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Loudoun's New Move: the Tussle

Students Protest Required Pledges to Keep Dancing Clean

By Rosalind S. Helderman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 22, 2004; Page A01

It turns out the students at Loudoun Valley High School in Purcellville will, in fact, be allowed to tango at tomorrow's Homecoming Dance.

They can salsa and swing dance, too, Principal Gerald Black has promised, although they have all signed a pledge that they will "face each other" on the dance floor. Also on the pledge's list: no drugs, alcohol or "freak dancing."

Jessica Nauta, 17, left, cuts wire mesh as Erin Conroy, 17, holds it in place for a Loudoun Valley High School homecoming float. (Tracy A. Woodward -- The Washington Post)

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Loudoun Valley and Loudoun County's other seven high schools are just the latest to grapple with the bumping and grinding club moves that have seeped into school dances across the Washington region and the nation over the past couple of years.

But in Loudoun, the response has generated as much attention as the dancing. All high school students have been asked to sign an agreement promising to keep their dancing clean -- or stay off the floor.

Loudoun Valley's "face each other" order had seemed reasonable, Black said, a simple attempt to stop popular back-to-front dancing in which a girl gyrates her hips against the pelvis of a guy standing behind her.

"It's very suggestive, and it would certainly not be appropriate in a school setting," he said.

But the pledge has sparked a student-led protest about freedom and self-expression. More than 300 students signed a petition complaining that the rule is "arbitrary, irregular and in violation of . . . First Amendment freedoms of expression in all forms," said senior Anton Soukup, 17.

Another student printed a T-shirt with the message, "How are we supposed to do the hokeypokey if we can't turn ourselves around?"

High schools in Montgomery County, Arlington and elsewhere have confronted the quandary of how to rein in what is known as "freak dancing." But most have dealt with the phenomenon on an individual basis. Some schools ban the dancing -- and watch attendance at the events drop. Others admonish students to keep it clean. So far, with the exception of Loudoun's, there appear to be no systemwide policies.

When Loudoun Valley teachers handed out the required contract last week, it was greeted by almost immediate protest, several students said. They said they'd grown up "grinding" and felt the dancing was simply misunderstood by adults.

"This is our generation's version of the twist," said Jessica Nauta, 17. "A lot of older people think it's a sexual act. It's really not."

She acknowledged that some dancing can go over the line but said that's why dances are chaperoned. Requiring students to sign a promise to dance face to face simply encourages students to test the limits, she said.

"We all understand we live by different rules at school, but freedom of expression shouldn't be something they should make us throw away," she said.

At Yorktown High in Arlington, Principal Raymond Pasi allowed a homecoming dance this month only after the student government had put out a "stay classy" contract that students were asked to sign.

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