How to plan an LDS Dance

Music and Dancing

Music is an important and powerful part of life. It can be an influence for good that helps you draw closer to Heavenly Father. However, it can also be used for wicked purposes. Unworthy music may seem harmless, but it can have evil effects on your mind and spirit.

Choose carefully the music you listen to. Pay attention to how you feel when you are listening. Don’t listen to music that drives away the Spirit, encourages immorality, glorifies violence, uses foul or offensive language, or promotes Satanism or other evil practices.

Dancing can be fun and can provide an opportunity to meet new people. However, it too can be misused. When dancing, avoid full body contact with your partner. Do not use positions or moves that are suggestive of sexual behavior. Plan and attend dances where dress, grooming, lighting, lyrics, and music contribute to a wholesome atmosphere where the Spirit of the Lord may be present. (For the Strength of Youth, Music and Dancing, page 20)

Most-Asked Questions about Planning Church Dances

President Ezra Taft Benson has counseled young men and women to “take full advantage of the Church programs,” encouraging them to “attend dances where the music and the lighting and the dance movements are conducive to the Spirit.” (Ensign, May 1986, pp. 44-45, and Ensign, Nov. 1986, pp. 82, 84.) Both those who plan and those who attend dances are often confused about the Church’s guidelines and standards for dances. A Priesthood Bulletin, dated June 1982, suggests the following general guidelines:

“In providing opportunities for youth and others to help plan and carry out dance activities, priesthood leaders should counsel with those involved to pay strict attention to-

    a. Lyrics. The lyrics should contain nothing contrary to gospel principles.
    b. Beat. The beat, whether instrumental or vocal, should not overshadow the melody.
    c. Lights. Lighting should be bright enough to see across the room. Psychedelic lighting designed to pulsate with the beat of the music is not acceptable.
    d. Sound. The volume of the music should be low enough to allow two persons standing side by side to carry on a conversation without shouting.”

For additional guidance, some of the most-asked questions are listed below, along with their answers:

Does the Church have a list of approved music for dances?

No. Keeping a list current would be impossible. For youth dances, it is advisable to form a youth committee whose members work with adult leaders to ensure that all lyrics and music are in harmony with Church guidelines.

How can we make sure that the band we hire adheres to Church standards-both in music and conduct?

A Performance Contract (PXMU0028), available at no charge from local Church distribution centers, can be used when hiring a live orchestra or band. The contract will help ensure that the performers maintain appropriate conduct and standards while playing for the dance.

What about chaperones?

If the dance is for young people, chaperones are needed. Adult leaders should be invited on a rotating basis to fill this assignment. They should also be responsible for the hall, music, refreshments, and floor-show entertainment.

Are dances only for Church members?

No. In many communities, Church dances may be one of the only forms of wholesome recreation. Nonmembers should be welcomed, as long as they uphold Church standards while at the dance.

How can we maintain our established dress standards?

Before the dance, adult leaders should review with the youth the dress guidelines established by local priesthood leaders. Some wards and stakes publicize the dances with posters around the community, with a statement about standards for dress and conduct on the posters so that those who attend will know what to expect. Be firm, but avoid turning anyone away for minor dress standards violations. (Nonmembers may not know about the standards and may not have the time or the means to go home and change.) Be courteous to everyone, especially to those you cannot admit.

How do we stop young people from “bear-hugging,” or hanging on each other, at dances?

Most youth who dance “bear-hug” style do so because they don’t know other dances. Give them attractive alternatives such as mixers or dance instruction in small segments throughout the evening. Capitalize on the popularity of country music by teaching round, square, or folk dances. A youth committee, working with adult leaders, can also make up a dance card that specifies that “bear-hugging” is not permitted.

Is break-dancing permissible at Church dances?

Break-dancing and other fad dances should be considered “show” dances–not social dances–and should be treated as such. Perhaps a floor show of break-dancing could be a feature of the evening. (from Questions and Answers, October 1988 Ensign)

How can I ensure that the music played at home or a Church dance is appropriate without offending someone?

