Maybe Mennonites Dance Now
But they Didn’t in the 1950s
In Lancaster County, PA
In her nineties, my mother jived to music on iTunes from my iPod. But she was dancing with her hands and heart, not her feet. Her heart? Yes, she was probably recalling Daddy playing the piano “Turn Your Radio On.”
Growing up, I knew that dancing was forbidden by Mennonite church rules. Article V—Restrictions, Section 1 states:
Members shall not indulge in the world’s methods of pleasure-seeking, amusements, and entertainments, patronizing or taking part in fairs, parades, circuses, commercial moving pictures, theaters, mixed public bathing, regularly organized, contesting ball teams, dancing, card parties, gambling, and such like. (1968)
Though no longer Mennonite, I don’t dance either very much, though I balance myself on a ballet bar in my Pilates class (no tutu), which hardly counts as dancing! I’ve tried line dancing a few times and square dancing last summer with a caller in Montreat, NC. Waltzing looks like fun and so does ballroom dancing, maybe adventures to pursue in the new year!
In her book Mennonites Don’t Dance, Author Darcie Friesen Hossack devotes an entire chapter to the topic of dancing and offers a reason why Mennonites don’t dance in her collection of stories.
The Goodreads reviewer of her book praises her debut fiction
This vibrant collection of short fictions explores how families work, how they are torn apart, and, in spite of differences and struggles, brought back together. Darcie Friesen Hossack’s stories in Mennonite Don’t Dance offer an honest, detailed look into the experiences of children – both young and adult – and their parents and grandparents, exploring generational ties, sin, penance, and redemption.
Taking place primarily on the Canadian prairies, the families in these stories are confronted by the conflict between tradition and change. One story sees a daughter-in-law’s urban ideals push and pull again a mother’s simple, rural, ways. In another, a daughter raised in the Mennonite tradition tries to break free from her upbringing to escape to the city in search of a better life.
This month, I read and reviewed Darcie’s story collection. You can read my review of Darcie’s book here.
One of the pleasures of blogging is meeting other readers and writers of similar tastes, kindred spirits, actually. In December, writer friend Linda Hoye listed her top ten reads for 2018. Mennonites Don’t Dance was among them. Thank you, Linda for posting the list, which inspired this blog post.
What are you reading these days? Any book(s) to recommend?
Did you learn to dance as a child? Do you enjoy dancing now?
Good morning, Marian! So interesting. I never thought about you not dancing, knowing how much your family enjoyed music. I didn’t want to take ballet, but my younger sister did. I don’t really know how to do formal dances, but I love to dance. I dance around the house sometimes, dance to opening music on TV shows, at weddings, in the middle of a gym class. . .
I’ve done Zumba, too.
I loved Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life. I’m reading The Alice Network right now–just started it but it’s really good. Apparently I like authors named Kate. 😉
Oh, thanks for reminding me of Zumba. That does count as dance, and I’ve done it. Because I liked the Latin music, I enjoyed the class, but eventually quit the hour long session. I just couldn’t keep up with all those young whipper-snappers!
Thanks too for the book titles. I’m up for something different now, so I’ll check them out. 🙂
Your mother jammin?? Priceless. Oh my, don’t get me started on dance. I danced for the first time in public (other times always being at home, with my sisters and brother, waltzing around the living room when our parents went away for the evening) when I was a freshman at EMC and my roommate was invited to a party in northeast Harrisonburg and came from a dancing culture. I felt so wicked. When I lived in Spain for a year, my friends all went to discos (’73) and I enjoyed it, always feeling guilty. So somehow dance=guilt. Now I dance in my living room kicking my feet up as high (quasi-ballerina-like) as they go and as a Presbyterian saved by grace: no more guilt. Just joy I can still move. Sorry–more than you asked for.
It’s lucky you didn’t get reported for your dancing off campus at EMC though I guess standards were somewhat more relaxed in the 1970s. Ha!
Early training leaves such an imprint. I too have equated dance and guilt. Dancing is such good exercise. Besides Psalms 149:3 condones it: “Let them praise his name in dance.”
