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High school dances and the art of grinding
As both a parent and a journalist, I’ve heard tales over the past couple of years about the kind of dancing that occurs at Vashon High School.
Parents of other high schoolers, kids older than my freshman son, have mentioned it on occasion, often using language I found startling. Dry humping, one mother called it. Faux sex, another. Could it really be that bad?
There was only one way to find out. Two weeks ago, I embarked on a reconnaissance mission: I chaperoned the homecoming dance. Yes, I was there to help. I hung countless coats for a parade of couples, refilled water jugs, monitored the bathrooms.
But all the while I kept a close eye on the dance floor, wondering if and when I might feel compelled to tap a young couple on the shoulder and order them to break it up.
I never did, because the kids never broke the rules as laid out by Principal Susan Hanson.
What I did see, however, confirmed the use of those phrases I’d heard parents utter over the years. Grinding, it turns out, is aptly named.
It’s hard to put this dance form into words in a family newspaper, but I’ll give it a go, as Lisa Betz, in a letter on the following page, does as well: The boy stands behind the girl, his groin on her buttocks, moving up, down and around — pleasuring himself, it seems, for all the world to see. One rule: The girl’s not to bend over.
It was surreal, in a way.
One moment, I was helping a girl with her jacket, saying hello to a teen friend or watching young couples — fresh-faced and beautiful — chatting and laughing. Then a certain rap song would come on, and couples would suddenly move in together, forming a mass of bodies grinding like one big, writhing organism in the middle of the room.
Some were so young and small it seemed an odd juxtaposition to watch them dance this way — mere children, it seemed, play-acting some distorted take on adulthood.
Those of us new to the scene tried to keep our cool. We stood among ourselves, throwing sideways glances at the dance floor and exchanging a word or two indicating our absolute shock as we quietly refilled water jugs.
“When did this start,” one father asked me. “How come I didn’t know about this?”
The fact is, it’s been going on for years — and for years, school administrators and parents have struggled to find a way to put an end to it. Some districts, apparently, have had some success. Others have given up.
For some of us, it’s a morally and emotionally complex issue, fraught with our own memories of high school dances and aghast parents and with our own sets of worries about our teenage children. Many young people, we know all too well, are far from innocent: They’ve been graphically exposed to a society that has lost all boundaries, it seems, around sex; others are already full participants.
Add to that the fact that if these teens weren’t at the high school grinding on the dance floor, they might be somewhere else doing something worse. At least they’re safe.
But still, is this the best we can say — at least they’re safe? Isn’t there another role for the adults in their lives to play?
A group of parents has started to seriously explore this question. They held a meeting on Sunday, where some 25 Islanders gathered to discuss what, if anything, Vashon adults can do. Should we organize alternative dances and events, they asked? Or could we take it one step farther: Could we get these dances at VHS to change?
Marcy Summers and Jack Stewart, who organized Sunday’s gathering, said they were encouraged by what they heard: It’s not enough to offer kids a non-grinding alternative, parents said. We need to try to alter the culture at VHS.
It won’t be easy, they noted. High school students, some parents said, need to embrace this effort — and many, of course, won’t. It’s also tough for administrators, who, more than anything, want to see kids safe. What’s more, whenever an issue that touches upon sexuality comes up, it’s easy to slip into off-putting moralizing, discussions that get us nowhere.
But on Sunday, Summers and Stewart said, something powerful happened: Parents from different walks of life — liberal ones and conservative ones, church-goers and non, mothers and fathers — came together in a belief that this Island can do better for its youth.
Who knows where this will lead? Who knows if we can effect change? Surely, though, it’s right that we try.
— Leslie Brown is editor of The Beachcomber.