"Satan Danced in the Person of the Damsel" : dance, sacrilege, and gender, 1280-1640.


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In the twelfth century, the dance of Salome was used to represent the true church, and preachers called both men and women to “dance to God.” By the fourteenth century, however, Salome came to represent a sexualized and demon-possessed figure, and by the seventeenth century, she was the ultimate exemplar of why no one, especially not a woman, should dance. How did such a drastic shift come about? When and why did Satan begin to dance specifically and solely in the person of the damsel? This dissertation answers these questions by utilizing dance as a framework for exploring the relationship between religion and women in the late medieval and early modern eras. It explores the implications of the shift from presenting dance as a gender-neutral act with potential to be either sacred or sinful to a gendered act, particularly transgressive when gendered female. Established scholarly narratives regard views of dance as transgressive as part of the reforms of the sixteenth century or as a static, intrinsic feature of Western Christianity. Adopting dance as a framework for a study that applies Judith Bennet's longue durée approach to gender history reveals that the social and theological breaks separating the medieval church from the early modern church are not as significant as some scholars contend. Rather, it was the theological and ideological shifts of the medieval period, not of the Reformation, that defined dance as gendered and transgressive, which in turn ultimately helped determine the status of women in the church.



Religion. Dance. Gender.