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Dancing permitted at 1939 BHS banquet, however...

PHOTO from the Bluffton Public Library Digital archive:

By Fred Steiner

Name the top Bluffton controversies of all time.

Is dancing at the high school on your list? Probably not. However in 1939 this issue was so divisive that one school board member threatened to resign and the First Mennonite and Ebenezer Mennonite churches actually held the same opinion on the issue – writing a letter to the school board to discourage dancing.

This story is from the Bluffton in two consecutive issues, covered in excellent journalist fashion by Ted Biery, editor.

Several background items are needed prior to reading the account:

• Bluffton High school students held dances previous to 1939, however no dances took place in the high school. These were either in parties in residences or in other venues off school property.


• At least one Bluffton High School group formed a dance band in the 1920s, led by John Hartzler. One story is that this group often performed at Russell’s Point in the summer.

• Other dance bands consisting of several Bluffton High School graduates formed in the late 1920s and early 1930s. One group composed of some Bluffton College students who were also BHS alums, were said to have been expelled from the college because of their musical tastes.

• As you read this story, notice at the very end that the school board performs an apparent illegal action. The board holds an open session for the public. Then, without entering “executive session,” it retires to a smaller board room for further discussion. Executive sessions are held for the purpose of purchasing property, discussing potential litigation and discussing personal matters. Dancing is hardly covered in any of those purposes.

• No matter where your theological beliefs fall, the idea of First Mennonite and Ebenezer Mennonite congregations agreeing to stand together – writing a letter opposing dancing – certain makes you, at the least, chuckle.

Now the to the story