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Good Independent Baptist Boys Don’t Dance

christian dancing
Not even this kind of dancing was permitted in the IFB church

In September 1971, I began my ninth grade year at Central Junior High School in Findlay, Ohio.  At home, my parents argued constantly, and seven months later they divorced. A few months after that, Mom married her first cousin — a recent Texas prison parolee — and Dad married a 19-year-old woman he met at the local dirt race track. She brought a toddler girl into our new “blended” family. 

Needless to say, life at home was anything but love, peace, and harmony. I hated my parents for getting divorced. I hated my Dad for marrying a girl who was only four years older than I.

I stayed away from home as much as I could. Dad was busy with his “new” family, so my siblings and I were left to our own devices. I spent a lot of time at the local YMCA. I didn’t have the money for a membership, so I learned the fine art of sneaking into the Y. The Y became my home away from home.

Dad started G and B Train Shop with Gary Zissler, a fellow deacon at the church. The store mainly sold Lionel, American Flyer, Marx, and HO trains. I worked at the store in the evenings. Dad paid me twenty-five cents an hour, minus the cost of the pop I drank. Since we rarely had pop at home, I became a pop-a-holic while at the train shop. I also spent a lot of money buying comic books at the next-door drug store. I quickly learned how to sort the till to fund my habits.

Our family attended Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio. Trinity was a large Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church pastored by Gene Milioni. Ron Johnson was the assistant pastor and Bruce Turner (please see Dear Bruce Turner) was the youth pastor.

After Pastor Milioni married my dad and his second wife, Dad and my siblings stopped going to church. I, however, immersed myself in the church, attending every time the doors were opened.

The church became my family. Most of my close friends attended Trinity, and the church provided me with everything I found lacking in my home life. Even though I am now an atheist, I will forever be grateful for the support and social connection the church provided for me.

In the fall of 1972, my tenth-grade year at Findlay High School, Al Lacy held a revival at Trinity Baptist. One night, I came under great conviction and I went down to the altar, confessed my sins, and asked Jesus to save me. A week later I was baptized, and not too long after that, I publicly confessed before the church that I believed God was calling me into the ministry. I was fifteen.

My life changed dramatically after I got saved. I started carrying my Bible to school, and I regularly witnessed to my non-Christian friends. My non-Christian friends, those I played sports with, thought I had lost my mind, and some of my Christian friends did too.

I have always been an all-in kind of person. I don’t do half-way very well, so when it came to being a Christian, I was 100% committed to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I took seriously what I heard the pastors preach. In my young mind, I saw the pastors as speaking for God. After all, everything they preached about came straight out of the Bible, God’s inspired, inerrant, infallible Word — KJV-1611.

Trinity was an IFB church, affiliated with the Baptist Bible Fellowship. The pastors preached against rock music, premarital sex, mixed swimming, going to movies, short skirts and pants on women, and long hair on men. Remember, it was the early 1970s, and mini-skirts and maxi-dresses were popular and men wore their hair long. The pastors at Trinity were anti-culture, believing the love and peace generation was destroying America.

Like a good Baptist boy, I tried to follow the rules to the letter. God (or the pastor) said it, I believed it, and that settled it for me. One sin the pastors were against was any kind of dancing. Not just some types of dancing, they were against ALL dancing.

I vividly remember ninth-grade year at Central Jr High. The Phys Ed teacher decided to teach square dancing. I was all for learning to square dance. This would be my only opportunity to touch the cheerleaders. Unfortunately, Pastor Milioni put an end to my carnal desires. He came to school and made a fuss about the square-dancing class. Next thing I know, I am being forced to sit with the fags (talking as we did in the 1970s — I do not use such language today) who refused to take Phys Ed. This was a punishment worse than death. Pastor Milioni would later come to my school to complain about the choir singing Jesus Christ Superstar. I had to quit choir.

Both my junior high and high school held dances, social events that everyone attended — well everyone but this good Baptist boy. I went through a period of time when I was really upset about all the rules and restrictions, so I would stay overnight with non-Christian friends so I could go to the dances with them. I did this numerous times. I don’t know if my parents ever caught on. If they did, they never said a word.

