• U.S.

Religion: Dancingest Denomination

2 minute read

“Dancing has a tendency to invigorate the spirit and promote health,” said the founder of Mormonism, Joseph Smith of Palmyra, N.Y. Last week at Salt Lake City’s University of Utah Stadium, 8,000 young Mormons in blue skirts and white blouses. Spanish costumes, tangerine and black jumpers or pastel formals romped and whirled through a two-night program of waltzes, fox trots, folk dances, tangos, rumbas and square and round dances and even some “toned-down” jitterbug steps.

It was the climax of an annual four-day festival. While other faiths may frown, the Mormons encourage dancing between couples lest the Devil find other work for them. Each of some 1,400 Mormon chapels holds a dance every Saturday night—including a floor show during intermission to undercut any inclination couples may feel to wander off by themselves. The result is that the Mormons are easily the dancingest denomination in the U.S.

Sponsor of the festival is the Mormon Young Men’s and Young Women’s Mutual Improvement Association, which traces its origins back to an admonition that polygamous Brigham Young delivered to his numerous daughters after dinner on the night of Nov. 28, 1869: “Retrench, retrench in your dress, in your tables, in your speech. Retrench in everything that is bad and worthless, and improve in everything that is good and beautiful.” The Latter-day Saint Retrenchment Association, sparked that evening, eventually became M.I.A., which now has a worldwide membership of 367,860. Directors of activities contribute their services free, and often at considerable personal loss. One director traveled more than 5,000 miles in one year at his own expense to supervise the dance program in his district.

Explains Dance Director Rulon Stanfield, a Utah business engineer: “The glory which one attains in the next world is relative to the amount of his service to his fellow man on earth. And no matter how many dollars you sacrifice, you forget all about it when you see those young dancing feet.”

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