Classes are done for the
day. Meetings and work are winding down, and Facebook can provide a study break
for only so long. So what’s a restless Christian college student to do?
For undergrads at Union
University in Jackson, Tenn., a walk down to the campus theater provides one
solution: dancing to the tunes of Duke Ellington and Cab Calloway.
Inside, young men offer
their hand to available girls and take them to the middle of the hopping dance
floor. Beginners practice basic steps while more advanced dancers take on the
more complicated moves, flipping their partners over their heads and through
At Union, like a growing
number of Christian campuses, it don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing.
Dance fever hit the Southern
Baptist campus when two freshmen, Grant Kelly and Brandon Walker, started
recruiting students to dance for fun last fall. The group has grown from just a
few friends meeting in a small classroom to about 50 dancers who now take over
Fans say the swing thing has
now taken root in at least 10 Christian colleges in the U.S., and the fever is
But like a scene out of the
1984 classic “Footloose,” some campuses have had to overcome religious or moral
qualms about dancing. Union’s student handbook, for example, says the
university “prohibits dancing at any Union University-sponsored event held on
campus.” Students simply host the dance-offs as unofficial events either on or
“It’s fun and innocent,”
said Dean of Students Kimberly Thornbury, who said she was given a heads-up by
“The university is not going to hunt people down. That’s not the
spirit of the policy.”
While swing is downright
innocent compared to the bump-and-grind moves found on many secular campuses,
at Christian schools it often falls under the category of “social dancing” that
some believe could lead to temptation, and therefore comes with guidelines attached.
To be sure, many
conservative schools like Bob Jones University continue to prohibit all forms
of dancing, yet some Christian schools have lifted the dancing ban in recent
In Waco, Texas, Baylor University students were able to boogie in 1996.
Wheaton College in Wheaton, Ill., whirled in its new dancing policy in 2003. In
2006, John Brown University in Siloam Springs, Ark., expanded its dancing
policy to allow students to jive at more campus-sponsored dances with gentler genres
such as ballroom and swing.
Randall Balmer, an expert on
American evangelicals, said he was a little shocked to learn students on
Christian campuses were picking up swing dancing, but sees it as an indicator
of shifts within the evangelical subculture.
“What clearly has happened
… is that after 1980, evangelicalism was still a subculture — but it was no
longer a counter-culture,” Balmer said. “With that decreased attention to ‘worldliness,’
some of the taboos have fallen.”
Balmer, who teaches American
religious history at New York’s Barnard College and is the author of Mine Eyes
Have Seen the Glory: A Journey into the Evangelical Subculture in America,
says the suspicion of the “outside world” beyond evangelicalism has faded.
“There has been a general
loosening of the (fundamentalist) structure of the 1920s and 1930s,” he said. “The
dancing is just another evidence of that loosening.”
Still, some schools have
reservations. In Kirkland, Wash., Northwest University’s dancing policy states
the school “recognizes the temptations inherent in the sensuous and erotic
nature of some social dancing,” and then sets guidelines to keep dancing off campus.
Those rules haven’t
dissuaded Michael Weber, a Northwest student, from dancing for four years. He
and his friends go off campus to community centers and dance halls in order
stay within the guidelines and still swing.
Weber organizes dance events
a couple times a month to encourage students to learn basic moves. He likes
swing because, in his opinion, it’s easier to master than ballroom dancing.
“Swing dancing is easy to
learn,” he said. “It’s not as proper.”
Kristen Henley of Franciscan
University of Steubenville, Ohio said her mostly Catholic campus is “a little
obsessed with swing.”
Every Sunday night, as many as 75 Steubenville students
turn out for swing dancing and dance competitions.
Henley connected with the
group her freshman year when they hosted a welcome-to-campus dance. She had so
much fun she vowed never to miss a Sunday night dance session.
Now, as a
junior, she can say she has kept the vow almost religiously and rarely misses a
“As long as you can follow,”
she said, “you can (swing dance) instantly.”