I came through the 1970s with my Baptisthood intact. I never smoked cigarettes, drank, or toked marijuana. I didn’t listen to rock music, I kept my hair cut short, and I successfully made it through high school as a virgin. Not that I didn’t want to have sex — I did — but I was afraid of what might happen if I did, and I didn’t think any of the church girls I dated were “willing.” I found out a few years ago, after talking to some of the girls I went to church with, that they were more “willing” than this naïve Baptist boy thought they were.

The first time I danced was at the wedding of one of my children. This was the first time for my wife too. My daughters-in-law cajoled us into dancing. Oh, what a sight we were. We may have been years away from our Fundamentalist youth, but it was quite evident that we didn’t know the first thing about dancing.

How about you? If you were raised in a Fundamentalist Christian home and attended public school, how did that affect your ability to be a normal student? Please share your experiences in the comment section.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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  1. Avatar

    As I read the excerpt from David Stewart, I agreeded with everything he said, at a point in my past.

    My thought today was, what kind of man is aroused by bally dancing? Maybe David is still so aroused by the bally dancers that he can’t type straight.

    There is no denying the sexual overtones of Dirty Dancing. But, I watched it (by sneaking) as a good baptist teenager and didn’t feel myself becoming aroused.

    I have a feeling the guys who preach the hardest against sexual sins sre the people who have the problems themselves. I was a sexually repressed and frustrated teenager in the 1980’s, but still never had the proboe a with unbridled lust that these guys preach about. Sure, I was horny and bothered, but I was able to control myself and act like a decent human being.

    This dancing crap is ridiculous. I love the scene in Footloose (the good one) where Kevin Bacon reads from the KJV and is able to prove that there is a time for dancing. Of course, he never had to go up against a real baptist group. They would have had him hauled out for challenging their authority.

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      I thought the same thing. Kudos to any guy who can become sexually aroused at the night at the ballet. I’ll give any guy credit for just staying awake through the performance.

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    I always wonder why guys like that just don’t go get neutered. And as always, it’s somehow the woman’s fault when the guy can’t control his urges.

    I don’t dance, though, unless you consider the horizontal mamba a dance…

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    Thanks Bruce, I got a good laugh out of that article. Clearly dancing is why I am a homosexual friendly, alcohol drinking heathen. I don’t have the time anymore but I used to like going to said drinking dens of iniquity and would have a few drinks and dance with random guys. Good fun. Never became promiscuous or had any abortions. Maybe I haven’t danced enough yet? Love the guys obsession with Hawaii. My favorite line: “Jesus didn’t dance.” Since when are they looking at his example? Just another rant about human sexuality, so much fear, sometimes I think that drives their entire ideology.

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    I think it’s impossible to be a Fundy & grow up normal. I always felt very awkward in public school, never attended any dances/proms, or listened to any of the ‘worldly’ music. I was asked one time in 7th grade if I lived in a time warp. It hurt my feelings at the time, but she was right. I did live in one & there wasn’t anything I could do about it. I think being raised that way has made me socially awkward that continues to this day & I try very hard to break out of old patterns

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      Same here. To this day I am still clueless as how to interact with people in social situations. If someone pays me a compliment I go all deer in headlights as that was not permitted in the whacky fundy world I was raised in – only God deserved praise.

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    Karen the rock whisperer

    The people who first taught me social dance were Evangelical Christian dorm-mates in college. They admitted that they’d get reamed at home by older family members if they ever knew. Inspired me to take a PE course in social dancing at our university, which is where my dorm-mates learned it. Good fun, and actually good exercise. In the dorm we danced up and down the halls, without music, chanting the steps.

    My dorm-mates were my first exposure to Evangelical Christianity, and they were struggling with setting the rules they’d grown up with in their proper place. This was a state university, and the dorm rules were pretty lax. My friends gathered with other Evangelical Christians at places like Christian coffeehouses, for bible studies and fellowship. They lived in sex-segregated housing, and attended events with same-sex friends so that they “wouldn’t get into trouble”. It worked for them, and they managed their lives quite well and more-or-less within the bounds of biblical behavior.

