The NY Times magazine travels to Arkansas for a huge feature on the first dance at John Brown University in Siloam Springs. The context is changing mores among evangelicals.
J.B.U.’s about-face, while abrupt, was not totally unexpected. In the past 10 years, several of America’s most established evangelical schools, including Baylor University in Texas, Wheaton College in Illinois and Cornerstone University in Michigan, have lifted restrictions on dancing, even as they have kept various rules against activities like drinking, gambling, smoking and, of course, premarital sex. They are opting to allow formal dances, like swing or ballroom. Of course, it’s unlikely there will be hip-hop or bump-and-grind at J.B.U. They will not be krumping. But for millions of evangelical Protestants, dancing has become increasingly acceptable. There are still conservative Christians, particularly in Baptist, Pentecostal and independent Bible-church traditions, who don’t dance, but they are growing scarce. The old joke about why Baptists won’t have sex standing up — because people might think they’re dancing — has become antiquated.
"I was part of a group of girls who would put on music in our rooms and dance, and were asked to stop,” Jennifer Paulsen told me. Paulsen is the student-government president who helped persuade the trustees to overturn the ban. It was three days before the dance, and we were talking in the Walker Student Center, J.B.U.’s main hub. “We knew there was ‘no social dancing,’ but what did that mean? We knew folk and square dancing was allowed, and people will always move a little if a good song comes on, but how many people makes a dance?”
In my week at J.B.U., I met students who had never had a drink, had never kissed a boy or a girl and had no doubt that dinosaurs and men walked the earth at the same time. But I didn’t meet a soul who thought dancing was sinful.