Isabella Alden’s 1899 novel, A Modern Sacrifice, is about Kissie Gordon, the daughter of a minister, who had been raised to live according to the Bible’s teachings. But when Kissie’s father dies, she and her mother move to the city, where Kissie is quickly sucked into a whirl of social pleasures she’s never known before. Soon her world revolves around dancing and parties and playing cards.
Isabella wrote the story at a time when most Christian denominations denounced or forbad dancing of any kind. Ministers preached against dancing and wrote tracts about the hidden evils of dance.
Isabella referred to those tracts in A Modern Sacrifice. In the story, Kissie tries to convince her friends to give up dancing by loaning them a book that warns against the promiscuous influence dance can have on young people.
The idea that dancing was a gateway to promiscuity was not new. In his 1893 book Modern Dancing; in The Light of Scripture and Facts, the Reverend William W. Gardner warned that dancing “nourished passion and sensual desires” and “leads to the seduction and ruin of the innocent.”
That was pretty strong language for Victorian times; and in A Modern Sacrifice, the mothers of Kissie’s friends were offended that Kissie—a well-brought up young woman—would own a book that contained such vulgar terms.
Ministers who preached against dancing found an ally in the New York City Chief of Police, who reported that three fourths of the “abandoned girls of that city were ruined by dancing.” His simple statement was held up by clergymen as proof of a link between dancing and prostitution.
The waltz earned the most condemnation from churches. “It excites great physical intimacy among young men and young women, which should only exist between those whom wedlock has united,” declared Rev. A. B. Riker of the Fourth Street Methodist Church in his series of discourses condemning popular social pastimes.
Even the humble square dance was prohibited:
“The square dances create a taste for the round dances and, usually, if not invariably, lead to them. The step is so easily taken from apparently innocent dancing to that which is free, indecent, amorous and licentious, that a tender conscience will find it safest to reject all.”
Dr. Archibald Alexander
Professor, Princeton Theological Seminary
In A Modern Sacrifice Kissie Gordon finally comes to realize how far she has strayed from her upbringing; and once Kissie saves herself from society’s extravagances, she vows to try to save her friends, too, by organizing her own social event that soon has all of society talking.
Would you like to read a popular 1893 tract on the perils of dance? Click here to read Modern Dancing; in the Light of Scripture and Facts by Rev. W. W. Gardner, D.D.