    But they all walked tightropes at home, where the truth of their lives would be seen as absolutely wanton. Young men and women dancing, in the dorm halls, in the middle of the evening! Without chaperones! And… and gathering in coffeehouses for fellowship! And… and studying together! (in the designated study lounges, with a ton of other people around.)

    I heard all of this and all I could think of was GAH.

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    J.D. Matthews

    Reminds me of a joke. Why don’t Baptists make love standing up?

    Because someone might think they’re dancing.

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      The heartless Christianity known as evangelical belief is a curse. It is not about making broken people whole but about breaking them down until they are useless and dependent addicts who carry around their Bible-stash so they can stay high on faith and not have to look at the misery their life has been reduced to by following the preacher’s orders.
      As I think back to adolescence and being able to hold hands with girls and dance with them, I understand why all of this is the ‘devil’s work’. It made me feel alive and it made the day glow like living mattered! By jumpin’ Jesus, to dance slow with my girlfriend to Bridge Over Troubled Water was a fucking indwelling! It was glory and perfection. God wanted to keep me from it to take unto Himself ande make me a missionary or preacher to save sorry souls…. but I got to dance…. I learned a simple jive three step and then settled into slow…. It was holy, wholly human. I even saved up for Beatle-boots using my paper-route money. Life apart from Church was naturally pretty good. Diane Thompson hosted a birthday party for me and gave me the Help album, just out; 1965…. I was 13. Remember Ticket to Ride? And Yesterday?…. all my troubles seemed so far away… There were several songs on that album that became modern classics. And we kids were able to dance outside her house, a bunch of us. My parents did not know of this, of course. Long before even the beginning of adolescence I learned to hide everything from them to keep some semblance of ‘me’. Thank-you Jeeeezus!
      J.D., the way I heard the joke was: Why do Baptists hate sex… cuz it can lead to the sin of dancing. I guess there are many versions.

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    Appalachian Agnostic

    My church wasn’t against dancing any more that it was against EVERYTHING that wasn’t about God, but my my dad seemed to have the idea that it was impossible for young males and females to be together in the same room without having sex. I never bothered to ask to go to a dance because I knew the answer would be no. Once in Middle School, there was a dance scheduled to start immediately after class ended for the day, so I stayed late and went to it. I couldn’t enjoy myself because I was too anxious about getting caught. I left after a few minutes and walked home, hoping no one would notice my lateness. I think I got away with this sinister plan, because my parents never mentioned it. It pisses me off to think about all I missed out on growing up. It is sad how I learned to be sneaky and secretive in an attempt to have some sort of life.

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      I agree that is indeed sad that so much was taken from you, from all of us. We had to learn to hide out, to not reveal who we are… to play along with a fucking evangelical bully called Christianity. Fucking sick. So sick and harmful that many who survive cannot even admit the harm that has been done to them. I think that because you can, you are better off than many of us.

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    I was really disappointed with the dancers in the Bolshoi Ballet when they came to Knoxville for a performance. I sat up front, and all the dancers made powerful thud sounds when they landed from a jump. That seemed anathema to their otherwise graceful movements. My recommendation: If you go to the ballet, sit far enough back to be unable to hear the “thuds.”

    Do you know if David Stewart is still alive? I would like to get in contact with him and send him the link to my blog:

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    Appalachian Agnostic

    These days, I have taken up clogging. Even though it is kind of dorky looking, I have a lot of fun with it and in some ways it makes me feel like I am making up for all the dancing I missed in school. A lady in the class and I got to talking about the movie Foot Loose one day. I mentioned that I thought the plot was absurd. How could a whole town outlaw dancing? She then informed me that the very town we were in had outlawed dancing when she was young. It had something to do with the bad reputation of a neighboring town and the city leaders feeling a need to distance themselves from any activities associated with that wild place.

