The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Happy and Sad Danes unite

In Ringsted, Iowa: A tale of emotions, dancing, disagreement, fire and mold

The Happy Dancing Danes put tiny Ringsted, Iowa, on the map back in the 1940s. But little did the world know that Lutherans in this Danish immigrant colony had split over whether dancing is sinful.

St. Ansgar Danish Lutheran Church was organized by Ringsted’s settlers in 1882. Twelve years later, the “Schism of 1894” pitted two factions known as Happy Danes and Sad Danes in communities across America. The theological debate that caused the schism (whether the Bible or the Apostle’s Creed is God’s truest word) has long been forgotten. What became a bigger disagreement was whether righteous living allows such worldly pleasures as dancing.

In 1941, The Des Moines [Iowa] Register
In 1941, The Des Moines [Iowa] Register featured a story about the Happy Dancing Danes who in the 1940s put Ringsted, Iowa, on the map. In July, the congregations that split 113 years ago over theology anddancing finally reunited.
Nowhere has the split been more enduring than in Ringsted, where 113 years later two Lutheran congregations are finally back together as United Lutheran Church.

After the 1894 schism, St. Ansgar members had to decide between the Happy Danes and Sad Danes.

Danish Lutherans following the leadership of N.F.S. Grundtvig—the Happy Danes—were “never opposed to such amusements as dancing, dramatics, song games, the reading of novels and card playing. Festivals and celebrations of a social and national character were frequent,” historian Thomas Peter Christensen wrote in The History of Danes in Iowa (Ayer, 1979; available from Amazon).

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February issue


Embracing diversity