who, incited by the Devil, scourged Our Lord! At the hour of such a women’s death, I think Jesus will be heard saying: ‘Cujus est imago haec… of whom is she the image?’ And the reply will be: ‘Demonii… of the Devil!’ Then He will say: ‘Let her who has followed the Devil’s fashions be handed over to him; and to God, those who have imitated the modesty of Jesus and Mary’.”

And take heed of the words of Pope Benedict XV in his Encyclical Sacra Propediem:

“One cannot sufficiently deplore the blindness of so many women of every age and condition; made foolish by desire to please, they do not see to what a degree the indecency of their clothing shocks every honest man, and offends God. Most of them would formerly have blushed for those toilettes as for a grave fault against Christian modesty; now it does not suffice for them to exhibit them on the public thoroughfares; they do not fear to cross the threshold of the churches, to assist at the Holy sacrifice of the Mass, and even to bear the seducing food of shameful passions to the Eucharistic Table where one receives the heavenly Author of purity. And We speak not of those exotic and barbarous dances recently imported into fashionable circles, one more shocking than the other; one cannot imagine anything more suitable for banishing all that remains of modesty.”

Please prayerfully consider all that has been presented here in this article, and consider if any changes need to be made in your life so that you are living in accord with God’s law, and are living a good and virtuous life free from any scandal (causing anyone to sin).

For this intention, I would recommend yourself to little Blessed Jacinta Marto of Fatima who at the tender age of 7 gave up dancing, which she loved dearly, after she encountered the Guardian Angel of Portugal and our Mother the ever Blessed Virgin Mary at Fatima.


4 thoughts on “Is it a Sin for a Catholic to Dance?

  1. Dymphna says:

    I don't feel bad about never learning to dance now. 

  2. Jill Garfold says:

    I didn’t know that the Catholic Church forbade dancing until I read this article. Thanks for enlightening me. God bless you. Jill Garfold

  3. Jared says:

    I listened to the sermon by the parish priest quoted above. It was hard to hear and harder to accept. Modern dances are so obviously sinful, but to think of older dances, dances I have always considered classy and elegant, to be sinful as well was hard. I resigned myself to refrain from dancing after hearing the sermon despite having trouble understanding because I trust the priest and The Church. However, this article has made me understand why better and I feel not only more comfortable with abstaining from all forms of dance from here on out, but I feel inspired to live for chastely and virtuously in a more radical way for my own soul and for the sake of others’. Hell is only a sin away and the snares of the enemy are everywhere. Avoiding the near occasion of sin is paramount to the salvation of our souls.

  4. Nick Williams says:

    What a gift from God! I had no idea dancing was so sinful. This webpage is a wonderful resource for anyone who wants to live a Catholic life. Many thanks to whoever put it up!


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