Grinding is unhealthy and exploitative

By Marcy Summers

For The Beachcomber

Yes, it’s true. Parents in the Vashon community showed up at their teenagers’ dances, found them disturbing and went to school and district administrators to insist on enforcement of the school’s policy against sexually explicit dancing.

For a host of good reasons, the administration agreed, and “grinding,” the prevailing dance style not only at Vashon High School but across the country, is now no more on Vashon.

But why all the fuss? Why did parents feel compelled to poke their noses into the dances, when many if not most VHS students were perfectly happy with them? Are we being prudish, tyrannical or just in need of a life?

VHS students, here’s what I’d like to say to you: We all live with limits. They are the hallmarks of a civil society, and we often choose to abide even by ones we may not completely agree with, out of respect for our covenant with one another. And throughout history and across cultures, it has been the job of elders in the society — parents and otherwise — to set those limits and boundaries for young people. This is particularly essential on issues for which the stakes are high and for which the danger and harm in crossing those boundaries may not be immediately apparent to the young.

Sex, and dancing that ventures explicitly into the sexual realm, is one such issue. (Drugs and alcohol are another — same themes apply.) The reasons why this is so are many, complex and subtle. And students, you cannot be expected to fully understand them until you have a few more years of brain development and life experience under your belts.

But make no mistake: Grinding is disrespectful, exploitative and unhealthy — whether it feels that way to you at present or not. You may perhaps begin to understand when you hear about the girl who spent most of the dance in the bathroom because her date was pressuring her to grind and she didn’t want to, or the boy who was goaded by other boys to ignore his discomfort, join the “mosh” and grind on whoever would let him.

As your elders, we cannot allow you to do these kinds of things to yourselves and to others. We cannot sanction the creation of a climate in which dancing, sexuality, and your own and other peoples’ personhood is treated with such casual yet profound disrespect. You’re worth so much better than that!

Parents were asked recently what they would compromise on. Well, the limits are the limits, and we will not compromise on them: As the school policy aptly states, “Sexually explicit dancing and sexual touching are not appropriate at VHS dances.”

However, within those limits (which have been more distinctly defined through recent youth-adult community meetings), parents are not only willing but eager to support you in making your dances your own. Would you like swing, salsa or break-dancing lessons? Karaoke, pool or ping-pong next door? Refreshments? Live music? Dozens of parents have come forward willing to chip in time and even money to help you make your new dances fun and exciting in whatever ways you most want — or not, as you prefer.

Which brings up a final point about grinding. It’s not only offensive, it’s dull. You — the youth of Vashon — can do so much better! Dance is one of the most creative, joyful and beautiful forms of physical expression. Why dumb it down to grinding? Among you, the students of VHS, are scores of accomplished dancers who can tear up the floor with ballet, jazz, Irish step, swing, modern, salsa, ceilidh, tap, contra, hip hop and myriad other forms of dance. Are you really going to be at a loss if you can’t grind?

I don’t blame you for resenting, on principle, the parental intrusion into your dances. We’re convinced it was necessary and hope you’ll forgive us in time.

But meanwhile, I hope you’ll get over your anger, and turn all your wonderfully creative, clever and energetic spirits to inventing a new dance culture on Vashon, one that is truly worthy of the exceptional hearts and talents of Vashon youth.

— Marcy Summers is a parent who has played a lead role in the effort to end grinding at Vashon High School.

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