Thanks for all your reflections. (Never too much!)
P. S. There is quite a lively discussion on MennoNerds Facebook page today, which you may enjoy. Thanks for all of this, Melodie!
I love the photo of your mother, Marian. As a child, I was more of a roller skater than a dancer. I don’t dance much these days, but Derek and I did dance on NYE while watching the ball drop in Time Square. Currently, I’m reading The Plot Whisperer by Martha Alderson and Finding Water by Julia Cameron.
You have picked the right genre for dancing: romance! And maybe you can weave sensations from your NYE dancing into one of your next novels, Jill.
Thanks for your book suggestions. I remember reading Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way years ago and loved it. I’m sure our city library would have the title you mentioned. Thank you!
I grew up in a world with lots of rules, but the rules I had weren’t codified, generally accepted, and then followed by a large group of people. I’m fascinated by a religion in which dancing is a no-no and have to wonder why. Guess I best buy this book, read it, and learn.
Darcie’s book is very well written, but her references to church restrictions are very subtle. And only one of her chapters concerns dancing. You’d find more about restrictions in my upcoming memoir and in BLUSH, a memoir by Shirley Showalter, who grew up in the same culture in a similar time period: https://www.shirleyshowalter.com/book/
Thanks for showing up here again, Ally. I appreciate regulars like you – and your own take on life, quirky and insightful.
As you know, I didn’t dance either. I was excused from square dancing class in school because my mother wrote a note to the teacher saying that my Mennonite faith forbade dancing. I eventually made up for this piece of lost childhood by taking ballroom dancing lessons with my husband. We enjoyed the waltz and the foxtrot most of all. We loved being able to dance at our children’s weddings.
You and your readers will love Julia Kasdorf’s poem: https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/mennonites
I read books about joy in December and January, ending with John O’Donohue’s Walking in Wonder. Right now, I have Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s’s memoir Coach Wooden and Me by my side. I gave it to Stuart for his birthday after reading about it in Marc Freedman’s How to Life Forever.
I remember reading about that note from your mother, perhaps in your memoir. And I remember too that you and Stuart took dancing lessons together, a romantic experience that counts as exercise!
Thank you for posting the link to Julia Kasdorf’s poem. I mentioned on FB that this book has been in my library for a long, long time, a gift from my sister Jean. Julia catches all the right notes of the Mennonite experience.
Thank you too for the book titles, Shirley!
I just can’t imagine life without music. I think I was probably born dancing. We learnt to dance our local folklore dances in school and children performed at local and regional events. As a teenager and young adult I loved Disco music and was mad about the Bee Gees, huge at the time. Then I learned Flamenco in my 30s and now I do Zumba. Music and dance help me unwind. What do you do to chill out?
As for the book Mennonites Don’t Dance, it sounds very interesting and I think I might enjoy it. I am currently reading a biography about Marie Antoinette that Peter bought me for Christmas: very interesting too.
You and your husband definitely benefit from travels, exercising on hikes to castles, as I’ve noticed on a recent blog post. Dancing is great exercise, and I enjoyed reading about your dance history here.
What do I do to chill out? Pilates is at the top of the list and then walking in the preserve behind our house + reading. I tried Zumba at the gym for awhile, but found the class too demanding for my energy level. Besides, it was an hour long! 🙂
I understand Pilates is a very good form of exercise, but I have never tried it. Walking is fantastic and the best way to see and appreciate things. Reading goes without saying. I suppose as long as we keep active, it doesn’t really matter what we do. My Zumba class is only 45 minutes long: an hour would be too much.
That photo of your mom is so sweet, Marian. Love that.
I grew up in a church where you could dance, but there were many other rules about activities you couldn’t do (like playing cards). I never took formal dance lessons as a kid, but I loved to dance. As for what I’m reading: ELEANOR OLIPHANT IS COMPLETELY FINE by Gail Honeyman and INTROVERTS IN THE CHURCH by Adam McHugh.
I think it unusual that you went to a church that allowed dancing but not playing cards. Perhaps church leaders thought card playing would lead to gambling. Your book titles sound intriguing. I’ll have to check them out! Thanks, L. Marie!