Ideas submitted by Church members to the Ensign:

Three years ago we formed a stake youth dance music committee. There are two youth from each unit on the committee with youth cochairs. They meet one hour prior to each dance and preview the music. It has been a tremendous help, and the youth are so good to cut out the “trashy” music. Some adults thought that many youth would not come to the dances if they could not play anything they wanted. The opposite happened. We have large crowds, and in the schools our youth are being asked, “When is the next Mormon dance?”–Barbara L. Brown, Yuma First Ward, Yuma Arizona Stake

We know that when youth and adults work together and communicate, dances can be enjoyable for all. Everyone shares in the responsibility for the appropriateness of the music. However, whenever there is a difference of opinion, the stake leader assigned to oversee that dance makes the final decision. Music is played from a list of songs approved by the Stake Youth Activity Committee. We avoid using edited versions of songs because playing them reminds us of the ugly words taken out. If someone wants a song added to the list, that person is encouraged to write his or her name, the song title, and the artist on a piece of paper and hand it to a stake youth or adult leader. The song is reviewed before the next dance, and if it is not added to the list, an explanation is given to the person who requested it. All songs on the list and a copy of the list are available at each dance. We also like to watch when songs are played to see which ones youth dance to. If few people dance to a song, we consider removing it from the list, because we prefer a dance, not a “stand around and listen.” Music should bring joy, so we try not to make it a battleground.–Carol Bowes, Roxboro Branch, Durham North Carolina Stake

This past summer at girls’ camp, the young women of each ward were asked to choose a song to perform with karaoke. The performances went off well; however, some leaders questioned the suitability of several of the songs. So in a follow-up lesson we had the young women read and discuss the thirteenth article of faith [A of F 1:13]. Then we talked about each of the karaoke songs. Without any promptings from leaders, the girls found several songs to be inappropriate, the same songs leaders had questioned.–Shauna Wheelwright, Union Park Fourth Ward, Midvale Utah Union Park Stake

Organizing dances around a theme, such as the ’50s or ’60s, is an effective way to narrow the type of music played.–Tamara Woolley, Tokyo Third Ward, Tokyo Japan South Stake

A rule that has worked well for us is to judge a song on its own merits. Although some types of music seem to have a greater percentage of songs with inappropriate lyrics, I always try to play good songs from many different genres, even if I don’t personally care for them. I also intersperse dance classics with modern songs, and the youth dance right along with the adult chaperones.–Chris Ishoy, New City Ward, Caldwell New Jersey Stake

Most youth in the Church do not seek out immoral and offensive music; they simply like familiar tunes. It is, therefore, incumbent upon the adults in their lives, who have broader experience, to lovingly monitor their exposure to offensive music. By being good examples of wise music selection, demonstrating love and concern, and exercising common sense, adults can help youth make better choices until they are mature enough to discern appropriate music for themselves.–Michelle Piercy, Chambersburg Second Ward, York Pennsylvania Stake (from Questions and Answers, Ensign, December 2002)

How can chaperones help ensure that Church standards are maintained at Church youth dances?

Annette P. Bowen, Relief Society president, Bellevue Fifth Ward, Renton Washington North Stake. For most of my adult life, I have had the privilege of working with the youth of the Church, and I have attended and chaperoned many youth dances. I can remember clearly the burden and confusion I felt as a newly married young woman when I was first asked to chaperone a youth dance. Me–a chaperone? What was I supposed to do? What were the Church standards and policies regarding youth dances?

I feared the role of being an enforcer. Would my participation as a chaperone jeopardize my relationship with the youth in the stake? Couldn’t I just go and dance? If a problem did arise, how could I best handle a confrontation and a loving correction?

My experience has yielded some answers to those questions. I’ve also talked with numerous people–other chaperones and adult leaders, as well as young people and youth leaders–and they have shared their experiences and their answers with me….

It is important that local guidelines and policies, as well as general Church standards, are clearly understood by both the youth (including nonmember friends) and their leaders; and that these guidelines and policies are consistently, but lovingly, followed.

