Teen dance trends keep supervisors on high alert


Photo: Nicholas Shupe

Three Fairmont staff members supervise student dancing at Homecoming from the safety of the track in Trent Arena. Their presence is often enough to keep students in line.

Homecoming: a 10-letter-word that means so much. Students all over Ohio look forward to it. There are the hours of planning, buying tickets, and deciding what lucky girl or guy you want to­­­ grace with your presence. Then there’s the preparation, the pictures, the friends, the dresses, the suits and the ties. A little later, there’s the dinner, the music, the socializing, and, last but not least, the dancing.

Oh, the dancing.

According to Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary, the term “dance” is defined as “moving your body in a way that goes with the rhythm and style of music that is being played.” That sounds innocent enough. Why, then, do so many schools have to address dancing so heavily at events like Homecoming?

Although the term “dirty dancing” grew out of the 1987 movie by the same name, there’s a long history of adults criticizing the way teenagers dance, even though they committed similar “crimes” in their youth. Believe it or not, the waltz was considered scandalous in the 18th century. And adults in the roaring ‘20s thought the world was coming to an end when the flappers took the dance floor. Think your grandparents never did “dirty dancing”? Think again.

Of course, Miley Cyrus recently shocked many generations with her “twerking” at the 2013 VMA Awards, and her performance has created a widespread fear that today’s youth are going to follow in her footsteps.

Does ‘dirty dancing’ happen at Fairmont?

While Fairmont teens aren’t immune to trends, students have mixed reactions to what they see on the dance floor at Trent Arena.

“I think it depends on what you consider ‘dirty,’” said sophomore Kaleb Murdock. “Ain’t nothing wrong with a little bump and grind. It honestly looks a lot worse than it really is, and everyone does it.”

Junior Maddy Collins admits that some dancing pushes the envelope, but she doesn’t seem surprised by it. “I mean, it’s a bunch of teenagers in a room together,” she said. “It’s not harming anyone, but you are in a school with a bunch of teachers around, so it’s not like it’s the best time, either.”

The issue of dancing comes up every year, says West Unit Principal Jenny Borchers. “Basically, we want students to know they’re at a school event, and we want the dancing to be school appropriate,” she said. “We tell them to dance like their mom and dad are watching, and we keep an eye out.”

Dan VonHandorf, Fairmont principal, said he feels most Fairmont students don’t overstep those boundaries. “Generally speaking, our students have done a nice job of listening to our expectations and behaving in a way that allows them to have a good time while still representing the school in a positive way,” he said. “When students have crossed the line, they’ve apologized and changed their behavior.”

The subtleties of supervision

Some students say that when lines are crossed, they don’t see supervisors taking action to prevent it from happening again. But administrators feel their watchful presence is often enough to assure appropriate behavior, and they only step in when it isn’t.

Murdock confesses that his own dancing is often suggestive. “I always see kids twerking and grinding at Homecoming. Maybe not good twerking, but yes, there is twerking,” he said. “I’m not really sure how teachers handle it because I’ve never been stopped before. I always keep an eye out while dancing just in case a teacher walks by. Then I change my somewhat questionable dancing to something goofy and fun.”

Sophomore Joe Schlangen agrees with Murdock. “I think a lot of people who try to twerk end up looking silly while doing it,” he said. “Although the school says it isn’t allowed, a lot of students grind and twerk anyway. I don’t think the teachers and chaperones always catch them doing it because I’ve never seen anyone get in trouble for it.”

Borchers, however says that handling the students is not usually difficult because they are mindful of supervision. “If we see people getting too close, one prolonged stare in their direction is usually all it takes to get them to stop,” said Borchers. “If it takes more than that, we talk to the kids, and they’re usually fine for the rest of the night.”

