Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Repost: Fr. Peter R. Scott on Catholics and Dancing

From The Angelus Online (http://www.angelusonline.org/index.php?section=articles&subsection=show_article&article_id=1940; published March 2000, accessed Jan. 3, 2017):

Questions & Answers

Rev. Fr. Peter R. Scott

Q. How should Catholics view dancing?

A. The morality of recreational or social dancing is not a new subject, but one which saints and moral theologians have treated at length. The difficulty lies in the fact that the style, fashion and manner of dancing are in a a continual flux, and that this affects its morality.

All agree that dancing, in itself, is morally indifferent, and consequently that it is not in itself sinful, and that dancing of the right kind, under the right auspices can in itself be an innocent and even beneficial diversion. However, it is equally clear that it is very commonly a proximate occasion of sin in virtue of the circumstances that accompany the dancing, such as place, time, immodesty, company, let alone the sensual nature of many dances, and the intimate physical contact which is an immediate peril for the virtue of purity, and entirely opposed to the respect which is owed to the body, temple of the Holy Ghost.

The Catholic Encyclopedia of 1913 summarizes in this way the Church's teaching:
Undoubtedly old national dances in which the performers stand apart, hardly, if at all, holding the partner's hand, fall under ethical censure scarcely more than any other kind of social intercourse. But aside from the concomitants—place, late hours, décolleté, escorting, etc.—common to all such entertainments, round dances, although they may possibly be carried on with decorum and modesty, are regarded by moralists as fraught, by their very nature, with the greatest danger to morals. To them perhaps, but unquestionably still more to masked balls, should be applied the warning of the Second Council of Baltimore against "those fashionable dances which, as at present carried on, are revolting to every feeling of delicacy and propriety." (Vol. IV, p. 619)
Such is the Church's teaching concerning ballroom dancing, despite the fact that it can be a form of art. It must, at least in general and for most young people, be considered a proximate occasion of mortal sin, and consequently forbidden. However, square dances and folk dances, in which there is not the same intimate physical contact and pairing off, nor the same danger of bad company, are not a proximate occasion of sin and are consequently permissible. Ballet, as an art form, and expression of beauty, can be licit and permissible. However, it must be remembered that it is a sensual art form, and one in which the displaying of the body can be an occasion of sin both for performers and for the audience, and one in which vanity plays a large part, e.g., the ultra-slim figure required. It is consequently not an art form to be encouraged or patronized.

It goes without saying that modern dancing as commonly done these days, being animalistic and extremely sensual by its exclusive emphasis on rhythm at the expense of any ordered, harmonious, bodily movement, is always to be excluded as a proximate occasion of serious sin, in virtue of the music and dance itself, as well as the company and other circumstances. This includes dancing to rock music, and dancing to jazz accompaniment (i.e., swing dancing).

If any young people are so taken with the craze of dancing to hesitate to accept the Church's wisdom on the question, I suggest they read the following passage from the saint who liked to meekly catch flies with honey, and not vinegar, and whose understanding of the situation of people in the world is so clearly manifest in his spiritual direction. St. Francis de Sales had this to say:
In themselves, dances and balls are indifferent things. However, in actual practice they tend strongly toward the side of evil, and therefore are dangerous. 
People dance at night, and in darkened rooms. This favors certain familiarities. People stay up late and this results in their rising late the next day, causing the morning to be wasted. Consequently, they miss opportunities of serving God. Is it not foolish to turn night into day and day into night and to replace useful work with frivolous pleasure? Finally, at balls everyone tries to outdo everybody else in vanity, and vanity is favorable to the evil affections and dangerous loves which dancing so easily spawns. 
Philothea, what physicians say about mushrooms or pumpkins I say about dances: The best of them are not worth much! However, if you must eat pumpkins, be careful how they are prepared, eat only a little of them, and that rarely. In the same way, if you cannot give up going to balls, be careful how you dance, doing so with modesty, dignity and the right intention. Attend balls rarely, because no matter how carefully you conduct yourself at them, there is danger of excess in them, by becoming too attached to them. 
Because they are spongy, mushrooms are said to attract the surrounding rot. The same is true of balls and other such night-oriented gatherings. They usually attract sin: quarrels, jealousies, mockery; sensual loves. These activities open the pores of the heart to be poisoned by some loose word or some folly or some wanton glance of love. Yes, Philothea, such amusements are usually dangerous. They scatter one's spirit of devotion, weaken one's strength and chill one's charity. They awaken countless evil affections in the soul. Because of all this, use them with great caution. 
After eating mushrooms, one is advised above all to drink some good wine. I personally advise you to think some holy and good thoughts after a ball. These will counterbalance the bad impressions you may have received there. 
What are some such holy and good thoughts? While I was dancing, some people were burning in Hell for sins committed at dances or occasioned by their dancing. While I was dancing, monks, nuns and other fervent Christians were chanting God's praise and contemplating His beauty, thus using their time far more profitably than I was. While I was dancing, many souls departed from this world in great anguish; thousands were suffering dreadful pains in hospitals... While I was dancing; the time of my earthly life was hurrying by and death was approaching nearer. See how he mocks and invites me to his dance! In that dance I shall take but one step from this life to the next. (Introduction to the Devout Life, Part III, Ch. 33)

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