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    Acts 4:31

    And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness.

    Acts 2:4

    And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance.

    ◄ Psalm 149:3

    Let them praise his name with dancing and make music to him with timbrel and harp.

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    I’ve lived through various fundy fads, fancies and fashions that disappear without trace after a season. Like to be a true x-tian you must suddenly be pro-Israel/ creationist/support bible smuggling trips behind the Iron Curtain etc etc. Along came Dance. There were dance groups advertising their services to come and show you – for a fee – how to incorporate dance into your church worship or evangelism. The song ‘I am the lord of the dance, said he.’ became cool, trendy and was thought to be a Real Attraction to heathen teens hearing it. My 5yo daughter sang it lustily after it was frequently sung in her school assemblies. Note in case anyone doesn’t know, out brits’ word for sofa or couch is settee. She sang ‘I am the lord of the dance settee.’….which I privately thought made about as much sense as the correct line did.

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    Interesting how religion likes to stifle the things that make us most human; like dancing, the visual arts, our curiosity. Of course they need you to fail, and what better way to cause failure than to try to get someone to deny their very nature.

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    Southern Baptist church and fundamentalist Christian school (most faculty were IFB) from 5th-12th grades.

    Before my mom got so far into religion, she took me to ballet and tap dancing classes – I was 5, 6, 7 years old. I liked it. Then abruptly that stopped. I asked my mom why, and first she said she couldn’t afford it, which may have been valid. Later the story changed to “modern dance is becoming vulgar and indecent and I didn’t want you in that”.

    Southern Baptists weren’t supposed to dance, but some of the kids who went to public school were allowed to go to prom. Even one of the church girls who attended my school was allowed to go to prom with her boyfriend. Our school, of course, had Junior-Senior banquet where we all dressed as I going to prom but of course it was a boring banquet. Some people went out afterwards.

    When I was in secular college, I joined the Baptist Student Union for a couple of years. We had weekend retreats with other BSUs from other universities in the area, and one night would be a “foot function” party – we weren’t allowed to call it dancing. We were allowed to do square dancing and call it dancing. My mom and stepdad did square dancing when they were dating, and that was somehow allowed for Baptists.

    After I left the BSU I started going to fraternity parties and bars and had to figure out how to dance lol.

    I learned that some Baptists do dance as long as they rebrand it properly.

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      Though fundy, we let our 3 small daughters go to a local dance class, it was fun, they did innocuous routines being bunnies, or snowflakes or flowers. I heard a fundy mother had withdrawn her child as, for the annual concert, little girls and even – shock horror little boys – would be wearing stage make up. Oh the wickedness! Probably turned the whole group of them gay in later years too!

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      Grammar Gramma

      The Grammar Gramma in me says that the final verb in a sentence is often dropped when it is the last word in the sentence (or phrase), especially if that verb has already been used once in the sentence. The verb is understood, but not spoken (or written). In this case, the final verb in the sentence is understood to be “was.” That verb had already been used once, so it was dropped from the end of the sentence. The sentence, if written formally, would say “I hated my Dad for marrying a girl who was only four years older than I was.” Clearly, one would never say “. . . only four years older than me was.”

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    The fundy, conservative baptist church my parents forced us to attend had a bunch of rules I found absurd. I remember one Easter a boy of about eight wore a pale pink dress shirt with a slightly darker pink tie (this was late 1980s or early 1990s) to the service. It caused a major uproar! The deacons met, the trustees met, even the mission board met regarding the infraction. The result was a dress code for all the church functions. There was even a point where they were considering banning coffee and tea at the potlucks because they could be “gateway drugs.” As Bruce would say, sigh.

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    But. The Bible is full of references about dancing to the Lord. What about that?

    Exodus 15:20-21
    2 Samuel 6:14-17
    Jeremiah 31:12-13
    Psalms 149:3-4
    Jeremiah 31:4
    Ecclesiastes 3:4
    Psalms 150
    2 Samuel 6:14-17

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Bruce Gerencser