How do high schools regulate dances?by Tom Weber, Minnesota Public Radio
It's a big month for dances at schools across Minnesota - everything from Valentine's dances to winter-themed events. There has always been a fine line for school leaders to walk between keeping the events fun, but appropriate.
St. Paul, Minn. — Dance moves have come a long way since the 'twist' and the 'mashed potato'. And in response, chaperoning has come a long way since the days of nuns using rulers to make sure couples leave enough room for the Holy Spirit.
But the Holy Spirit's working room isn't the big issue today; it's whether anyone's breaking any commandments.
"A lot of times it's just kind of grinding against each other and things that are just not what we need them to do," said Dan Mesick, principal of Como Park High School. "It's definitely a sexual kind of thing."
When some dances - like in mosh pits - get popular there are legitimate safety issues. But Mesick said today's very up close and very personal dancing offers a different challenge.
"How do we do it and still let the kids have fun without being lewd?" he said.
The bumping and grinding got so out of hand a few years ago, Mesick said, that Como Park moved dances to the gym, a larger room with more light -- a move students did not like. As a result, attendance dropped to the point where last November's Sadie Hawkins dance was canceled.
The Student Council and administration set out to find a solution. Most students would agree privately there was an issue, according to Student Council President Dan Worku.
"You [had] people bending over too far when they're grinding," Worku said. "People lifting up their legs, using a friend to hold them up. And, that's not really dancing anymore."
A compromise was reached and will be used for the first time at next Friday's Winterfest. The school moved the dance back to the preferred cafeteria and promises to dim lights at least a little bit, while the students agree to four rules that are outlined in a video being played during daily announcements.
Students in the video use Ken and Barbie dolls to act out the new no-no's: No bending over too far; keep both feet on the ground; don't dance while propping yourself up against a wall or friend; and don't form a crowd around two people who are grinding.
The students end the video by hurling the dolls down a hallway to demonstrate getting kicked out of a dance - punishment for breaking a rule.
Como Park isn't alone on the video front. Teacher Keith Reynolds stars in North St. Paul High School's video, along with a Jesse Ventura doll dancing with one of Barbie's friends.
"As soon as dancing starts to simulate behaviors that you would not do in front of your parents, that dancing is inappropriate," says Reynolds during the video.
One key rule at North St. Paul is that dancing is to be front-to-front, not front-to-back.
Irondale High School, in suburban New Brighton, also showed a video. But principal Colleen Wambach added a music change, as well. She hired a student to DJ the dance with an agreed-upon dance list.
"Our kids seem to be having a better time at the dances and staying within some bounds," Wambach said.
Tempering creative uses for the human form can sometimes be as simple as playing fewer songs with overly sexual undertones, Wambach said.
At Owatonna High School, in southern Minnesota, principal Don Johnson said there's hardly any dirty dancing. There'll be a dance there tonight and he has seen lines crossed elsewhere - at schools big and small, Johnson said.
"It does seem to have something to do with that school culture," he said. "If it's allowed to happen over a period of time, it's hard to stop and it's hard to break because then the younger students grow up thinking 'this must be okay.'"
One common rule for schools is to require special permission for dance dates who don't attend that school.
Beyond that, South High School in Minneapolis requires students to sign a contract in which they promise to follow 11 rules.
The last rule lists specific dances that are forbidden: twerking, grinding, bumping, walls, windows, and doors -- dance terms that probably shouldn't be Googled on a work computer.
- All Things Considered, 02/13/2009, 4:45 p.m.