The history of dancing at Bluffton

Dances might seem like a staple tradition on campus now, but there was a time when dancing was prohibited on campus. In light of the Winter Formal Dance Nov. 18, The Wit went to Carrie Phillips in the university’s archives for help accessing old publications of The Witmarsum for a look back at the history of Bluffton’s dances.

When the college was first founded, dancing on campus was prohibited. If you were caught dancing off campus, you were still given a punishment. The school viewed dancing as inappropriate behavior, and would not tolerate it. This policy was not revoked until the 1960s.

In the 1966-67 Student Handbook, dancing was still prohibited on campus. However, in the 1967-68 Student Handbook, dancing was not in the “Prohibited” section. In fact, there did not seem to be a section on dancing at all.

Throughout the entire school year, there did not seem to be any reported news of a dance on campus. However, the 1968-69 school year hosted what seemed to be the school’s first dance. In 1968, the school hosted an informal dance, although the location was not specified. In 1969, Bluffton had its first Homecoming Dance.

In previous years, Homecoming consisted of crowning a homecoming queen, holding a Homecoming football game and having a tug-of-war between the freshmen and sophomores during halftime.

This addition of a dance was quite new and sparked enough interest that The Witmarsum was able to cover it. Additionally, that same year, the school hosted a Fall Formal Dance.

Despite dances still being a new activity on campus, The Witmarsum’s issue from Friday, Nov. 13, 1970, included an article concerning the Junior-Senior Banquet. Apparently, the Spring Banquet, which was a formal dinner and dance, was cancelled, along with that year’s Winter Formal and Talent Show.

The new topic of dances is once again brought up in May of 1971, when the senior class reflects on all of the new adventures they found on campus. Dancing was mentioned as being a first for the senior class, since their first two years, it was prohibited.

The following school year in the fall of 1971, the Homecoming Dance was held at Marbeck, and on Nov. 11, 1971, another dance was held in the Commons at Marbeck.

After these two dances, the next recorded dance that was found in archives was in 1990. In January, there was an informal dance in Bren-Dell Hall’s lobby, followed by a mock New Year’s Eve party hosted by MCB. That following December, Bluffton had a Christmas Formal, although the location is not known.

This year, there have been two dances on campus for the first semester. One was the Homecoming Dance on Oct.7 that followed the Homecoming football game. The second was the Winter Formal Dance held on Nov. 18.

While there were times where dances were not the most popular event on campus, they still seem to attract attention to themselves. From dancing being prohibited to the first Homecoming Dance, the history has helped to shape the present.

About the author

Danielle Easterday


  • As a student at Bluffton from 1965-69 I lived through the transition Danielle describes. Nice work catching process of making that shift. It seems silly now but it seemed like a big deal then.

  • “After these two dances [in 1971], the next recorded dance that was found in archives was in 1990.” As a student in the 1980s, I can affirm that dances were fairly commonplace at that time. But I am quite happy to know that there is no official record of them.

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