There is a time to dance, and other lessons from the scriptures

The other day my thirteen-year-old son was demonstrating some of the sweet moves he learned in his P.E. class, which ended the school year with a unit on dancing. (I was fortunate enough to serve as his partner, and I have to say that while he may not be the most graceful dancer, he is pretty good at leading.) Once he had demonstrated his proficiency in swing, the bossa nova, and, I dunno, maybe the foxtrot, he and his older sister reminisced about the folk dance they each had to learn in the sixth grade, which I said looked suspiciously like the chicken dance. Things devolved from there and eventually led to a discussion of the dance festival our stake (and four others) are participating in this year. (In fact, the big performance is on Saturday.) Our stake is participating; our two Mutual-aged children are not. It’s not that they are against dancing, per se. My daughter was initially open to the idea, but her age group was doing a waltz, and she thought that sounded boring. (I think it sounds more boring to watch than to do, but I would have watched it if she’d done it.) My son’s age group was supposed to do a “ninja dance,” whatever the crap that means, and my son thought that sounded a little too…well, let’s say “risible.” (Although it didn’t stop him and his father from doing their own speculative choreography based on the idea of dancing ninjas. One version included a punch to the crotch. Soundtrack: Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger.”)

It’s actually pretty great that my kids aren’t participating in dance festival, because if they were participating, I would have had to pledge so many hours of volunteer work to the cause, and no offense, but I don’t even volunteer in my kids’ schools. I’m not going to dip into my leisure time to sew costumes for an optional church youth activity that some percentage of the kids are genuinely enjoying and some other percentage have been guilted into. Every time I think about the amount of money and, more importantly, the time and effort being put into this endeavor, I’m terribly grateful to my children for opting (all of us) out.

So in the midst of this gratitude, I’m also wondering, “Why do we do dance festival, anyway?” I mean, I know it’s a tradition going back…I don’t know. I know they had dance festival when I was a youth, but I didn’t participate in it then, either. (As a youth I went to church on Sunday and seminary during the school week, and that was pretty much enough, as far as I was concerned. Mutual was optional, and Girls Camp was a definite no. Youth conference was usually a regret.) I mean, I guess we do scout camp and Girls Camp so our youth can get some outdoor time, and we do dance festival so they can get some culture? It’s all so they can have some bonding experiences with fellow church members and hypothetically maybe feel the spirit at some point because bonding experiences with fellow church members can sometimes lead to that. I was under the impression, as a youth, that dance festival had some vague missionary-type purpose too. As in, “Come see these wholesome young people perform for your edification and bemusement! Why are they glowing so? Well, funny you should ask…” Or, “The Mormons—much more fun than the Amish!” That sort of thing. But I’m not so sure anymore.

Who is the audience for dance festival, after all? Who wants to watch a bunch of amateurs dancing all day? I mean no disrespect. I myself am an amateur dancer who does public performances. This is how I know that the only people who want to watch such things are the family members and very (very) close friends of the people onstage. (Also, people who want to make fun of you. But that’s about it.)

Incidentally, the ninja dance is only for the deacon-age boys. The Beehive-age girls are doing a different dance. My husband said this was because 12- and 13-year-old boys and girls are not permitted to dance together. I did not believe him. He insisted it was true. I refused to buy it. The actual conversation went like this:

Me: That’s not true.

Him: No, it absolutely is true.

Me: No, it’s not.

Him: They don’t let kids that age go to stake dances, so why would they have them dancing together now?

Me: You’re just funning me.

Him: I swear, I’m not.

Me: But they start doing folk dancing together in sixth grade P.E.!

Him: Well, maybe they shouldn’t. Maybe we’ve led our children astray.

Actually, we know we’ve led our children astray. Public school folk-dancing is just the tip of the iceberg. But that’s another blog post. Or perhaps it’s better if it’s not.

It’s certainly easy to criticize and say, “This money (and time and effort) should have been used to help the poor!” or some other party-pooper sentiment. When you come right down to it, there’s no excuse for us doing anything fun, ever. Fortunately, Mormons are not about eschewing fun. Well, not all fun, anyway. The Mormon ability to party and build testimonies out of something frivolous is nothing to sneeze at or be ashamed of. So I wish all the youth in my stake good luck at this weekend’s dance festival. Arise, stand forth and shine, O youth of Zion! (Except for my kids, who will probably be forced to build their testimonies by cleaning out the garage or something.)


I think of all the gospels
My favorite one is Luke,
‘Cause all the other gospels
Make me want to puke.      

–Brother J, Sunday School president

A few months ago my husband decided that we should devote our family scripture time to an in-depth study of the Gospel of Luke. (Later we would study the gospel of John for comparison.) It is more interesting to read scriptures together as a family now that the kids are older, but it is also more dangerous. When we got to the verse about Jesus riding into Jerusalem on his ass, the snickering proved contagious. (At least the two youngest didn’t realize what they were laughing at. They probably won’t go to hell.)