Avoid instituting too many rules and regulations. To keep the youth informed and reminded of standards and policies, our stake prints its guidelines on the back of an annual youth activity calendar distributed to each young person in our stake. All of the stakes in our area use a dance card–issued to young people after an interview has taken place at which the standards are explained–and each young person (member or nonmember) signs the card, agreeing to uphold those standards while attending youth dances.

The youth should always be encouraged to govern themselves: to help avoid situations in which chaperones are required to confront or to correct–in hopes of moving away from a punitive atmosphere to one of cooperation and mutual enjoyment. In addition, youth leaders, especially those serving on stake youth committees, should be encouraged to help monitor behavior and to set fine examples of behavior and fellowship. Of course, there will be a few situations where chaperones will need to intervene.

After consulting with experienced chaperones and with many of my young friends, I offer the following suggestions:

    1. Chaperones should be carefully selected. Ideally, those adults who attend youth dances should be people who love working with the youth–and show it. They should remember that their most effective teaching method is to be models of appropriate behavior as leaders, as friends, and as adults who care about young people.

    2. Dance! Without exception, my young friends have said that they most enjoy a dance at which the chaperones are out on the dance floor having a great time. And when the need arises to correct youth participating in inappropriate dancing, it is easier and better for a chaperone already on the dance floor to say a gentle word of reminder to a couple who may need to modify their dancing than it is to embarrass them by barreling out from the sidelines to call them to repentance.

    3. Treat youth with respect and kindness. Teenagers acknowledge that they sometimes need to be reminded, instructed, or corrected, but they appreciate being treated as if they are valued and respected–and they will respond better if they are treated this way.

    4. Monitor the building and parking lot occasionally. I used to balk at this suggestion, but I have since found it is sometimes necessary to literally “herd the sheep back into the fold.” Of course, we can’t force them to come into the cultural hall, but we can let them know that the grounds and building will be monitored.

    5. Solve issues related to lighting and music and atmosphere before the dance begins. Performing groups need to sign a suitable performance contract (one is available at no charge from Church distribution centers–Publication No. PXMU0028.)

A word about lighting–if the room is too light, teenagers will not dance because they will feel self-conscious. Instead of using many glaring overhead lights, leaders can arrange for well-placed spots and other alternative light sources in order to provide a suitable amount of light.

As leaders, we have stiff competition for the attention of our young friends. It is our opportunity to uphold our standards while providing activities for them that they will want to attend, activities where they are welcomed, respected, instructed, and loved. (from I Have a Question, August 1992 Ensign, page 60)

The Handbook

Here are some of the guidelines the Church has given for stake youth dances:

  • Dress, grooming, lighting, dancing styles, lyrics, and music should contribute to an atmosphere where the Spirit can be present.
  • The music volume should allow two people standing next to each other to have a conversation instead of a yelling competition.
  • Lights should be bright enough for you to be able to see across the room. Avoid psychedelic or pulsating lights.
  • Youth under age 14 don’t usually participate in youth conferences or dances, but the bishopric or stake presidency may make exceptions in some cases. (Church Handbook of Instructions, 190, 226, and 27, as quoted in Why Dance?, August 2004 New Era)

LDS Dance Planning Resources

How to Put on a Great Stake Dance – August 2004 New Era

Dancing Back to Church – April 2003 New Era (information on how a general authority was reactivated through church dance)

Dance, Dance, Dance – April 1999 New Era (has information on low budget dances)

How can we make youth activities–especially dances–fun for young people while maintaining Church standards? – from the October 1988 Ensign (has very good information on planning and standards)

We Could Have Danced All Night – from the Sep ember 1987 Ensign (fun ideas)

The Best Thing We’ve Done – July 1981 Ensign (has information on a successful family dance activity) – has a large list of music that meets their standards for appropriate music at LDS dances. (This link is provided for informational purposes. The Church itself does not have a list of “approved” music for dances. The Church does not, nor has it ever, endorsed any compilations of “approved” music. See Shauna Shields Erickson, “I Have a Question,” Ensign, Oct. 1988, page 25)

Planning an LDS Dance

Recognizing inappropriate dance styles

The Dance Book is $10.95. It has lots of ideas for fun dance themes, fun ways to ask for a date to a dance, and more.

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