Dancing: Is it work of the devil?
Father Cunningham glared at us from beneath the brim of his Red Sox cap. "Dancing," he bellowed, "is the work of the devil!" A rustle of discomfort snaked through us - his CYO kids, assembled for their weekly meeting at St. Jerome Catholic Church...
Father Cunningham glared at us from beneath the brim of his Red Sox cap. "Dancing," he bellowed, "is the work of the devil!"
A rustle of discomfort snaked through us - his CYO kids, assembled for their weekly meeting at St. Jerome Catholic Church in New Britain, Conn. Dancers all, we apparently were on the road to perdition but didn't know it until that day, when our priest told us what dancing was all about.
Catholic Youth Organization met Wednesday afternoons after school. Cunningham's warning didn't stick. Saturday night most of us were at Pulaski High School for a dance that featured the Twist, the Mashed Potato, the Bristol Stomp, the Waa-Watusi, the Shinga-ling and several other forgettable short-lived dance crazes of the early 1960s. Hell-bent, we were, to gyrate and sweat until the last vinyl spin of the evening - reliably a slow dance and often The Five Satins' "In the Still of the Night." "Shoo-doot-in-doo-be-doo," etc. Loved it.
When parents got wind of Father Cunningham's condemnation of dancing, many of them agreed with him. My youthful culture was conservative Catholic, blue-collar, lower-middle class, old-school family values and all that. Good stuff. When a priest spoke out against popular music or dance, Catholic parents took it to heart. My mother, who in her day was one helluva jitter-bugger, wondered aloud what the priest was talking about because other Catholic parishes actually sponsored teen dances in their church halls. Indeed, my first attempt (failed) at the Bristol Stomp came in the Holy Cross church hall, just a couple of miles from St. Jerome.
Mom never ordered my sister and me to stop dancing.
I'm reminded of that warm-my-heart memory by the mini-flap in Moorhead over "bump-and-grind" moves on the dance floor at the high school. There reportedly has been talk of canceling dances because a few kids ratcheted up hip-hop moves to the point where some students and parents were offended. They probably think such "expressive" behavior is work of the devil. But it's merely the necessary work of kids testing the limits, as kids always have. Nothing new about that.
I remember a dance at my high school where two of the class's best dancers entertained us with a frenzied version of the Twist that got them twisting very close to each other - way too much knee and crotch contact. We cheered 'em on until parental dance chaperone John Nolan, who was a city cop, yanked them apart and ejected them from the dance. We booed him and applauded the dancers.
The school shut down the dance. We were subjected to a series of finger-wagging lectures; bulletins went home to parents; the offending twisters were suspended for a couple of days and became heroes.
Work of the devil? I don't think so. Last I heard the
too-close twisters from that dance in 1963 were successful professionals with children and grandchildren.
And somewhere (Moorhead?), today's version of Father Cunningham is warning about dancing with the devil.
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