By Liz Bravacos and Laura Weiss, Co-editor-in-chief and News Editor
Junior Claire Noone swiped on eye shadow and pinned up her hair as she prepared for the Homecoming Dance with her friends last year. Noone felt excited about the event, yet when she walked into the center of the dance floor, she was surprised by what she found.
“It’s so dark in that gym and then there’s that huge mosh pit in the middle of the dance floor and the teachers can’t see what’s going on in the middle,” Noone said. “Nobody can walk through there because people are too buy [dancing provocatively].”dents who have felt discomfort on the dance floor at local schools, such as Penncrest and Radnor High Schools, have encouraged the creation of “dance contracts” in recent years in an attempt to moderate inappropriate dancing. Though Conestoga is not currently considering this type of agreement, both students and faculty are raising questions about the way students act after the lights go down.
Noone said that she will not be attending Homecoming this year, which is scheduled for Oct. 23, because she does not want to feel pressured to dance a certain way.
However, the Homecoming Dance still attracts hundreds of attendees. Senior Danielle Sachs said that she feels a situation like Noone’s could have been easily avoided.
“As long as they’re not hurting anyone, students should be allowed to dance however they want,” Sachs said. “Everyone knows where the dirtiest dancing is going to be; you have the option not to see it.”
English teacher Michael Trainer, who has chaperoned student dances in the past, said he believes that students are the proponents behind changes in dance behavior.
“I feel bad because kids will even come to me and say ‘I don’t go to the dances. I won’t go,’ and I think that’s a shame that you won’t go to a dance because you feel it’s that uncomfortable,” Trainer said. “If anything is going to change with the dances, it has to come from students wanting a change. The administration can’t handle it; teachers can’t handle it.”
The major problem with students’ increasingly sexual behavior at dances, according to Trainer, is that it has become the norm on the dance floor. Throughout his 17 years of teaching at various districts, Trainer said that he has found student dancing to be progressively more inappropriate. He said that his perception of his students has been impacted by what he sees at dances.
From bad to worse
Like Trainer, English teacher Kathryn Pokalo frequently chaperones student dances, specifically the senior prom. She said that seeing students in the different venue is enjoyable but that she stays outside in the reception area to avoid the loud music and inappropriate dancing.
“Some students dance in ways that are not immodest, but I’ve also seen students through the years who in other circumstances might be raided by the police—by the vice squad—because the dancing is just totally inappropriate, very, very sexual and very embarrassing to witness,” Pokalo said.
Though she feels that the majority of students who attend dances make good decisions, Pokalo takes her job as a chaperone seriously and said that she notifies an administrator whenever she thinks that students are endangering themselves or others.
“If I see something that’s suspicious, I’ll point it out,” Pokalo said. “If I see something that I think needs attention, I will point it out to an administrator.”
While Pokalo said that she enjoys attending school dances, she does not personally enforce rules about dance movements from the ticket but rather leaves that job to faculty watching the dance floor.
Faculty, administrators and parents at Penncrest High School in Media were also watching the dance floor and were shocked by students’ overly sexy dance steps. As a result, the administration created a “dance contract” that was implemented in the fall of 2009, according to Penncrest principal Rick Gregg.
Under the contract, “sexually suggestive dancing” is prohibited and dancers are required to remain in a vertical position. The document also bans front-to-back touching, grinding, freaking and any mimicking of sexual acts. Gregg said the contract has been effective in decreasing the amount of inappropriate dancing and that students who were previously uncomfortable at dances are happier with the guidelines in place.
“Students were mixed in their responses — some students supported the contract because they were uncomfortable with the dancing the way it was and there are others who choose not to attend dances because they want to dance however they wish to dance,” Gregg said. “The contract is a non-issue for PHS anymore, as far as I can tell.”
Penncrest may have been the first local school to adopt an official contract, however others schools in the region, like Radnor, have employed similar regulations on student behavior at dances. Still other schools have found different ways to limit behavior at school-sponsored dances.
Doug Young, spokesman for the Lower Merion School District, said that dancing at the district’s schools has not been a major concern because dances, besides prom, are not commonly held. He said that the district created regulations regarding “inappropriate” behavior at school-sponsored dances and students stopped organizing them around the same time.
Hope for Homecoming
Back at Conestoga, dances like Homecoming still have many supporters and attendees. Principal Amy Meisinger said that she thought about 1,500 students take part in ’Stoga’s dances each year.
“I think that students enjoy the opportunities that we provide for them at dances,” Meisinger said. “In general, they make great decisions and they’re well behaved. The times that we have to say things and correct behaviors, we do that, and students respond to that and are appropriate.”
Meisinger said that the rules printed on the Homecoming ticket have been there since before her appointment as principal and that administrators developed the rules. She has been approached by other schools that have chosen to model Conestoga’s process of printing rules on the ticket and having students sign the tickets upon purchasing.
“My understanding is that when students sign to buy the ticket, they sign saying that they agree to abide by the rules,” Meisinger said.
Junior Emily Duffy has a different opinion about the rules on the ticket. In previous years when Duffy has attended Homecoming, she said that she has felt pressured to dance in a more suggestive way.
“It’s kind of pointless to even put the rules on the ticket because no one follows them,” Duffy said.
Senior James Ferguson, executive president of Student Council, said that he thinks that student behavior at dances has strayed from the original purpose of the dances. He said that Student Council hopes to host a winter dance this year, which will happen if enough students purchase tickets.
“Dances are meant to be a social outlet for students at different points in the year,” Ferguson said. “The dance culture of today is so much different than [in the past]. Honestly, I would say dance have lost a little bit [of their purpose].”
Liz Bravacos can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on pages 1 and 4 of the Oct. 19, 2010 issue of The Spoke.