Image: Downey High School
Brian Vander Brug  /  Los Angeles Times
Students at Downey High School have to sign contracts before attending dances. “It’s just part of doing business now,” says Gordon Weisenburger, activities director at the school, located in Downey, Calif.
By contributor
updated 2/16/2010 8:32:36 AM ET 2010-02-16T13:32:36

When Susan Schmaeling’s 16-year-old son complained to her that the priests chaperoning his Catholic high school's dance didn't allow him and other students to grind, she fought her impulse to scream. Instead, she tried to stay calm yet be very direct in her response.

“I told him that grinding is not an appropriate manner of dance,” says Schmaeling, a Houston mother of two, adding: “I’m old enough to be a grandmother but you’re not old enough to be a father.”

Across the nation, public schools have been putting the brakes on grinding — also known as freak dancing — where partners repeatedly rub their pelvises together in a sexually suggestive manner. Some schools have canceled dances altogether. Others are implementing dress codes and even requiring students to sign agreements that spell out acceptable behavior. And some schools are turning to more unconventional means, such as Pacific Hills School in West Hollywood’s recent threat to turn up the lights and play Burt Bacharach if students started to grind, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Principal Jill Hudson threatened to cancel future dances at Nathan Hale High School in Seattle following “inappropriate touching” at last fall’s homecoming dance. Before students could be allowed to have another dance, she asked them to come up with a plan for more appropriate dance conduct. Because of this process, the February semi-formal has been delayed until March, and students will have to sign a dance contract geared toward eliminating “lewd contact” before they can attend, says Hudson. At the dance, they’ll get their wrist band cut off after one offense and will be asked to leave after a second.

Before students atAliso Niguel High School in Aliso Viejo, Calif., can attend the Feb. 20 winter formal they'll also have to sign a dance contract that specifically forbids grinding, garters or other exposed lingerie, excessively short skirts and the removal of shirts.

“The sexual nature of the dancing just seemed to be increasing,” says Principal Charles Salter, and the issue wasn’t unique to just his school. “One school found condoms on the floor,” he says.

A few years ago Salter canceled dances largely because of grinding and risqué styles of clothes. The contracts that the school has been using ever since have had a big impact, he says.

The freak dancing not only offended teachers and parents at Aliso Niguel, but it made many students uncomfortable, too. “Some young ladies don’t want some boy all on top of them,” Salter says. “To me, that’s a form of sexual harassment.”

Dance Like Grandma’s Watchin’
Minnetonka High School in Minnesota is taking an altogether different approach to combat grinding. Rather than asking students to sign contracts, the school’s principal created the “Dance Like Grandma’s Watchin’” campaign to discourage the practice.

Kids may not care about offending or annoying their parents, but it’s a different story with grandma, says Principal David Adney.

The campaign uses tongue-in-cheek videos to get the point across. One video shows a student who doesn’t get into Harvard because of a prior citation for grinding, another video depicts a student who is bandaged up and bummed out from a “grinding accident.”

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Adney believes the approach has gotten kids to fall in line without the need to rule with an iron fist. “It’s about creating a culture of respect and inclusion,” he says.

At last week's Sweetheart’s Dance, the Minnetonka students were expected to have fun but keep it clean — mostly.

“There’s definitely still grinding,” says J.J. Schlangen, a senior at Minnetonka and president of the study body, “but it’s more ‘have fun’ grinding, dancing, than like, ‘What are those people doing over there?!’”

Some Minnetonka students resent being told they can't dance as they please, he says, but they’re in the minority and the kinds of students who also don't like not being able to swear at basketball games.

However, at two Salina, Kan., high schools the pro-freakers fought back. When the superintendent of Salina Public Schools banned overly suggestive dancing last fall, students boycotted their schools’ homecoming dances and instead organized their own, reported the TV affiliate KWCH. More than 400 kids attended the student event.

The Adam Lambert effect
While each generation of parents — and school officials — are shocked, SHOCKED by teens who test their limits, many of today’s parents say sexuality is so ever-present in the media that it can be overwhelming to try to keep kids from going too far. Plus, they say, the envelope just continually keeps getting pushed.

Contrast Elvis shaking his pelvis to Adam Lambert simulating oral sex during his performance at the American Music Awards in November, for instance. Plus, sexting and posting explicit photos on Facebook are becoming increasingly common.

“It’s a wild world out there,” says Schmaeling, the Houston mom. “But parents have to say ‘no.’ I'm not my kids' friend, I'm their mother.”

Of course, dancing and dressing provocatively don’t necessarily mean teens are having more sex. They may just be trying to follow the crowd or emulate what they see celebrities doing or wearing.

Kristy Campbell distinctly remembers her husband coming home after chaperoning their daughter’s dance at a public high school in Mill Valley, Calif., a few years ago.

He “practically needed oxygen. He couldn't believe what he saw,” says Campbell, a mother of five who writes a parenting column for the Web site Mommy Tracked.

The next year, a new principal put an end to freak dancing.

“To me, it’s simulated sex,” says Campbell.

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