Monday, September 24, 2012

Problematic high school dance? Cancel it ...

A public high school in Florida did just that. Citing lack of adult supervision, dress code violations and inappropriate dancing as their reasons, the Lincoln Park Academy administration decided to cancel the December homecoming dance. Watch the video at the link below for more information:

High school students, officials at odds over homecoming cancellation | Education - WPBF Home

The school is receiving a great deal of criticism. Parents are upset that their children no longer have a "reward" to look forward to, seniors are crushed that their final homecoming has disappeared, other students are furious that their administration is not "with the program." Being upset is understandable. It's a disappointment to many, I'm sure.

But what no one wants to discuss is the disappointment of students, teachers, administration and parents at high schools all across the country at the dances that do occur. Public high school, Catholic high school, private high school .... This past year, we had a Kenosis meeting centered on the topic of prom. Our students were frustrated -- by the dress, by the dancing, by the music, by the disrespect. Many of them have taken matters into their own hands. They have shopped for modest dresses. They have taught dance lessons so that students will know how to do something other than bump and grind. They have invited other students to sign a "prom promise" to be respectful. They have challenged their friends who are not dressing or behaving in a way that respects themselves or others.

But even with these grassroots efforts, often, not much changes. With the radicality of the Lincoln Park Academy decision, a message is truly being sent.

Instead of saying: "Don't wear a dress that barely touches your thigh, has cut-outs, no back and is low cut ... but you can wear a dress that goes to your mid-thigh, has a couple of cut-outs, almost no back and shows the top of your chest ..."

Instead of saying, "Please don't bump and grind. You are young ladies and gentleman and should know how to act ... but we are going to play music that lends itself to bumping and grinding, and we are going to allow you to stand so close together on the dance floor that we won't know if you are bumping and grinding or not ..."

Instead of saying, "We want you to be safe, have fun and have prom because it's your right to have a school dance ..."

This school is saying (in effect), "We aren't going to put up with mediocrity. We aren't going to put our students in compromising positions. We aren't going to settle for these clothes, these songs, these dance moves because 'everyone is doing them.' We just aren't having the dance."

It sends a message loud and clear. It's good that it's controversial, because it just might be the radicality that leads people to accept an alternative.

And what would an alternative be?

Well, I've considered a few:
  • Change the music.  Even if it's the "edited" version, dancing to songs that talk about body parts, sexual activities and degrading attitudes toward the opposite sex are not likely to encourage dignified dance moves.  So, what about Oldies, swing dancing, square dancing ... there are many genres out there, many of which don't come to mind at the words, "School dance."  But just because it's not the first song to play on the radio or be listed on the top downloads on iTunes doesn't mean teens wouldn't enjoy dancing to it.

  • Make a theme.  Have a square dance or a 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s dance.  It's not traditional for a homecoming or prom, but who says it can't be done?  This would impact the music and the dress code.  (For good measure, see how many decades -- even centuries! -- back you can go.)
  • Mandate a drastic dress code.  The dresses can't just be about length and cleavage.  There's tightness, other revealing areas, cut-outs, sheerness, etc.  Is it difficult to find a modest dress?  Certainly.  But it's not impossible.  Some dresses can be altered as well.  When I was wedding dress shopping, I was impressed to see a high school girl trying on her prom dress.  It was long and poofy, so there weren't length and tightness issues.  But she asked the seamstress to please sew in a path of material where the dress dipped down a bit to reveal cleavage.  I don't know how many girls think to ask for these alterations, but it's important to know they can be done.  The point here is not to pick random standards for the sake of having standards, but to invite young women to see that they are worth more, that they are called to more, and that they are capable of more.  (More in this case not only referring to cloth, but to respect, dignity and other wonderful attitudes and virtues that they desire.)
  • Teach students about dignity, modesty, chastity and other related topics throughout the school year ... not just during the week before the prom. With only a few days before the dance, the dresses have been bought, plans have been made, and behavioral problems have been set.  I'm not discounting conversion and change of heart, but we need to start early and often to be heard in our MTV culture.  

Many teachers, parents and students question the way dignity is upheld at high school dances.  Many administrators feel the pressure of providing fun opportunities for students.  But school dances and the dignity of the human person do not have to be at odds.  We just might have to be a bit creative -- and even radical -- to see how they can work together.

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