Ah, I’m pleased that my post prompted you to check out this book, Marian. As you know, I loved Darcie Friesen Hossack’s writing style and mood in this collection. I, too, look forward to more from her.
When I wrote the review, I noticed that Darcie had a work in progress, a novel titled What Looks In, but I don’t believe it has been published yet. She has been alerted that she’s featured on my blog today, so we may hear from her soon.
Thanks so much, Linda, for posting your good books of 2018. See what a wide ripple you made with this suggestion. 🙂
I don’t dance. I never learn to dance as a youngster except square dancing that was required in school. I remember being asked to the prom in high school by the brother of a friend who had been turned down by several other girls before his sister told him to have me go with him. We ducked out of the gym and went folk dancing. I really liked that. It would be fun to do folk dancing again; it is so much less judgmental!
Ginger, your story made chuckle: You and the oft-turned-down guy must have had fun, skipping out of a formal to go folk dancing. You two got the last laugh. You’re right: No one wants to judged on their dancing skills. Having fun is the point, after all!
Interesting post, Marian, on an important topic. And, like your other commenters, I too love that photo of your mom. I see her inner be-bopper itching to break free. How lucky you are to have had such a mother. I cannot possibly imagine my grandmother tapping into hers. For us in our Conservative Baptist church, dancing (and theater and cards and a few other things) were, simply, sinful: the Devil’s doing (hi Ally). Shame was big in that church; and I don’t recall anyone saying, “we can’t do this, but we can do that.” How refreshing, how welcome that would have been.
I do recall a Sunday night service where we brought our popular (aka rock and roll) records and broke them into pieces at the alter. Ah, the good old days. NOT. But of course WE had the one sure path to heaven, so everything else paled. (Imagine my surprise when years later I heard someone of another faith claim she too had been taught hers had that one true path).
Dear Janet, I am sorry you found so much judgment in church early in life. My church had many restrictions but underneath it all, I sensed a measure of love, and caring.
I’m glad you liked my mom’s photo. When I chose Cliff, she said, “I’d rather have you be a happy Christian than a sad Mennonite.” It must have taken a lot of grace for her to say that, fixed as she was in the tenets of the church I grew up in. I guess I was a lucky one!
I also grew up in a religion that did not allow dancing. My father was the pastor of a small nondenominational church. He made strict rules for our church and family: no television, no movies, no card games, no dancing, and many other rules. But I did not feel deprived at the time. I admired my dad’s high ideals and religious fervor, and I wanted to be as “perfect” as he was.
We lived in a split-level house, with our bedrooms built above the garage. One day when I was about 9 years old, I was alone in my bedroom playing with a hula hoop that had been given to me for my birthday. I kept spinning it around my waist, trying to figure out how it was supposed to work, but the hula hoop kept falling to the floor. Finally I gave up and put the hula hoop away.
A few moments later my father came into my room, very angry. He said that he was down in the garage when he heard the sounds of me dancing in my bedroom above his head. He refused to believe me when I told him that I was not dancing, I was playing with my hula hoop. He punished me with a spanking for the “crime” of dancing, at the age of 9, all by myself behind the closed door of my bedroom — when I hadn’t even been dancing at all.
When I was 12 years old my father left the church and declared that he did not believe in God anymore. Suddenly, nothing was forbidden — except, of course, disagreeing with my father about anything.
It was a crazy childhood. Which is why I am writing a memoir titled GROWING UP CRAZY. 😀
Today, I love to dance. But only in private.
Thank you for visiting my blog, Marian. I am very much looking forward to reading your memoir.
I’m so happy to meet you this week, Linda. Some of the characters in stories we memoirists tell may have mental illness. But then what story would we have! GROWING UP CRAZY will definitely sell more books than GROWING UP SANE!
And thank you for subscribing to my blog today. As you can see, I returned the favor. Now we have a connection.
Lol! I love it!
I learned how to square dance in HS gym class. Not sure parents knew this but as time drew near for the “Exhibition” (public showing) I became the designated record player operator. Ohhhh…how sad I was.
