Will Canceling School Dances Stop Kids From Grinding, Twerking?

Everett CollectionTwerking is the unofficial dance of 2013 (thanks, Miley Cyrus!), and similar sexually suggestive dance moves favored by teens aren't sitting well with the adults in their lives. With bans on inappropriate dancing now the norm at many schools around the country, one high school is going a step further to make sure its students aren't tempted to bump and grind, by banning most school dances.

Jeff Maher, principal of Stowe High School in Stowe, Vermont, wrote on the school’s blog last month:

“This morning I announced to students that we are canceling school dances for the remainder of the year. The Prom in May will be the only exception. I arrived at this decision following considerable feedback from parents, faculty and staff, and students. All of this feedback was directed at the 'style' of dancing common among students in high schools across the nation; students and adults alike are uncomfortable with 'grinding' as this style of dance is called. It is inappropriate, demeaning, and does not represent our values in both school and community. I do not blame students: they are reflecting the increasingly coarse, vulgar popular culture they inhabit. We as adults, however, have a responsibility, a moral obligation I would assert, to stand-up and convey the message to students that this practice is not permissible and cannot be condoned.”

Maher declined to speak to Yahoo Shine, but he wrote on his blog that the school had unsuccessfully attempted to ban such dancing in the past and resorting to extreme measures was one way to get the point across.

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Dirty dancing has been around for ages, but twerking (a move in which a woman gyrates the lower half of her body) was thrust into the public consciousness after Miley Cyrus debuted the dance during the MTV Music Video Awards in August. In the wake of Cyrus’s performance, twerking has dominated the Internet, with everyone from kids to parents, grandparents — and even babies — trying it out. 

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As a result, many schools have issued zero-tolerance “twerking contracts,” written agreements signed by students stating that they will not engage in the dance or any like it. Currently, nine out of 12 schools in Maryland's Anne Arundel County Public School system have issued dancing contracts, and in October, Aliso Niguel High School in Aliso Viejo, California, added “twerking”  to its list of prohibited dances, which also includes “freaking” and “grinding.” Parents are getting involved, too — in September, after catching her 11-year-old daughter twerking at a school dance, a Bakersfield, California, mother forced her to stand in a busy intersection wearing a sign that read, “I was disrespecting my parents by twerking at a school dance.”

“We leave the decision to each school as to whether it wants to issue a contract,” Bob Mosier, public information officer of Anne Arundel County Public Schools, tells Yahoo Shine. “Many of these rules have been in place for quite some time and others are new or have been recently updated.”

In documents Mosier emailed to Yahoo Shine, prohibitions on moves range from “No hands on the knees or on the floor with buttocks facing or touching a partner or in the air” to “Making out (prolonged public displays of affection),” to “No back-to-front dancing; no squatting or bending,” to “No leg or hip grinding.” Mosier says the contracts have been met with approval from parents and teachers alike, but according to Alan E. Kazdin, PhD, ABPP, John M. Musser Professor of Psychology and Child Psychiatry at Yale University, such bans may make the problem worse. 

“Twerking is not the issue; it’s a symptom of a larger cultural problem that sexualizes young women,” Kazdin tells Yahoo Shine. “What’s more, simply banning the dance won’t erase the behavior, and it may even make it more attractive to teens.”

Kazdin points to “reactance,” a phenomenon that occurs when people’s choices are restricted and the desire for them increases — and parents of teenagers can relate. “It sounds counterintuitive, but allowing the activity in various forms during a specific, controlled environment could suppress the desire altogether,” says Kazdin. “For example, throwing a contest with a very toned-down version of the dance would give kids an outlet to express themselves without going too far.”

Parents could also look to larger issues that trigger the behavior, adds Kazdin, and find out, “What television shows are kids watching? What are they reading? What websites are they browsing? How do they dress?” Identifying the larger issues that contribute to sexually explicit dancing will help. And finally, discussion is key. “Telling kids not to do something or explaining why it’s bad rarely solves the issue because in most cases, they already know they shouldn’t be doing it,” he says. “However, keep the lines of communication open so children feel comfortable confiding."

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'Twerk' Added to the Oxford English Dictionary
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