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"The unchast Touches and Gesticulations used by Dancers, have a palpable tendency to that which is evil."

When a dancing master arrived in Boston in 1685 and offered lessons and classes for both sexes during times normally reserved for church meetings, the Puritan ministers went to court to suppress the practice. Increase Mather (1639-1723) took the leading part, writing and publishing this tract, which compiles arguments and precedents for the prohibition of “Gynecandrical Dancing, [i.e.] Mixt or Promiscuous Dancing, viz. of Men and Women … together.” These justifications were certainly shared with the court, which found the dancing master guilty, fined him £100, and allowed him to skip town.

Mather’s tract on dancing is an overwhelming compendium of sources and authorities: from the Bible, classical authors, Christian Church Fathers, medieval philosophers, and Reformed theologians both Continental and English. None of them, it appears, approved of mixed dancing—because it leads to adultery and worse. The vilest sins and the direst disasters lie only a short step from the dance floor.

The Arrow is remarkable for two things (at least): for how much allusion and citation are packed into its brief 30 pages, and for how quickly it escalates the issue into life-or-death scenarios, all vividly painted to emphasize the mortal danger of men and women dancing together.

doi: 10.32873/unl.dc.zea.1309


978-1-60962-217-6 e-book

Publication Date



Zea Books




Puritans, dance, Boston


American Literature | American Popular Culture | American Studies | Dance


The text of An Arrow Against Profane and Promiscuous Dancing … is in the public domain. Notes, etc. are released under a Creative Commons CC-BY 4.0 license.

An Arrow Against Profane and Promiscuous Dancing. Drawn out of the Quiver of the Scriptures. [1686]