This is a sad story, and I think I remember your telling it though I must have been in college by then.
Well, you can dance a jig nowadays whenever you want to. Someone on my Facebook page said she dances to Mandisa’s “Good Morning” in the privacy of her home, her way of letting loose – or getting exercise.
In all my sadness I forgot to mention my latest book read: THE HORSE WHISPERER (liked) by Nicholas Evans. In the middle of reading BY THE LAKE by John McGahern.
Thanks for the titles, Jean. The commenters here are avid readers, so no doubt others will be checking these books out soon.
Dancing was how we socialized in rural Alberta. And like Fatima, I think I was born dancing. I know mom and dad met at a local dance. For their 40th Anniversary, I had them dance to the first song at the party, “May I Have This Dance”, by Ann Murray. Whenever I hear that song, I cry. AS for books, I just read, Fire in the Vineyard by Christa Polkinhorn, which was quite good and The Poet´s Dog by Patricia MacLachlan, a children´s book but one adults would love too. Happy reading and dancing. xo
When I saw your comment, I just had to listen to the Ann Murray song. Maybe it will inspire others to get into the dancing mood: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2wagjpWtRII
Thanks for this, and for you book suggestions too, Darlene!
When I was 11 I asked my parents if I could take tap dance lessons. My mom said yes, my dad said no because I could would never make a living tap dancing. So it was with great confusion that when ballroom dancing and square dancing were taught in phys ed, my dad encouraged me to have a great time. He himself Loved to dance. My mother and he went square dancing almost every Saturday night. I noted that they weren’t making a living doing it!
Joan, I wonder if at the root of your father’s comment about tap dancing was the worry that you’d get hooked, want to make a career of it, and possibly fail. One of the lines in my memoir refers to the futility of guessing the motivations of our parents or others in authority. We can only make guesses.
It’s good to see you here and hope that you are doing well. 🙂
Marian — I love the photo of your mom jammin’ to tunes on your iPod. I also saw Linda Hoye’s top ten read for 2018 and added two of her recommendations to my list. Darcie’s book, Mennonites Don’t Dance (the title alone is worth the price of admission), sounds like a great read. I’m currently reading “The Alice Network” (a book about female spys in World War I). It’s excellent!
I don’t doubt that you are interested in spy thrillers, noting that you have made the leap to fiction, suspense novels. WOW! I’m glad you enjoyed Mom’s photo. As she grew older, her defenses fell away, a good thing! Thanks, Laurie!
P.S. I hope you will consider writing a memoir one day: What a colorful story (GED to PhD to author!)
Marian, thank you for this review, I’m surprised I have not been made aware of this book by a Mennonite writer where the setting is the Canadian Prairies, as you say in your book review. The cover intrigues me, and illustrates what you write in your review, that the writing is somewhat dark and bleak. I have found most Canadian Mennonite writers who grew up on the prairies to write that way. There are a few exceptions such as Armin Wiebe who just makes me laugh!
As to dancing, I too was brought up that it was not something Christians should be doing, but my parents would not have stopped me had I insisted on going to our high school dances. My brother did, but then he always defied the rules and got away with it. It wasn’t something I was particularly attracted to, being more of a bookish type rather than a socialite.
Thanks for this reference to Armin Wiebe, Elfrieda. I wonder if he’s related to the Canadian writer Katie Funk Wiebe, whose writings (Good Times with Old Times) inspired me to pursue memoir. I checked out his Wikipedia page and website but couldn’t find a lead.
I enjoyed the tale about your family and dancing. In high school, I definitely identified more with books than with dancing too. These days I’d embrace both.
Katie Funk Wiebe has definitely been my inspiration as well. Armin Wiebe is not related to her. He was one of three Mennonite authors whose work I compared to three German Jewish authors in my PhD dissertation “Fragmented Identity: A comparison of German Jewish and Canadian Mennonite Literature.”
What a scholar you are, Elfrieda! Thank you for the clarification. Your dissertation is a piece I would like to read – probably after the book launch, of course.
