As leaders in the church, we often go to great lengths to provide opportunities for our youth to learn and live the gospel. We may sacrifice our sleep, family activities, even employment in order to plan and implement edifying activities for our youth. It is heart-wrenching when the very activity we have labored over for the edification of our young people becomes a conduit to their destruction.
Consider the couple who meet at EFY and at 14 years of age begin a florid on-line romance, or the couple who attend a stake youth dance so they can hide in an unoccupied corner and make-out, or the couple who, while on a trek, sneak into one another’s sleeping bags at night.
Such tragedies have been known to result in the out-right cancellation of certain church sponsored activities. Whereas it’s tempting to “throw the baby out with the bath water,” perhaps, with the right approach, we could salvage what’s good from church activities, and ferret out the bad.
Youth dances are the epitome of an youth activity that has the potential to either foster healthy youth interactions or foment immorality.
One young man from California remembers stake dances as being a highlight of his teenage years. “Our leaders knew we were going to get together and do something on the weekends,” he recalls. “They were wise enough to provide a safe venue for us to gather.” In his stake youth would drive for miles each weekend to attend dances at their own and neighboring stakes. He claimed it was a great opportunity to meet new people and to have fun dancing with all kinds of different people.
A young lady from Oregon had a different experience. “Our stake dances were so boring that I snuck out once and spent the evening at a nearby fast food restaurant,” she recalls. “The problem was, my mom was in the Stake Young Women’s Presidency. When she found out what I had done, there were consequences.” The consequence was she had to attend every stake dance their stake sponsored until she went off to college. Of necessity, she and her friends found a way to make the dances fun. They decided to dress up in their mothers’ old prom dresses and while at the dance ask as many boys as they could to dance. They particularly liked dancing with the younger boys, who were too shy to ask girls to dance, but were delighted when the older girls asked them.
Theme dances and dressing up turns out to be one of the things that makes stake dances inviting for many youth. The youth in our stake recently attended a “black and white” dance where everybody wore the colors black and white and all the decorations as well as the food was either black or white. At previous dress-up dances youth were invited to wear their school’s colors, or school’s spirit clothing.
“The best dance I ever attended was at a boy scout camp,” says 18-year-old Mikan Taylor. You may wonder what a young lady was doing at a boy scout camp. Mikan explains, “My dad was training at Philmont and our family was invited to join him, as were the families of the other brethren in attendance. All the youth, in fact, the adults and children too, got together in the evenings and danced until we were too tired to stand.”
The Paradox of Pairing Off
The lack of pairing-off made the dances especially inviting to the youth at Philmont. They didn’t have to feel out of place if nobody asked them to dance. They didn’t even have to muster the courage to go and ask somebody to dance. Everybody just went out onto the dance floor themselves, and danced as a group.
Group dances, like group dates can communicate a vital message to our youth. Youth between the ages of 14 and 18 are not supposed to pair off and develop exclusive relationships with members of the opposite sex. They are supposed to casually date many different people, and wait until after a mission to pair off. Likewise, at a fun “group dance” a boy and a girl might pair off for one dance, but not for the entire night, and certainly not at every dance they attend. Group dates, too, can be successful when there is no pairing off at all. Dates where a bunch of youth get together for an activity and nobody has a particular partner simulate dances where a bunch of kids get out on the dance floor not dancing with anybody in particular.
Trouble occurs at youth dances when couples pair off and rather than viewing one another as a friend, view one another as a boyfriend or girlfriend. Even if adults manage to chaperone effectively and keep such couples “Book of Mormon” distance apart, trouble still awaits. A couple who meet at a youth dance, and talk exclusively to one another for the entire evening, neglecting everybody else, are building an emotionally intimate relationship.
In October Conference of 2010 Elder Larry Lawrence said, “Prematurely pairing off with a boyfriend or girlfriend is dangerous. Becoming a “couple” creates emotional intimacy, which too often leads to physical intimacy.”
The purpose of a youth dance should be for youth to meet all kinds of members of the opposite sex, expand their friendships with other boys or girls, not constrict their friendships down to one person.
President Kimball taught, “In an evening of pleasurable dancing and conversation, one can become acquainted with many splendid young folk, every one of whom has admirable traits and may be superior to any one companion in at least some qualities. Here partners can begin to appraise and evaluate, noting qualities, attainments, and superiorities by comparison and contrast. Such perceptive friendships can be the basis for wise, selective, occasional dating for those of sufficient age and maturity, this to be followed later in proper time by steady dating, and later by proper courtship which culminates in a happy, never ending marriage. ” (Teachings of President Kimball p. 290.)
Plan with a Purpose
When we remember the purpose of a stake dance is for our youth to meet many “splendid young folk”, not to find “the one” we will plan and execute the dances differently. We are not doing our duty if we are merely keeping couples who are clearly “in a relationship” from sneaking into corners, or dancing too closely. We are doing our job only if we help the young people avoid exclusive relationships in the first place.
Thus, an abundance of slow dances, with romantic themes would contradict the purpose of the stake dance. Group dances, line dances, square dances, circle dances, all kinds of fun, friendship-fostering dances would be more in line with the purpose of a youth dance.
The youth dance is not a Gold and Green ball, where old people, already married and in a committed relationship come together to dance. The youth dance is for young people, years away from marriage to meet more people, lots of people, people they wouldn’t have an opportunity to meet otherwise.
It’s a chance expand their circle of friends, not to constrict it.
Mixers are often popular techniques for youth to leave the dance knowing more people than they knew when they arrived. Mixers help get people off their chairs and onto the dance floor. (In fact, some leaders refuse to put chairs up in the gym at all so kids will participate rather than isolate). Mixers break up couples who want to spend the entire evening with one another. They also relieve youth from the pressure to ask someone to dance.
Too often youth misconstrue an invitation to dance as an invitation to be one’s eternal companion. “Oh!! he asked me to dance,” a young lady might coo. “He likes’ me.” Such impetuous jumping-to-conclusions can be prevented when the boy asked her to dance simply because he had the same number on his collar as she had on her dress.
A youth dance should have a no-big-deal, non-predatory atmosphere, just like a casual date has a no-big-deal, no-commitment-imminent atmosphere. Our youth are far less likely to break moral laws with somebody who is merely a friend than somebody they have paired off with or with whom they are “in a relationship.”
Our responsibility to our youth is summarized succinctly by J. Ruben Clark: “We may not, under our duty, provide or tolerate an unwholesome amusement on the theory that if we do not provide it the youth will go elsewhere to get it…it is not our privilege, not the privilege of any of those called as leaders, whether youth or adult, to slide the Church about, hoping to put it into the path that youth seem already to be traveling. The Church is fixed and anchored, moored solidly to the truth, and all will be safe within it.” (October Conference, 1973)
JeaNette Goates Smith is the author of the newly released Unsteady Dating: Resisting the Rush to Romance. Her website for adults is www.unsteadydating.com and the website for youth is www.unsteadydating.wordpress.com