One evening, after reading about yet another tense interaction between our Savior and the Pharisees, my thirteen-year-old remarked, “Jesus disses people a lot.” Then he asked, “Is this what people mean when they say, ‘What Would Jesus Do?'”

He’s trying to be like Jesus. He’s following in his way.


“…yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.”

I was sitting in the chapel, waiting for sacrament meeting to begin, when my eleven-year-old, who has autism and frequently asks questions that only he knows the answer to, asked me, “Why are there no dogs allowed in church?”

“I…I don’t know,” I said. “Maybe because it would be too noisy, with all the barking?”

In earnest he said, “Or maybe they would bite our hymn books.”

Well, they might.


Last night my husband and firstborn and I had a meeting with the bishop. We might have left the younger kids home with the thirteen-year-old, but the eleven-year-old had a court of honor immediately following our meeting, and we decided that the simplest thing to do would be to take everyone to the church and force the others to amuse themselves in the foyer while the three of us were in the bishop’s office. The thirteen-year-old did not like this plan at all, but after much whining and grumbling dragged himself to the car. On the way he grabbed his father’s Anchor Bible Commentary on Genesis, “so I can look smart.” Between our house and the church, he decided to ditch the Anchor Bible and instead took his scriptures plus a pen and notebook into the building. “I’m going to write my own Bible commentary,” he said. “To be helpful.”

“To whom?” I asked.

“I don’t know.”

Later, while waiting for the court of honor to begin, I overheard him and his dad reviewing his notes on Genesis 1. “He makes the plants before the cosmos,” my son said. “It’s ridiculous!” For emphasis, he added, “A plant can’t survive without the sun, and yet He doesn’t make the sun until after He makes the plants. It makes no sense!”

I am embarrassed to admit that I never thought of this.

What have the scriptures taught you lately?



  1. Scott B. says:

    16 You know, brethren, that a very large ship is benefited very much by a very small helm in the time of a storm, by being kept workways with the wind and the waves.
    17 Therefore, dearly beloved brethren, let us cheerfully do all things that lie in our power; and then may we stand still, with the utmost assurance, to see the salvation of God, and for his arm to be revealed. -D&C 122:16-17

    This scripture has always been one of my all-time favorites. This week, when I needed it most (for a variety of reasons), it taught me a critical lesson that it has previously taught me on so many different occasions. This lesson–as silly as it sounds–is that the passage is still there, in the scriptures, right where I needed it to be.

  2. J. Stapley says:

    Well, we know where folk dance led me. Also I had no dance festivals growing up, and I think we are the same age, RJ. It also pleases me that we have our youth doing dances to promote their testimonies, that church leaders banned in the 19th century for leading to sin.

  3. Mark Brown says:

    Stake dances doth I hate; yea, dance festivals are an abomination unto me.

  4. CS Eric says:

    Participating in a dance festival as partners was one of the early challenges my wife and I had when we started dating. We survived that, and we survived everything else life threw at us.

  5. MDearest says:

    Here’s my party-pooper sentiment: as a Beehive, I was partnered up with a kid who didn’t like dancing with me in our multi-stake dance festival. Whenever I hear “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head,” I get an unbidden memory of his wimpy grip as we box-stepped our way across the football field of a neighboring town’s high-school. Your kids will survive just fine without experiencing this form of Mormon pageantry.

    I think ‘speculative choreography’ is a gem of rhetoric.

  6. I am so glad to know that I am not alone! I am always relieved when my children opt out of activities that require my volunteer commitment or even my attendance. I am still experiencing flashbacks from our recent Youth Temple Celebration. It was like herding cats.

  7. Ryan Mullen says:

    I loved my dance festivals as a youth. Course, my friends were the dancers who choreographed everything so even though I have troubled rhythm I got a spot up front on every number.

    As for plants and sunlight, Joseph Smith corrected that order to match your son’s scientific principles. David Bokovoy explains the Genesis order in his new book, tho.

  8. I am SO glad I didn’t grow up in the Church. School dances were hell; adding stake dances as one more way to sit on the sidelines and be shunned by pretty, popular girls (with an added undertone of “You’ll probably be celibate, virgin, and alone for eternity”) would have been more than I could have borne at age 15.

    My wife likes to dance; I hate it. Fortunately, she’s not passionate about it. We’ve settled on 19th-century ballroom (Civil War and earlier) as a compromise. It has rules, both for the social interaction and for the dance moves. I don’t have to improvise.

  9. “A plant can’t survive without the sun, and yet He doesn’t make the sun until after He makes the plants. It makes no sense!” Indeed. There’s also light several days before the sun is made. I’d echo the recommendation for Bokovoy, but keep an eye out for a medium-long LDS commentary on Genesis 1 in the next 18 months from the Maxwell Institute.

    Problem #1 is, we don’t know how to read Genesis or the other accounts any way other than scientific/historical.

    We never did Church dance, uh, festivals growing up. Occasional dance instruction, yes, but it was like pulling teeth. I’d rather have been at the dentist, to be honest.