Junior Maddy Collins, previously a competitive hip-hop dancer, says that the legitimate competitive dancing she was a part of is very different from what she sees Fairmont students doing. “The difference between the dancing at Homecoming and competitive dancing is, competitively, you’re not allowed to do inappropriate things or the judges will take off points. At Homecoming, I mostly just see kids grinding to whatever song possible,” said Collins.

Local ‘laws’ of dancing

Fairmont’s supervisors feel students are well-behaved, and they try to monitor the dancing without taking all the fun out of it. The same guidelines seem to hold true at other local high schools.

“Dirty dancing is all over the place,” said Oakwood senior Joel Thompson. “If you are on the dance floor, you’ll see grinding and twerking. The supervisors have their rules, but they don’t particularly enforce them. I just wish more people would take the initiative not to do it.”

Centerville senior Erin Crumley also feels that rules are not strictly enforced, although the supervision is still apparent. “I enjoy going to Centerville’s Homecoming with girlfriends rather than a date,” said Crumley. “There’s too much pressure to grind, and it’s not even grinding. It’s fake grinding. They don’t even grind correctly. And, there are chaperones standing on platforms throughout the crowd, yet everyone is still grinding. The teachers don’t have the guts to say anything.”

VonHandorf said he thinks all the schools in the area have similar regulations at dances. “I’ve talked to other principals and we all seem to have the same issues and are worried about the same things,” he said.

VonHandorf added that the setup in the Trent Arena helps with dance supervision. “Having the track in Trent is really nice because it allows us to see all the students, whether they’re dancing on the outside or in the middle.”

To dance or not do dance

Some schools around the country, however, have cracked the whip where student dancing is concerned. Bellevue High School, located near Cleveland, completely banned school dances as a result of sexually inappropriate student behavior at dances.

Schlangen feels that level of punishment is more than extreme. “If only some students were out of control, then maybe they should’ve punished just those students instead of taking all the dances from the entire student body,” he said. “I think they could’ve addressed the situation in a less intense way.”

Centerville senior Taylor Curtis says she wouldn’t want dances to be banned, but she would be more comfortable if they were supervised more heavily. “I would probably start going to dances again if there were stricter dancing rules,” Curtis said. “I would feel more comfortable in the environment and feel free to dance how I want without people thinking it’s weird not to ‘dirty dance.’”

Seeing as 1,500 students came to Fairmont’s Homecoming this year and there were no big behavioral issues, VonHandorf and Borchers both think banning dances is unnecessary when it comes to Fairmont students. “I think it’s really sad to get to that point, where students are behaving in such an unacceptable way,” said VonHandorf. “Our students are nowhere close to that.”

Borchers also takes the fundraising aspect of Homecoming into consideration, thinking of how the banning of a school dance could affect things like Spirit Chain. “It’s their right to ban dances,” said Borchers. “But, at our dances, our students are safe, protected and chaperoned. They get to have fun in a safe environment when they could be out getting into trouble. Plus, all the money we make from Homecoming goes to Spirit Chain. It’s a fundraiser. If you ban dances, you have to know you are losing that fundraiser.” 

The delight in dancing

Borchers and VonHandorf both feel that Homecoming has gone incredibly well over the past few years. “I love the way our Homecoming is, and I love that we have Trent,” said Borchers. “We’re really lucky that we have no rental fees, while some schools are paying to rent out the Dayton Art Institute. Plus, we have well-behaved students who always seem to have a good time.”

Not only do Fairmont students enjoy each other’s company in great facilities, VonHandorf likes that they are excited to share their dance experiences with each other. “I think it’s neat that all these students come to one location,” VonHandorf said. “They take pride in their school and want to be here on a Saturday night, even with all the teachers and administrators. I think that’s great. Teenagers sort of get a bad rap from a lot of people, but I think seeing them all together having a good time would change negative perspectives on youth today.”

For Maddy Collins, an event like Homecoming has meaning that goes beyond what dancing style students may choose. “Homecoming is more than just the dancing,” Collins said. “It’s always fun to see people and enjoy the whole experience.”