Freaked Out: Teens' Dance Moves
Split a Texas Town
By SUSAN WARREN
November 19, 2007; Page A1
ARGYLE, Texas -- Karen Miller, 53 years old, saw her first "freak dance" four years ago when she was chaperoning a high-school dance attended by her freshman daughter.
One boy was up close to a girl's back, bumping and grinding to the pounding beat of the music.
"I thought, 'That's just dadgum nasty,'" Ms. Miller recalls. "It really had me sick to my stomach."
Ms. Miller took the initiative and broke it up. School employees at the dance seemed oblivious, she says.
They're oblivious no longer. A new resolve by school officials in this booming Dallas suburb to crack down on sexually suggestive dancing -- and skimpy clothing -- has sparked a rancorous debate over what boundaries should be set for teenagers' self-expression. Argyle joins a long list of other schools around the country that have banned the hip-hop inspired dancing known as "grinding" or "freak dancing."
But in Argyle, a once-sleepy farming community strained by explosive growth from an influx of well-to-do suburbanites, the controversy has gotten vicious. Some parents blame the newly installed school superintendent, Jason Ceyanes, 35, for ruining their children's October homecoming dance by enforcing a strict dress code and making provocative dancing off-limits. Disgusted, a lot of kids left, and the dance ended early.
Mr. Ceyanes says he fears current cleavage-baring dress styles combined with sexually charged dancing could lead to an unsafe environment for students.
"This is not just shaking your booty," he said. "This is pelvis-to-pelvis physical contact in the private areas...and then moving around."
To make his point, Mr. Ceyanes held a community meeting and played a video pulled from YouTube demonstrating freak dancing. "I cannot imagine that there is a father in this room who could watch this video and be all right with a young man dancing with his daughter in that fashion," he told the gathering.
Many parents support Mr. Ceyanes's actions. But another vocal faction has been harshly critical of the new superintendent, creating a deep rift in the community. These parents defend the children of Argyle as "good kids," and say they should be trusted to dance and dress the way they want.
Angry, Internet-empowered parents have searched public records to dig up personal details of Mr. Ceyanes's past, blogging spitefully about his divorce and his earlier marriage and fatherhood at the age of 17. In community chat rooms, some people were calling him a hypocrite and a power-crazed autocrat showing too much interest in teenage girls.
Supporters fought back on their own blogs, where one posted pictures of Argyle students in skin-baring clothing culled from MySpace and Facebook pages. "Check your kids profiles," the blogger wrote. "These are some of the pictures your little angels have posted on the World Wide Web." The post was later removed, and the anonymous blogger refused to discuss the matter or give his or her name in an email exchange, citing fears of retaliation. "We had several comments that were extremely threatening," the blogger wrote.
Mr. Ceyanes, meanwhile, has tried to stay above the fray, concentrating his energies on meeting parents, school staff and student advisers to find common ground. He has acknowledged that the dress code he inherited, which calls for three-inch-wide shoulder straps and no exposed back, is too strict for formal dances. Proposed new rules still bar cleavage but would allow strapless dresses.
The dancing dispute is proving tougher to resolve. "Our community needs to show these students how much we value them by not allowing them to devalue themselves," says Spencer Jefferies, father of a sophomore girl, who supports Mr. Ceyanes's efforts. Others disagree. "We never had a problem before," said one of the more outspoken parents, Barbara Roberts. She says she spent $400 for her 17-year-old daughter's dress only to have her leave the dance after a few minutes because it was such a dud.
Students defend their style of dancing, blaming the disagreement on the same sort of generation gap that turned Elvis Presley's swiveling hips into a public controversy in 1956. Some Argyle teens say they realize grinding might look erotic, but they insist it's just dancing, not sex. "We don't think of it that way," says Ferrin Bavousett, 17. "When we dance, we don't mean, 'Hey, after the dance you want to go to La Quinta?'" referring to a nearby motor hotel.
Taking Up the Challenge
At one of the school meetings on the issue, Phillip Canizares, 17, said he told the superintendent that teens are dancing the only way they know how. "If it's all we know how to do, then what else are we supposed to do?"
Mr. Ceyanes has taken up the challenge. He has appointed an assistant high-school principal to recruit dance instructors from local studios and universities to demonstrate what's appropriate and what's not for a school dance.
It's going to be an uphill battle, according to dance experts. In the age of round-the-clock music videos on television, iPods and computers, teenagers are just copying what they see. Grinding has been around for a long time, but it has been getting raunchier as videos keep pushing the envelope. "If you're dancing to a song that says 'shake that, shake that, shake that,' it's kind of hard not to shake that," says Gino Johnson, a Dallas area choreographer and producer specializing in hip hop.
Feeling the Heat
The problem is so widespread at school dances that deejays are feeling the heat, too. School officials sometimes blame the deejay for playing too much of the hip-hop-style music that can lead to grinding. So deejays have developed strategies, such as switching to disco or rock 'n' roll, when they see the kids getting too worked up. Some change the pace with a dose of a line dance called cotton-eye joe or a limbo contest.
But "there's only so much a deejay can do," says Richard Roberti, who owns Pyramid Sounds in Woonsocket, R.I. Mix up the music too much, and you risk driving the kids away.
That's what happened in Argyle. Tension was already high because students arriving at the dance were being asked to don jackets and T-shirts to cover up shoulder-baring dresses. When the grinding started inside, the disc jockey switched the music to rock 'n' roll classics, and at one point even played the Six Flags Theme Song from the commercials. It was the musical equivalent of a bucket of cold water.
Instead of canceling dances as some schools have done, Mr. Ceyanes wants to try again, and has scheduled another "Winter Dance" in December to see whether his dancing demos have helped the kids find a less freaky way to move.
But Mr. Roberti, the deejay, has some advice for Argyle: "The more they make a big deal over it, the more the kids are gonna wanna do it."