Christian colleges get into the swing
Angela Abbamonte, Religion News Service
December 02, 2009

Christian colleges get into the swing

Christian colleges get into the swing
Angela Abbamonte, Religion News Service
December 02, 2009

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

their legs.

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

the theater.

Fans say the swing thing has

now taken root in at least 10 Christian colleges in the U.S., and the fever is


RNS photo by Angela Abbamonte

Students at Union University in Jackson, Tenn., swing dance at an unofficial student-led dance party because the Southern Baptist campus officially prohibits dancing.

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

off campus.

“It’s fun and innocent,”

said Dean of Students Kimberly Thornbury, who said she was given a heads-up by

the students.

“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.”