I have always felt a kinship with Jewish folk, I suppose because of our common experience of persecution. Perhaps some of that may have led to your choice of pairing the two types in your doctoral dissertation.
Hi Marian, I also grew up in a church that didn’t condone dancing, movies, mixed bathing, and other worldly pleasures, but thankfully my parents were more open with us and, because I was the Vice President of my seventh grade class, allowed me to go to the seventh grade dance. I tried dancing and walked all over the girl’s feet I was dancing with, so that pretty much ended my dancing career. Now, fifty years later, my wife, who grew up in the same denomination, likes to dance. So, whenever we’re at a wedding, I’ll get out on the dance floor and do some sort of a slow dance shuffle with her. It’s fun, and we laugh a lot about my lack of coordination.
Good to see you here, Howard. I remember your mother as a fashionista, regardless of her church affiliation. She was kind and tolerant too as evidenced by the fact she and your dad allowed you to go to your seventh grade dance.
Your description of dance reminds me very much me and my husband’s attempts. 🙂
By the way, I devote at least a page of my memoir to your mother’s style – and her sister’s. Thanks again!
I think when an activity wasn’t a part of your childhood, it might not be of your adult life either. Unless, some interest for it emerges. My parents aren’t dancers, and even though I like to listen to rhythms and wiggle my feet, I rarely dance either. That being said, if one of my favorite songs is played, I will run to the dance floor. Not that we ever go to parties. This was more of a thing when I still lived in Belgium and had a community.
On the topic of dancing… my husband Mark hates dancing. Since we met in 2004, we have danced twice. Once as a joke in a Nevada casino (he must have had a few beers), because there was nobody listening or dancing to the music of a small band in that bar (and my parents were actually there as well). It was quite the scene. The second time was at our wedding party in St. Martin (which took place four years after our actual wedding, and yes my parents were present as well), because he kind of had to. 🙂
You have quite the story, Liesbet. Well, if dancing isn’t your thing, I know you and Mark like hiking and other athletic stuff. St. Martin is a lovely venue for a wedding, even if it took place four years later. Thanks for adding your tale!
I can see the gleam in your mother’s eye Marian as she was groovin’ with the iPod. O yes I remember the days when Elvis Presley and the Beatles were regarded as the devil’s spawn out to corrupt young minds. We were allowed to go to party evenings at the church hall up the road in my youth. And boy did we dance! And on occasion I love to get the groove on – I must think about getting an iPod …
I was a ballet pupil for many years as a child and teenager… and sometimes think about attending dance classes of some kind. Even modern dancing …
I Loved reading the comments –
I can imagine you more as a ballerina than as a modern dancer, but that just my view from afar, maybe totally skewed. Dancing is great exercise though, whatever the mode. That is a fact.
Thanks for adding to the conversation and for reading the comments. You’re the best, Susan!
I have never been a Mennonite, but you always broaden my view about Mennonite life. I imagine your dad playing the piano. I see your mom snapping her fingers and imagine her tapping her feet. Dancing became a big thing for me when I was 12. That’s because my big brother who was 16 needed a partner to learn to dance. We learned the dances and moves and when I was in college, we went out dancing a few times one summer when we lived together. And Vic loved to dance. Just for the pure joy of it. So, in hearing loss, I also lost the pleasure of dancing to music. After the cochlear implant, I will listen to music (learning to hear it in a new way, I hope) and dance again. Where I live and in these past frigid days, I miss being able to put music on and dance around the house for exercise. I still like to dance but it isn’t much fun with only the memory of music in my head.
I’m about 30 pages from finishing ‘Handmaiden’s Tale’ after many people recommended it. I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. I found it depressing and discouraging, I read enough news and articles that can make me feel bad about humankind. It was beautifully written in places, but not the right book for me. I recently read ‘A Tale for the Time Being’ by Ruth Ozeki. It wasn’t a musical comedy, but it was filled with curiosity and hope. I loved the creative mixing of times and characters. Tomorrow I hope the weather will soften so I can go to the library and get a few novels appropriate for surgery recovery days.
