'Grinding' really grinds parents
Twice a month, John Marshall High School Principal Tim Limberg invites parents to an open forum to hear their concerns and issues.
But the meeting on Oct. 26 was different. Instead of hosting a half-dozen parents or so, Limberg found himself in a conference room packed with parents, and it wasn't test scores they wanted to discuss.
Instead, they were there to talk about grinding.
Schools nationwide have been wrestling with "grinding" since it made its appearance on the dance floor years ago, but it intensified at John Marshall after the school's homecoming dance in September. One JM parent, who served as a chaperone that night, was so offended at the spectacle of so many students grinding on the dance floor that she fired off an e-mail to other parents, demanding an end to such dancing.
"We had heard the dances were pretty bad, but had no idea how bad until we witnessed it first hand," wrote the concerned parent in the e-mail, claiming that two-thirds of the students were grinding, a dance style in which a girl stands in front of a boy and rubs her rear in her partner's pelvic area. "Grinding should not be happening in our schools."
That call led to the large gathering of parents on Oct. 26, which Limberg called a "respectful meeting."
"It was a good dialogue. There was a lot of good questions, a lot of good information" Limberg said.
Since the controversy flared at John Marshall, administrators there have tried to find a middle ground that takes into account the concerns of parents, but avoids creating an overly restrictive and disapproving environment for students.
"I wanted the parents to think about the experience that will be created for the kids," Limberg said of the meeting. "Do we want a high school where there is no dance or the kids don't feel comfortable coming to the dance?"
So far, the school has created a committee of parents and students whose job is to draft a set of guidelines and "dance expectations." Such criteria could include everything from the use of more lighting at dance venues and a greater mix of songs that invites different dance styles, to a more scripted selection of songs.
Limberg said one of his biggest concerns — and one that he expressed to parents — is finding an accommodation that takes into account the diversity of opinion that can surround such an issue.
"We could line up 200 people from all different backgrounds, and there would be 200 different opinions about what would be acceptable on the dance floor and what would not be acceptable on the dance floor," he said.
John Marshall is not alone in struggling with the issue. This week, administrators at a Portland, Ore., high school canceled the winter formal because chaperones there could not stop students from engaging in "inappropriate conduct."
Teachers there tried lectures, shining flashlights, even T-shirts that said "No bumping," but the measures failed to deter students from dancing the way they wanted.
The debate at JM, as expressed through e-mails written by parents, reveal a divide not so much between parents and students as between parents and parents. Some parents believe that grinding has no place in the schools.
The parent who worked at the JM homecoming dance described efforts at getting students to stop grinding as "aggressive," but fruitless. For the most part, the kids complied only as long as it took the chaperone's attention to turn elsewhere and then "they went back at it." The parent also complained about two instances in which students pretended to grind against the chaperones.
One boy reportedly wondered aloud, "What's wrong with it? We have our clothes on," while another girl claimed that her mother taught her how to grind.
Other parents say the dispute is nothing new. The same arguments were used by previous generations of parents who found the movements of Elvis and The Rolling Stones offensive and morally degrading. Some also argue that the topic belongs more properly in the home rather than the school.
"Grinding may not be the preferred choice of dance styles that many parents prefer, but effective communication between parents and their children is the only way to limit the undesirable dance styles," one parent wrote in an e-mail. "Exactly what should the chaperones do at a dance? Become the dance police?"
Limberg said finding a solution that is acceptable to all sides will be the main challenge. He said he has talked to many parents since the controversy began. Several told him that they have talked with their children, who maintain that "this is just the way this generation of kids dance."
Yet at a recent weekend mixer, Limberg said a handful of students were removed from the dance floor because of the way they were dancing.
Limberg said students are "kind of angry" right now, because some think the conversation and decisions are being imposed on them rather than involving them.
"We are a public school, so we have to try to work with our kids," Limberg said. "Like I said at the beginning, it's not perfect, but we're trying to do the best that we can."