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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Footloose at Wheaton

Nothing conjures up a picture of romance quite like lovers enjoying a swing around the dance floor. For Lutherans of a certain age or heritage, that picture isn't part of their past because it wasn't allowed in their homes or at their college. But younger Lutherans might say, "No kidding?"

Then there are the young adults at Wheaton [Ill.] College, who just recently crossed that great divide. It's been one year since the college — the evangelical school of alumnus Billy Graham — lifted its 143-year ban against dancing. In November, students had their first on-campus swing dance.

In Lutheran Higher Education in North America (Augsburg, 1985), Richard W. Solberg, a retired ELCA pastor, wrote that student life changes on Lutheran campuses between the Civil War and World War I were reflections of general trends among colleges and expressions of a particular background.

"Punishment will be the sure consequence of transgression," assured the 1888 catalog for Gustavus Adolphus College, St. Peter, Minn. Among those transgressions was dancing.

Bruce Halverson, president of Augustana College, Sioux Falls, S.D., remembers vividly the first dance, a sock hop, held there in 1964. His band, the Fabulous Jadesmen, played for it. He played bass. "As students we thought it was crazy not to have dances," he said, recalling a good amount of resistance when the board of regents discussed allowing sock hops.

With good humor, Halverson speculates that he likely secured his current position because of his claim to fame as a Jadesman. The group was back together five years ago for the first time in 35 years and several times since.

And yes, dancing is allowed — even encouraged — at Augustana these days, he said.


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