Dirty dancing? Sequim High School policy disputed, defended
Sequim High School Principal Shawn Langston's rule at school dances is "face to face and leave some space." -- Photo by Diane Urbani de la Paz/Peninsula Daily News
By Diane Urbani de la Paz, Peninsula Daily News
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The theme of last Saturday night's school dance, "fire and ice: opposites ignite," could also describe the dispute over Sequim High's dance policy.
The rule, put into effect this fall, requires students to dance "face to face and leave some space."
The rule is principal Shawn Langston's response to what students call "freakin'" and "grinding," dance moves that he said had sparked complaints from students and their parents.
Such suggestive dancing could lead to the shutting down of a dance, Langston warned.
Gig Harbor High School did that earlier this school year: Officials stopped a dance in progress and sent everybody home.
But at Sequim High the rule "is losing us money," Sam Schwab, 16, told the Sequim School Board.
Schwab was part of a small but passionate group of sophomores who spoke at the board meeting just before Saturday's dance.
The event was supposed to be a major fundraiser for the sophomore class, but the "leave some space" policy has cast a pall over school dances, said Chase O'Neil, another sophomore.
"People hear that no one's going," and that creates a reverse snowball effect.
Ultimately, 190 tickets were sold to Saturday's dance, according to a Sequim High School secretary.
That's compared with 473 to last fall's homecoming dance.
Since that event, "they have parents with flashlights. They're called the freak police," Schwab said.
The chaperones shine their lights on students and embarrass them, he added, in order to put a stop to any suggestive dancing.
"There are some kids who take it too far," acknowledged Kris Lawrence, 15.
"All of us shouldn't be punished."
Anna Lebeaume, 15, asked the School Board for "a compromise, something where everybody can be happy."
"Freakin' is our generation's dance," Schwab added.
"It's just swaying together. To parents, it seems a little bit too close," Lebeaume acknowledged.
In a later interview, Schwab suggested relaxing the rule and allowing boys to dance behind girls, provided they don't lean forward at more than a 45-degree angle.
To this, Langston and Port Angeles High School principal Scott Harker had the same response: This is a dance, not a geometry lesson, and school officials aren't inclined to bring protractors onto the dance floor.
"The question is: Where do we draw the line?" Harker added.
Other high schools
At Port Angeles High "we don't have a hard policy," but students at a dance are expected to use the same manners they use in classrooms and halls — which means teens who display inordinate passion will be reprimanded.
"The difficult thing is that our chaperones are parents, and they're a little hesitant" to act as the dance police, Harker said, adding that "it's not fun for us" administrators either.
At Forks and Port Townsend high schools, grinding has yet to become a problem, at least according to officials.
"The kids all grew up together. They just don't dance like that," said Mark Brandmire, who became Forks High's vice principal last fall.
Occasionally some teens take things too far, "and you just tell them to knock it off," he added.
But Forks' dancers don't go anywhere near the moves he used to see at the 1,300-student White River High School in Pierce County.
Forks High's student body is about 300 students, while Sequim's is around 930 and Port Angeles High's is 1,279.
At Port Townsend High School, about 540 students have a dance coming up in late March.
Principal Carrie Ehrhardt said she's heard in the past about teens who were uncomfortable about "expectations" to dance suggestively.
But when she raised the issue this week with student-government officers, no one complained.
"But with the girls especially, I told them if there's anyone who thinks we should pursue something like this [face to face rule], drop me a note. And I haven't heard anything."
"We're considering ourselves lucky," Ehrhardt added.
With Sequim High's junior prom set for April 26, however, some students say they'll push for policy changes.
A "compromise," that 45-degree-angle rule, "is what we're shooting for," Schwab said.
Drake Apablasa, the sophomore class president, defended his contemporaries' dance style.
'Guys don't swing, salsa'
"Guys my age don't swing. They don't salsa," he said.
"All they know how to do is grind.
"It's easy, so that's what they do.
"If girls are uncomfortable, they just say 'I don't want to dance like that.'"
Langston said he wants students and parents to talk with him directly about the rule — but he hasn't yet heard from those who want it changed.
"Face to face and leave some space" will stand, he said.
The policy creates "a much more healthy environment. We just feel better coming out of the dances."
Sequim High School student body president Ady Crosby, 17, has changed her mind about the rule.
"At first I thought, oh, no," she said.
"But I love it now. I look forward to dances."
Crosby added, "It's harder for guys to get past it than girls, because they don't know how to dance.
"But I've seen many guys go to dances and have a blast.
"If you go in negative, you're going to hate it. So you have to open your mind."
Steve Corcoran, a Sequim High teacher who's chaperoned many a school event, said there's nothing strange about the dance dispute.
"The mantra of a teenager," he said, "is to push the envelope."
Sequim-Dungeness Valley Editor Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-681-2391 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last modified: February 29. 2008 9:00PM