By Sherry Posnick-Goodwin
They talk differently. They think differently. They use technology differently. And those who chaperone proms and homecoming events also know that Generation Z youngsters dance differently.
“Freak dancing” has become a major problem at schools in California and elsewhere. For the uninitiated, it’s a sexually suggestive form of dancing where the boy stands behind the girl and engages in bumping, grinding, and sometimes groping. The trend has parents and school employees alarmed; one student in a newscast described it as “having sex with clothes on.”
Typically, students make a circle around dancing couples so that chaperones can’t see what’s happening in the center. Some school principals on a recent “Dr. Phil” episode said dances were canceled at their school sites because couples had intercourse in the circle and were photographed by other students with their cell phones.
West Hollywood Pacific High School handles freak dancing by flipping on the lights and playing music by William Shatner and Burt Bacharach. Tracy High School canceled its homecoming dance because of freak dancing, and parents held their own dance for students off campus. Some schools, including Foothill High School in Pleasanton, have banned freak dancing, while others, including Downey High School, have students sign contracts stating they will not engage in this type of dancing.
“The kids would form a clump close together, and it was very hard to walk between the kids and know what was going on in the center,” says Gordon Weisenburger, a PE teacher and activities director at Downey High School. “At first the chaperones would kind of stand back and scratch their heads. But once we realized it was a trend, we knew we had to draw the line. This is a learning institution, and we can’t tolerate this.”
Chaperones enforced the “no freaking” rule at dances with mixed success. “The kids would see adults coming and straighten up, and as soon as we made it through the circle it would close again,” says Weisenburger, a Downey Education Association member. Chaperones took to the stage — and even climbed the ladders at the volleyball net — for an aerial view.
Eventually it was decided to have students and their parents sign a written contract as a condition of attending school dances. The contract states, “No touching breasts, buttocks or genitals. No straddling each others’ legs. Both feet on the floor.” Students receive two warnings before being told to leave and being barred from future dances.
At first, students had a hard time accepting the ban, says Weisenburger. Classroom discussions were held on the topic. Most girls, he said, didn’t see anything wrong with boys rubbing up against them until they were asked by teachers to think about what kind of message it sends.
“Everywhere they go, students see billboards with women dressed in slinky lingerie. They see TV commercials using sex to sell products, MTV music videos that are demeaning to women, and they listen to rap music sending negative messages,” says Weisenburger. “In our small way, school staff is trying to make an impact and offer guidance to these kids. And we are not going to deviate from that.”
Bright Nichols-Stock, president of the Sisikiyou Union High School District Teachers Association, says it has become a union issue for her members.
“Is it really a teacher’s job to police a dance?’” she asks. “Is this what we were hired to do? We used to chaperone dances, but chaperoning is way different from policing. When did our job go from being classroom teachers who educate students to having to separate students because of the way they are dancing?”
Because of freak dancing, there has been talk in her district of taking dances out of the school’s jurisdiction and having parents and community members sponsor them. But for now, the school has decided to give students one more chance and require students and their parents to sign a written contract as a condition of attending school dances.
Nichols-Stock says that school employees are fearful of liability and school safety issues — especially in light of the shocking gang rape of a high school girl in Richmond that took place on school grounds when a dance was being held. She also worries that if a girl is molested in the center of the circle, school employees could be blamed and held liable.
Some see this type of dancing as a fine line between inappropriateness and sexual abuse that might lead to violence.
“The thing that bothers me is boys aren’t willing to learn how to have fun without dancing in that style,” says Sean Keller, activities director and teacher at Pacific Grove High School near Monterey. “They’re not willing to turn their partner around, look her in the eye and treat her like a lady.”
Keller, a member of the Pacific Grove Teachers Association, was instrumental in sponsoring a My Strength Club for boys on campus to prevent sexual violence against women. The club was developed by Men Can Stop Rape, a nonprofit organization in Washington, D.C., and encourages young men to build healthy relationships and take action to end sexual violence. The club’s facilitator is Todd Crawford, through the Monterey County Rape Crisis Center.
“We offer a safe place where boys can discuss current social issues and develop tools that will help them treat each other with more respect and treat women with more respect,” says Crawford. “We want to highlight the best qualities of men as opposed to negative stereotypes that you hear about in the media and in music. We want boys to understand that they need to speak out when they see sexual violence happening and to take action. We want to give them the tools to take action in a safe way. And we want boys to choose how they want to be — based on what’s right — as opposed to pressures they may feel to act like a certain type of man.”