Tuesday, May 29, 2001

Adults freak over teens' dancing

Schools crack down on resurgent trend

By Cindy Kranz
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Teen-agers bump and grind on the dance floor, rubbing their bodies together in undulating rhythm.

(Atlanta Journal Constitution)
        Front-to-front. Front-to-back. Girls bend over while boys thrust their hips into the girls' backsides or faces. They straddle each oth er on the floor.

        It's freak dancing — the latest version of dirty dancing — and it's wildly popular with teens.

        Adults, however, aren't so enamored. Many describe it as simulated sex with clothes on. And more schools are cracking down.

        “It's girls and boys rubbing their parts all over each other. It's offensive to me,” said Michael Hall, principal at Anderson High School. “It's a huge problem at every school.”

        Schools nationwide have dealt out detentions and suspensions or canceled dances for infractions.

        The dance craze, which first appeared in the mid-1990s, has enjoyed a resurgence in popularity, thanks to MTV and music videos.

        At Walnut Hills High School, freak dancing was so prevalent that during the 1998-99 school

        year, students and staff developed a guide for student behavior and dress at dances.

        Now, if students attend a dance, they and their parents must sign a form stating the students will not engage in sexual misconduct on the dance floor. A student caught flouting the rules will be tossed out of the dance and assigned three hours a week of after-school detention for the rest of the year.

        “It's lewd,” said Walnut Hills Principal Marvin Koenig. “It's without consideration for the sensibilities and sensitivities of others.”

        The policy defines inappropriate dancing as including “genital touching, front-to-back grinding (pelvic thrust), dancing on the floor, freak dance "sandwiches' and bending over or other simulated sex acts.”

        Private schools also have had to confront it. At St. Xavier High School, an all-boys school in Finneytown, staff worked with the student council to come up with a policy to ban freak dancing earlier in the school year.

        Elder High School in Price Hill had an outbreak of freak dancing at a Thanksgiving weekend dance until teachers and chaperones put a stop to it. The school has no written policy on dance floor behavior.

        Tom Otten, Elder's principal and a father of five, understands freak dancing's popularity.

        “You certainly get close to people. That was, as I recall, always a charge. It's something that looks new and looks exciting. That's the name of the game when you're 17. You do it until somebody tells you not to.”

        Some worry that freak dancing will lead to sex. Mark Hines, a 17-year-old junior at Seven Hills Upper School, disagreed.

        “I've never gone out afterward and had sex because of the way I dance,” the Anderson Township teen said.

        Mark doesn't believe that freak dancing among teens his age should be deemed entirely inappropriate.

        “While freak dancing among 12- and 13-year-olds is inappropriate to me, teens my age are racing with hormones and sexual energy, and this is a means to express those feelings,” he said. “I personally am a virgin, and I have no interest in changing that aspect of my life. But I do enjoy freak dancing at times. It is a release.”

        Nevertheless, some schools are taking measures to tone down dances. At Nagel Middle School in Anderson Township, DJs are asked to avoid rap and hip-hop tunes that ignite freak dancing.

        But even if teens face restrictions at schools, they are freaking at private homes and teen dance clubs, such as Club Gravity in Colerain Township and Club Xtreme in Anderson Township.

        On a recent Friday night, Club Xtreme was packed with dozens of scantily clad teens wearing halter tops, short skirts and shorts who were freak and line dancing.

        No matter where it's done, Nagel Principal Michael Stabile finds freak dancing disturbing.

        “It's a phenomenon that goes to the moral fiber because of everything you see in the media. Many of the kids don't see anything wrong with it. They say it doesn't mean anything. They know what they're doing. It does mean something, especially because of the raging hormones.”

        Some parents are appalled by freak dancing, while others say they would rather see their kids release sexual urges on the dance floor than elsewhere.

        Marianne Kunnen-Jones witnessed freak dancing in her 14- and 15-year-old stepdaughters last summer on vacation. She and her husband accompanied them to a resort's tiki bar, which offered nightly dancing for teens.

        “The "grinding' made me uncomfortable when I saw it,” said Ms. Kunnen-Jones, 42, of Montgomery. “Like others in my generation, however, I feared the concerns of the proverbial "older generation' would fall on deaf ears if I spoke out. It's hard to know if you'll just be adding to the fun for teen-agers if you voice any criticism.”

        Not all teens are fans of freak dancing. Some say it's vulgar.

        “I think people who are too young should not be doing it at all,” said Michelle Vargas of Oakley, a 13-year-old seventh-grader at Walnut Hills High School who does not freak dance.

        At Seven Hills Upper School in Madisonville, a student Dance Club teaches swing dancing and other alternatives to freak dancing. Students meet every Wednesday during the noon hour.

        “People don't think it's cool, so a lot of people don't come,” said Gabriel Mudd, a 16-year-old junior who co-founded the club and is no fan of freak dancing.

        “Some people use it as a form of self-expression,” the Liberty Township teen said. “In the club, we try to enlighten people that you don't have to use that as a form of self-expression. You can dance nonsexually and still have fun.”

        Some say freak dancing is nothing more than the old bump and grind that's been around for decades. Back then, however, adults did it, not teen-agers.

        “Everybody can do freak dancing,” said Natiel Hines, a trendologist for StrategyOne, a Washington, D.C., marketing and research firm. “It doesn't require any special choreography. I think that's the appeal. Everybody can do it.”

        It's getting attention again, Ms. Hines said, because freak dancers are getting younger — as young as 12 — because they're exposed to the dance through MTV and music videos.

        Even though dances in other eras were controversial, she said, freak dancing causes concerns among parents and schools because we now live in such a sexualized culture where kids are bombarded by sex in the media, and are having sex at a younger age.

        “I think (freak dancing) is different because they can actually see how it could lead to a sexual act,” she said. “It takes it too close for a lot of people.”

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