BENNINGTON -- Over the summer, the administration of Mount Anthony Union High School made a decision to cancel the school's homecoming dance after discussions with students did not produce a solution to what school officials felt was an increasing amount of heavily sexualized dancing at school events.
In a letter to the editor published Wednesday, MAUHS principal Sue Maguire and dean of students David Beriau laid out some of the reasons they felt the decision to cancel the dance, and to potentially cancel future dances, was a necessary one. "As a school we are responsible to keep our students safe and teach them how to interact with others appropriately," they wrote.
On the other hand, many commenters on the Banner's website and Facebook page have compared the cancellation to the events of the 1984 movie "Footloose," in which a small town bans dancing and rock music.
"This is nothing like 'Footloose,'" responded Maguire, "This is a safety concern for us. We, as educators, need to make sure students feel healthy and safe on our campus. If you look at the dancing in 'Footloose,' and the dancing we're seeing, they're not the same at all."
The MAUHS faculty and administration made the decision to cancel the dance after conversations with students and student leadership last spring and over the summer. Several female students expressed discomfort about unwanted "grinding" from male students.
"One of the issues that emerges with this highly sexualized form of dancing is consent," wrote Maguire and Beriau in the letter, "We need to engage in conversations with our students about how to be respectful to one another."
Maguire said that many of the students who had come to see her or Beriau in regard to the decision had been disappointed, but that they understood why the school had made the decision. "The kids have been very realistic," said Maguire. She said meetings had been arranged between student leaders and school officials for as early as next week to find a solution to the problem.
"I don't blame the students," said Maguire, "This is what they're exposed to, this is what they think is OK."
Stacy Vadney, principal of Hoosick Falls Central School, in Hoosick Falls, New York, said that provocative dancing had been an issue at their dances, but not a serious one. She said that students were given one warning if they were found to be dancing in a way that chaperones felt was inappropriate. If the student did not correct their behavior, she said, they would be told to leave. "Students like the dances, and they want to stay," she said, noting that she wasn't aware of any students needing to be forced out after being warned.
At HFCS, chaperones are trained prior to the school year, and faculty meet with small groups of students prior to dances to discuss the school's expectations. "Our chaperones are great," said Vadney, "They set the tone and tenor of the dances."
In response to the letter to the editor, former MAU middle school teacher Nancy Koziol wrote to the Banner that the cancellation of the dance was simply a Band-Aid fix to a problem that the administration caused. "Starting in 2002," she said, "when I taught at the middle school and attended dances, I was appalled at the dancing that was allowed. The same DJ was used each time, and conducted a 'dance contest' that was judged by clapping by other students. The dirtiest dancing, whether boy-on-girl or girl-on-girl, always won. I once asked him to promote actual dancing rather than grinding, and he laughed at me. For a long time SVSU has turned an eye on overtly sexual behavior. Children are not taught to respect themselves or their peers."
"Over the last couple years, it's gotten progressively more inappropriate," said Beriau in a phone interview. He said that he approached student leaders last spring, asking them to come up with a solution. When they were unable to present one by the end of the year, the decision was made to cancel the homecoming dance. "The easiest thing to do would be for me to just let this happen, but I can't," he said, "I don't want to go back to tacitly condoning this sort of behavior."
He said the moratorium of dances was serving as a wake-up call to students, who he hopes will take steps to improve their behavior and change the tone of the dances. He said that students have already come to him with proposals, to changing the music played at the dances to music that encourages older styles of dancing, to having students police each other.
"I think for parents, they don't know what this dancing is, and kids know, but they don't necessarily see it as sexual, it's just what they've been exposed to," said Beriau, who said that several parents who have called him to ask why the decision was made have come around to his point of view after he referred them to YouTube videos of dances such as "twerking."
Both Beriau and Maguire commented that MAU students are great kids, and that they expect them to be able to find a solution that allows dances to happen again in the near future. "We have great kids, they're cooperative," said Beriau. "I don't want dances to be like we're the Gestapo standing every 10 feet."
A group of parents and students have started a petition "Bring Back Homecoming Dance to MAUHS," on iPetitions.com, which has 244 signatures as of this writing. One parent, Shannon Besse, commented on that petition, "I don't believe all of the students should be punished for the poor choices of some. I think the parents need to be held accountable for their kids' actions also! Instead of ruining a special occasion for a lot of good kids, stop the ones that are not dressed appropriately at the door, [have] the ones that are dry humping on the dancefloor pulled aside and have their parents called and explain why they are being asked to leave."