I t’s been a long time – more than 40 years, in fact – since I attended a high school dance, and, until the other day, the idea of trying to scare up a date to revisit such an event hadn’t crossed my mind.
But that was before I learned that, if I somehow could snag an invite to one of these shindigs at North Kingstown High, I might witness a phenomenon known as “sexual squatting” on the gym dance floor. Or that, along with the 200 or so Jamestown kids who attend NKHS, my social education might be furthered by some “sexual bending” to the latest hip-hop tunes.
Nor could I have imagined, based on my own ancient experiences, that the current choreography at NK might include “intimate touching of the breasts, buttocks or genitals [in a manner] that simulates sexual activity.”
And I couldn’t help wondering what my high school sweetheart would think if I told her that, if we were teenagers today in Jamestown or North Kingstown, our rocking routines might include “hands on the dance floor with buttocks facing or touching your dance partner.”
If the preceding comes as news to you, it’s because you are not the parent of a child who went to the recent Homecoming Dance at North Kingstown High School – an event that students could attend only after first producing the signature of a parent or guardian on the school’s new “Dance/Prom Contract.”
The contract, issued by school officials this fall, lays out a list of rules ranging from the mundane – “Students must be in school the entire day of the dance” – to the eyebrow raising – “Sexually suggestive/ explicit dancing is not allowed” – with the latter illustrated in the contract by the suggestive and quite explicit examples of the outlaw dance moves quoted above.
According to the school’s principal, Thomas Kenworthy, the contract is an attempt to deal with a long-standing problem of overtly sexual pantomimes by dancing students. “We were having a hard time getting adults to chaperone because of the things they were seeing,” said Kenworthy. “And it was getting worse.”
Kenworthy taught history at the school a decade ago, then moved on to other jobs before returning last year to take over as the principal. He says it didn’t take him long to see the problem with his own eyes.
“I witnessed it first hand,” he said.
“I definitely saw it.”
So, what is it exactly?
“Basically, what it comes down to are simulated sexual acts,” he said. “Unfortunately, they had become common moves that students engaged in. Things that parents would have been a little shocked to see.”
Kenworthy decided he had to take action. “The buck stops with me. I have to ensure that parents can be comfortable that students are in a safe and supporting environment.” An environment, apparently, that doesn’t include students placing their hands on the dance floor and sticking their butts in the air like they just don’t care.
Kenworthy notes that neither the problem nor the dance contract is unique to his school. In recent years, schools across the country have employed similar contracts and other restrictions to cope with “grinding” and “dirty dancing” at school functions, along with issues involving highly revealing attire – and, in some cases, the absence of attire entirely, as student dancers decide in mid-boogie that going clothing optional is an option.
Julia Held, Jamestown’s representative on the North Kingstown School Committee, says she has heard reports of similar incidents at NK and that the problems preceded principal Kenworthy’s tenure.
“The suggestiveness of the dancing has been an issue for a long time,” Held said. “The previous principal [Gerald Foley] tried to deal with it by being funny. He issued a policy in the form of a poem: ‘You cross the line when you bump and grind.’”
But Held says the students didn’t heed the message. “There were enough problems last year that the school was considering canceling the dances altogether. This new contract was an attempt to avoid that.”
Did it work?
The principal thinks so. “There were students who were pulled aside and spoken to, but nobody had to be spoken to again,” said Kenworthy. “I think the Homecoming Dance was a great evening.”
Senior Brent Bauerly, co-editor of the school newspaper, The Current Wave, thinks otherwise. In an article headlined “A Treatise on ‘Sexual Squatting’” in the paper’s November issue, Bauerly wrote that the “effects [of the contract] were negligible” in curbing the “act of grinding” at the Homecoming Dance.
Bauerly declared that the contract “has become a joke...[and] a popular punch-line among the student body.” He added that the attempted restrictions “were doomed from the start,” and the contract had done nothing “to dampen the grinding spirit.”
The grinding spirit? Is that anything like school spirit?
Maybe I’ll skip the next dance, after all.