I happened across several amusing articles in Chronicling America, on the sins of dancing, in 19th century historical South Carolina newspapers. Interestingly, each of these articles was published in the Keowee courier (Pickens, S.C.), in upstate South Carolina over a 20 year span of time. These articles, many of which were written by clergymen who argue so adamantly against dancing, are indicative of the increasingly strict moral codes that took hold during the Victorian period. Take a look!
“Young people begin with what is least objectionable, and they go on, step by step, following the fashion, until modesty is shamed and virtue exposed…It is a shame, so I have heard, to speak of the things done in the more fashionable forms of the dance.” Reverend R. G. Porter in 1898
An 1880 article states “the mere act of dancing is nothing; there may be little or no harm in the old fashioned cotillion in a private house with reasonable hours; what [we] condemn is ‘lascivious dancing.'”
A Reverend W.W. Sanders lectured one evening in 1877 on the subject. He expounds that “the enjoyment of the dance grows out of the fact that the parties are male and female and there lies the danger…wicked thoughts and passions which have been aroused, though concealed, burn in the heart like a smothered fire.”
In response to Reverend Sanders’ evening lecture on the arguments against the practice of dancing (the above article), cooler heads prevail in an article published on the next page of that issue (the article below).
“There is during dancing a flow of soul and enjoyment which drives away impure thoughts…We do not say it is right, but we do not believe it is wrong.”
A religious debate on dancing between a Dr. Adger and a Dr. Dabney takes place in this 1879 article. One feverishly remonstrates the reader with a lengthy list of sinful indulgences as “theatre going, card playing, novel reading…dinner parties, big suppers, fashionable dress and equipage, and the wearing of a gold watch, or diamond ring.” He continues, “no one systematically reads the average novelette of the day and keeps either integrity or virtue, and there are a million men and women in the United States reading themselves into hell.” But, he digresses…
Professor J.P. Welch, a dancing instructor, spoke earnestly on the subject in 1882. “I have no hesitation that I attribute much of the vice and immorality now prevailing to the insidious influence of the waltz. In the old time a gentleman merely touched a lady’s waist…now he throws his arm clear around her form, pulls her closely to him, as though fearful of losing her…and in a word hugs her. I have [even] seen kisses exchanged amid the whirl of the maddening waltz.”
I performed a search for dancing in our own South Carolina newspapers, and did not try to search the term “dancing” in “All States” in the Historic American Newspapers in Chronicling America. Try it yourself. It would be interesting to note where these strict codes of morality on dancing sprung up around the country during the Victorian period. Let us know if you find anything good!