I know you greatly admired your older brother Jim. And I know you looked up to him in many ways, but only now recognize him as an early dance partner.
Your new “ear” will open passageways to enjoy music and dance again. It will probably take some time to adjust, but you have good times to look forward to. It may feel like a re-birth in some ways.
Yes, I’ll stay away from The Handmaid’s Tale. The ads and movie about the book always seemed to be like Atwood’s version of Bleak House.I’ve read Dani Shapiro’s Inheritance and have on hold other books. When the library texts me that a “hold” is ready, I’m always surprised because I forget what I put on reserve.
And, yes, I hope the weather will soften all over the country. Did you know fires are built close to RR tracks so they don’t crack in below-freezing weather? I just heard pieces of that story on NPR today. May your surgery go extremely well. I’m glad Anthony will be on hand. ((( )))
Dancing is fun – and good for the body and spirit!
You said it, Lady Fi. Thank you!
So funny to think of a connection going full circle. My grandfather was a Brotheren and forbade my mother from attending dances. At the time I thought nothing could be more archaic and hypocritical as he divorced my grandmother to marry the maid who was my mother’s age. Now I see the World in a much different light and feel we suffer from too much of that sensual brand of freedom.
I now see the merits of being “In the World but not of the World”. But although the entertainment industry may well be the corruption of us all, but for me having been brought up dancing and singing, I find music and dance irreparably if not forcibly entwined in my each fond memory and I cannot imaging life either songs whose rhythums seem to compel me to move to the beat. I do perhaps, more than those raised in the Mennonite faith, see the merits, of not giving in to its seemer side of all that goes with it; side that has brought decadence to an entire generation.
Welcome, Mariam, or may be your name is Elanna, based on your email address. Either way, it’s great to have you here. I sense that you find your grandfather hypocritical for forbading your mother to dance, yet divorced your grandmother to marry a young maid.
I understand the value of being in the world, but not of it. Even so, it sounds as though you had a happy childhood, enjoying dancing and singing. Thank you for adding to the conversation here. You are welcome any time!
Oh my goodness! The third or fourth (I can’t decide) paragraph could have been written by me, except for the word Mennonite. I’m Free Methodist but I grew up with all the same rules of the church. Most of them are gone now and I’m left trying to decide if it’s a good thing or a bad thing! Well, we both seem to have survived! Thanks for sharing!
Anita, it’s good to see you join the conversation here. I hope that means that your computer problems are solved, and the WordPress snafus too. Growing up with strict rules, we had boundaries, mostly a good thing. I have found though that some of restrictions in my young years were man’s standards. After all, Psalm 149:3 says, “Let us praise his name in the dance: let them sing praises unto him with the timbrel and harp.” Have a great day, and thanks for reading and replying here, very appreciated! 🙂
Marian my darling , I could cry for you ,’ No Dancing ‘ is unthinkable. I don’t wish to brag but I adore dancing and have done since I could walk . I still dance in my kitchen now . My husband isn’t a dancer I have to drag him up but once he’s there he quite enjoys himself .
I have discovered a new author ‘Claire Fuller’ I read ‘Swimming Lessons ‘ in January and now I’m reading ‘Bitter Orange ‘ . I really like her style of writing .
No need to cry, dear Cherry. I had plenty of fun in my childhood, frolicking in the woods with sisters and neighbors. Maybe because I’m not too coordinated as a girl, I as spared some ridicule back then as a poor dancer.
I’m glad you enjoy dancing; it’s such great exercise. Dancing in the kitchen must be super fun, as long as you’re not holding eggs in your hands – ha!
Thanks for the book titles. Nothing like books and something warm in a mug to cheer up cold days. Oh, and dancing too! xoxo
Hola desde Canarias. No bailo pero me encanta cantar. La música nos endulza los momentos más agrios de la vida. Estoy releyendo y analizando el libro de EL PRINCIPITO para mi próximo comentario. Sus enseñanzas son muy ciertas
Hello to the Canary Islands, where I suppose you live. I’m glad that you enjoy singing and analyzing The Little Prince.