Norbert’s recent posts in which he shared diary excerpts from his teenage experience at a Mormon dance reminded me of several excerpts from the history of those dances.
The first is from Nauvoo. Once the temple was finished, it was not uncommon to dance in it. The Nauvoo Brass band would occasionally play and sometimes the Saints even passed around “Nauvoo grape wine, which was excellent.” It was not uncommon to work all day administering the ordinances of the Most High only to culminate the day in dance. Brigham Young’s manuscript record includes one particular instance after working for 12 hours:
The labors of the day having been brought to a close at so early an hour, viz.: 8-30, it was thought proper to have a little season of recreation, accordingly bro. Hanson was invited to produce his violin, which he did, and played several lively airs accompanied by Elisha Everett on his flute, among others some very good lively dancing tunes. This was too much for the gravity of bro. Joseph Young who indulged in ^dancing^ a hornpipe, and was soon joined by several others, and before the dance was over several French fours were indulged in. The first was opened by myself with sister Whitney and Elder Heber C. Kimball
with sisterand partner. The spirit of dancing increased until the whole floor was covered with dancers, and while we danced before the Lord, we shook the dust from off our feet as a testimony against this nation. 
The dancing continued for several hours after which Elizabeth Ann Whitney sang in tongues and Brigham and Heber spoke in tongues.
In the latter half of the nineteenth century, round dances (in contrast to traditional square dances) came to America from Europe. These dances, such as the waltz and polka, were quite popular among the Church, especially the youth; however they were a serious concern for Church leaders.  Generally, the General Authorities indicated that a couple of round dances during and evening was to be allowed. The zealous pioneers of the Mexican colonies were, however, stalwart. In the late 1890′s the Juarez Stake High Council accepted a set of rules that included:
No 2. All persons not in possession of proper recommendation as to their standing in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints shall be excluded from dancing in any of our parties. (Non-members might be admitted provided the Bishopric or majority of the members of the Bishopric shall see a necessity for it).
No. 3. That we do not participate in round dancing, swing around the waist, improper or excessive swinging of any kind. 
Disapproval of round dancing persisted into the twentieth century until “rag dancing” became popular, and also apparently became the new concern.
In reading through a 1965 issue of the Priesthood Bulletin I came across the following instruction:
8. Answers to Questions that have Arisen Concerning Dancing and Dance-Music Standards in the Church
a. Acceptable Dancing
Dancing that is suggestive or sensual in any way is incompatible with church standards. Avoid all grotesque contortions of the body such as shoulder or hip shaking or body jerking. As members of the Church, youth should use wisdom and judgement by adhering to acceptable church-dance standards to that good taste is dance is always exemplified. All dances should be evaluated in terms of approved dance standards.
b. Acceptable Dance Music
The kind of music that is played and sung is more responsible than anything else for proper or improper dancing. Consequently, all dance bands should be informed of church standards and are to conform thereto…
Music lyrics should never be suggestive or off color but always dignified and in good taste.
2. Style of Singing
Sensual or wild singing should be avoided. Loud shouting that works people up to a high emotional frenzy is never in good taste.
3. Musical Beat
A definite beat is needed but should not be extreme. A loud, wild, primitive beat is to b avoided as it does not meet church standards.
Music for dancing should be moderate. A dance band or orchestra should produce happy, bright, cheerful music to inspire a wholesome atmosphere where dancing can be enjoyed as intended by Brigham Young when he said: “If we are dancing properly, a priesthood bearer could walk off the dance floor, administer to the sick in a proper way, and feel good about it.”
- Nauvoo Brass Band Minutes, February 9, 1846 reproduced in Contributor 1 (June, 1880): 197.
- “Manuscript History of the Church,” December 30, 1845; Cf. HC 7:557-8.
- See, e.g., Joseph F. Smith, General Conference Adress, April 7, 1894, in Collected Discourses, 4:61.
- J[oseph]. C. Bentley and M[iles]. A. Romney, Letter to the Stake President and High Council, undated, in Joseph T. Bentley, Life and Letters of Joseph C. Bentley (n.p., n.d.), 103.
- Thomas Alexander, Mormonism in Transition, 151.
- Priesthood Bulletin 1 (November-December, 1965): .