No dancing around this responsibility

January 25, 2000|By Susan Reimer

THE NEXT TIME there is a dance at school, volunteer to chaperon.

Your children will have a fit, so be prepared with an excuse. Something along the lines of "the principal begged me to help and I didn't have the nerve to refuse."

Once you are inside the dance, don't hang back on the fringes chatting with other adults. Screw up your courage and walk across the dance floor. Break through the circle of bodies that surrounds the dancers like a force field and watch them.

The kids in the middle of that circle will probably be "freak dancing," and you have to see it to believe it.

Freak dancing makes dirty dancing look like a cotillion. It is beyond suggestive. It looks like the real thing. Boys and girls are doing more than thrusting hips and pelvises. They are grinding genitals.

Back to back, front to back. Girls sandwiched between two grinding guys. Girls on their hands and knees with one boy dancing against her backside and another dancing in her face. Girls on the ground with guys grinding above them. Guys and girls pole-dancing like dancers in a topless bar. Guys moving across the dance floor "poking" randomly at girls.

"You have not lived until you have seen 11-year-olds freaking," said one mother who's been at several of these dances, and spoken to teens about them. "And since this is their only experience with dances, they don't see it as a problem. MTV has desensitized most of them. By the time they get to high school, they don't even call it `freaking.' It is just dancing."

Any adult who gets a look at freak dancing sees it as a problem, though most of us would be hard-pressed to explain our disapproval without sounding like old prudes. We remember what it was like when our parents threw a fit over the "twist" and the "jerk" and slow-dancing to "Surfer Girl."

And we are worn out and wounded by all the conflict with our teens. We are not looking for another argument. Our kids are growing up in a culture almost without limits on personal behavior, let alone sexual behavior, and we are tired of fighting with them over every TV show, music video and party invitation.

Where are we going to find the nerve to walk out into the middle of the dance floor and demand that they and 100 of their friends stop dancing this way?

"It is hard enough to confront our kids when we know what we want to say," says Deborah Roffman, who teaches human sexuality in Baltimore's private schools.

"But when we can't sort out why something like freak dancing bothers us, it is almost impossible to have that conversation. That, and we are children of the '60s. We are not anti-sex, and we want our children to have a positive, healthy attitude toward it."

If you ask, the kids will tell you freak dancing has nothing to do with sex. That it is harmless and meaningless. That it is only dancing.

Roffman sighs with frustration at this explanation. She earns her living trying to teach adolescents that human sexuality is not a single act, but a continuum of feelings and experiences, that these experiences are only appropriate at certain ages and under certain conditions.

"The reason the kids don't think freak dancing is sexual is because there is no intercourse. And we are back to that same old problem," says Roffman.

"I try to get them to see that bodies are touching, boys [are aroused], and there are sexual feelings," says Roffman. "I try to get them to understand that if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it's a duck."

Though freak dancing looks like a duck, it is a duck out of water, Roffman says, because it is sexual activity completely without context. It is sexual behavior stripped of any emotional value.

"What do we want our kids to understand about sex?" Roffman asks. "That it is meaningful, that it is private, that it is in the context of a relationship, that it is freely chosen, that there is a lack of pressure.

"And I am not just talking about sexual intercourse. I am talking about any sexual activity."

Freak dancing meets none of those criteria. It is public; it is recreational. There is no sense of a relationship. Ask girls if they would freak dance with a boyfriend and some of them will be horrified at the suggestion.

"And you can't tell me there isn't pressure," says Roffman. "Not when an 11-year-old girl is standing there and a boy comes up and thrusts his pelvis at her. I think some of these young girls feel violated."

These are difficult conversations to have with our teens. Not just because the topic is sexual, but because we are criticizing their culture, their music. Those of us who have been down that road in our own adolescence are particularly sensitive about this, and we should be.

What we have to explain to our kids is that freak dancing is wrong not because it is sexual, but because it is stone cold, disconnected sexuality. The kind of sexuality that is not an expression of love and affection, but the kind that leaves a young soul empty.

If we find it hard to have this conversation with our kids, we can have one with the DJ about the music he chooses for these dances.

And we can have a conversation with the other chaperons. With their help, we can gently open up the circle of bodies that hides the freak dancers.

And we can encourage fathers to chaperon these dances, too. There is nothing like the commanding presence of a protective father figure to discourage a whole range of unseemly behaviors.

Freak dancing must be incredibly confusing to sixth-graders attending their first mixer. I bet they are afraid and embarrassed and all shook up.

How much more confusing must it be for them when the adults seem content to stand on the fringes of the dance floor, saying nothing, doing nothing?

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