Jeana Wilson is only 17. She was not even born when the movie Footloose came out.
But she is familiar with the plot. A big city boy, played by Kevin Bacon, moves to a small town in the American west where rock and roll and dancing are illegal, and a good-times quashing, bible-thumping reverend, played by John Lithgow, keeps the teenagers in check.
“Footloose is a good comparison to what’s going on around here,” says Ms. Wilson, the student council co-president at Glace Bay High School in Glace Bay, N.S. “Half of the adults know what happens at dances and they accept it and half the adults are old school and they don’t accept it all.”
Peter Campbell is a principal, not a preacher, and while he may not be “old school” he did ban dances at Glace Bay high after a night of student bacchanal in the school gymnasium, and on the streets beyond.
The problem was not rock and roll. It was underage drinking. And fighting. And a pulsing dance beat and an epidemic of “grinding” — of girls in micro-mini-mini-skirts and boys dancing right behind them in a sexually suggestive manner — in a mash of pelvic bumping and thrusting that transformed the high school dance floor into a raging ocean of teenage lust. The display shocked even the most battle-hardened of dance chaperones.
Video: Minnetonka's anti-grinding announcement
“It was our first dance of the year,” Principal Campbell says. “Everyone was forewarned about behaviour from the previous year, about inappropriate dressing, underage drinking and dancing that is inappropriate in nature.
“We had some issues at the dance and we reached a point where we were not going to put up with it anymore.”
Glace Bay High was the second school in the district to ban dances, while a third simply declined to schedule any for this year.
Meanwhile, in Moncton N.B., Bernice MacNaughton High School requires students to dance face-to-face or dance somewhere else. Students at Eastern Shore High School in Musquodoboit Harbour, not far from Halifax, were confronted with a contract two years ago. Signatories pledged to abstain from drinking, drugging and dirty dancing at dances. The scheme collapsed when most students refused to sign.
“There is a generational thing at work here, just like there was between me and my grandfather,” says Mr. Campbell, Glace Bay’s principal. “But that doesn’t mean to say that it gives licence to change the basic rules of decency.”
It is a time-honoured struggle, where the kids of today, or yesterday, or 50 years ago, are pitted against the social mores of their parents’ generation.
Remember: Elvis Presley shaking his pelvis was a little too risqué, once upon a high school dance. But the dance is not what it used to be.
Grinding, getting fall-down drunk, getting your freak on, getting in fistfights, frantic pelvis thrusts and incredibly shrinking hemlines are the new normal.
Schools across the U.S. are grappling with similar issues. Several in Maine have cancelled dances, outlawed grinding — or both. Some have even embraced “behaviour contracts.”
A handful of schools have pursued a more creative approach: Pacific Hills School in West Hollywood, Calif., threatens to flick on the lights and aurally assault dirty dancing pupils with songs from Burt Bacharach’s repertoire.
Minnetonka High School, in suburban Minneapolis, releases an anti-grinding video each September to instruct its student body on the dos and don’ts of cutting a rug.
The message? “Dance like Grandma’s watching.”
“We decided to do something with humour, not with threats,” principal David Adney says. “In this year’s video a student was captured for grinding, locked in a small room and tied to a chair. His eyes were made to stay open.
“Then in come his mom and dad and they start grinding. All you see is the kid’s face – ‘Oh god, please, please stop.’ The punchline is: There are some things we don’t want to see either.”
Principal Adney came of age in the disco era. He pines for the not-so-distant past when line dancing was all the rage among the kids. When it was all cowboy boots and clapping hands and kicks, instead of vanishing hemlines and hormones run amuck.
“A lot of these kids think that grinding is what dancing is, and some of the younger kids — and I am convinced of this — don’t even see it as sexual,” Mr. Adney says. “It’s tough to be angry with them. They are mimicking what they see on TV.”
Grinders get one warning at Minnetonka. If they grind on they get asked to leave the dances, which are marquee events attracting 1200 teenagers.
“I can’t tell them exactly what sexual is,” Mr. Adney says. “But I am an old physics teacher, and so I tell them I don’t want to see any friction.”
Friction between the generations is nothing new. Teenage rebellion is a rite of passage. The high school dance is a fertile battleground.
Kevin Bacon immortalized the age-old fight between the old fogeys — and kids just wanting to have fun — in Footloose 25 years ago. A remake of the film is scheduled for release next year.
In the meantime, the grinding goes on, just not at Glace Bay High.
“It’s not a dead issue for us,” says Jeana Wilson, student council co-president and unrepentant grinder. “We are looking at having a dance in the New Year.
“A lot of people want the dances so bad, that they are really trying to earn another one. They are on their best behaviour.”