Monday, February 22, 2010

Shall We Dance?

Forget the foxtrot. Forget the jitterbug, swing, the rhumba, mambo, shagging, pogo, slam, the electric slide or that cruise-ship-and-elementary-school-gym-class favorite: the macarena.

Today's teens grind. And if you thought Elvis and those too-hot-for-television hips were racy, you ain't seen nothin'.

At the public high school in the Maine town where I live, the Vice Principal has banned dances until further notice as a result of grinding. In other towns, administrators have taken a more creative approach. I read of one case where the students must sign pledges and agree to shun obscene dancing. This earns them a bracelet (something approximating the type you get when you're admitted to the hospital) which they must wear at the dance. If they violate their pledge (use your imagination) their bracelet is snipped and they are ejected. By some burly chaperone, no doubt.

Ah chaperones. The unsung heroes of the public school system. Made of tougher stuff than me. I cannot imagine eyeballing a gym's worth of writhing teenagers, flash assessing obscene behavior and pulling the culprits apart. I can understand why a Vice Principal may decide to not go down that road.

What I know about grinding I've heard from my own teens as well as gleaned from the panicked parental rumor mill in our town. Plus, when a mother of teens from Pittsburgh mentioned that grinding was a concern for her (why did I think it was only happening in Maine?)I decided to do a You Tube search for grinding.

The videos ran the gamut: from dance studio instructors demonstrating the six basic steps in Beyonce's All the Single Ladies music video, to freak dancing at clubs to blurry hand-held camera footage of eighth graders simulating sexual intercourse. The latter approached what I imagine an orgy might look like. Seriously. I had considered posting examples, but because I write novels for readers as young as sixth grade, and some visit this blog, I decided to pass.

I wear my author's cap for the purposes of this blog, so I will resist parental ranting about grinding. I'm trying to understand it in order to authentically portray the characters in my books, just as I had to get up to speed on text and instant messaging, Facebook, and playing phone pranks on a cell phone. I'm not judging; just trying to understand.

Still, my age and maternity encroach, and I find myself thinking of the movie Red Hot Ballroom. If you haven't seen it, run (don't walk) to your nearest video store and check it out. It's a documentary about an annual citywide ballroom dance competition that takes place among New York's elementary school students. Watch these little kids move and your faith in the future will be affirmed. Watch as they master difficult dances and show us how joy and beauty can emerge from form.

My advisor in college, the poet Robert Pack, was a big believer in form. He believed that the formalistic rigor in writing something as complicated as a sestina or a sonnet actually released creativity instead of inhibiting it. Adhering to form opened possibilities, he felt. It made you work a little harder, and wonderful things resulted.

Some of the hip hop moves I found on You Tube under the search "grinding" were pretty cool, complicated steps that would require a lot of practice and talent to perform. Other examples of "grinding" I've seen done much better by the dogs in my neighborhood. I guess it's up to the chaperones to sort it all out.

1 comment:

  1. They postponed a dance at my son’s high school until the students agreed not to grind. It’s all about pushing limits, isn’t it?

    I think it was Patrick Swayze on Saturday Night Live that hosted a segment as a caller for “dirty square dancing.” It was a hilarious spoof on his movie. Dirty Dancing is worth renting as is Strictly Ballroom.

    It's curious how North Americans have one standard of what is appropriate for dancing and South Americans have another. I tried to dance the lambada, but it pushed my comfort zone.