The waltz scandalized parents in the early 19th century. Swing caused distress in the early 20th century, as did rock 'n' roll in the baby boomers' generation.

This century, it's "freak dancing," and 596 students at Ironwood Ridge High School recently signed a petition letting adults know that they expect permission to do it.

The dance style involves hips and friction, or "bumping and grinding," as some administrators say when describing what won't be allowed at school dances. Sometimes it's back to front; sometimes it's front to front.

About 50 students had to surrender their ID cards at Ironwood Ridge's homecoming dance on Oct. 24 for moves deemed inappropriate by the adults in their midst.

Many students left the dance, turned off by what felt like excessive policing to them, and intolerance of their culture.

To the adults, the dance moves looked a lot like sex.

Now, student leaders at Ironwood Ridge are organizing a meeting of students, school staff and parents to design a set of dancing guidelines that all parties can live with.

"There are many groups of seniors who would have gone ballistic over this," Principal Sam McClung said. "These students have remained polite and willing to work this out. They're a very special group, and we're going to figure something out."

The seeds for the intergenerational collision were planted about a year ago when distressed adults began talking about the suggestive new moves at Ironwood Ridge's dances they were seeing firsthand or hearing about, McClung said.

Freak dancing was not an Ironwood Ridge phenomenon. It was showing up in schools across Northwest Tucson - in high schools and middle schools, alike.

Actually, it was showing up in schools across the United States, according to a 2001 article in Education Week.

The Baltimore Sun and the The Washington Post published articles about the phenomenon that year and the previous year, as freak dancing brought consternation to East Coast schools.

Schools tried to control the public displays in various ways - from prowling the dance floors with flashlights to printing "no inappropriate dancing" on tickets, to cutting out school dances entirely.

Ironwood Ridge started with dance contracts.

For the formal and prom dances last year, the student government designed contracts that defined inappropriate attire and dancing styles. Students signed them when they bought their tickets.

"We didn't have complaints," said Amanda DeGroff, student body president. "The contracts were successful."

But students seemed to think the contracts were more about dressing and less about dancing, McClung came to realize after talking with student government members in the wake of the 596-name petition.

"From their perspective, the type of dancing was on the bottom of the list, whereas what was developing in the minds of adults was more about the type of dance," he said.

Before homecoming arrived this year, the first year for Ironwood Ridge to have a senior class, morning announcements included reminders that "dirty dancing" was not acceptable.

But the lines were hazy distinguishing acceptable and not, and students had no written dance code to refer to.

"I would say that's where one of the issues lies," McClung said. "What we haven't done is clearly define what is objectionable and what is OK."

So when the dance chaperones started circulating on the dance floor and seizing ID cards, students reacted with anger.

"They were saying, 'It's just not fair - they can't tell us how to dance,'" said DeGroff, who said she freak dances in moderation.

Students didn't know what punishments might be in store. A rumor began circulating that Ironwood Ridge was going to call off all future dances.

"It wasn't real clear," said Genn Glos, a senior and a student representative at the school's site council meetings. "There was a lot of confusion after the dance. Everyone was really emotional."

Some students said ID cards were being confiscated for freak dancers who were closer than three feet apart, though McClung said the intentions were quite different.

"There had to be significant touching, and the significant touching had to center around genital to genital or genital to buttock," he said, adding that "rubbing" is probably a more accurate verb.

Not until the Monday following the dance did school administrators decide they weren't going to punish the freak dance offenders.

"We felt it was inappropriate to do anything drastic," McClung said. "Something was still missing in our communication or understanding to have a problem that profound. It's not in my nature to want to bust 50 kids."

Glos didn't attend the dance, but she became alarmed by accounts from friends who did.

"People were incredibly upset," she said. "I was upset, too. I wasn't there, but the implication was - I am a senior. This is my senior year. If this is how the senior formal and senior prom are going to go, then I'm not going to attend."

Glos said she doesn't particularly like freak dancing - "I think it's a little bit obscene" - but that didn't stop her from circulating a petition supporting her peers' rights to do it.

At the school's Nov. 10 site council meeting, she read the petition aloud:

"We the students of Ironwood Ridge High School respectfully request that the dance code be changed to allow our generation's dance practices. These are widely recognized, accepted and practiced in the United States. The dance code does not allow this form of dancing.

"Since we are not allowed to dance as we would like, there is no reason to attend the dances. This has effectively removed the only safe, i.e. drug and alcohol-free, social environment that allows dancing.

"We therefore ask that the dance code be changed to allow us to have a safe social environment where we can dance and be in the company of our friends."

Parents at a Nighthawk Parent Organization meeting came up with their own message to the school administration:

"Our number one suggestion to the school was to allow parents to chaperon," said Barbara Gephart, the organization's president. "We think some of those kids might not pull these things in front of parents as much as administrators."

Another suggestion, she said, was that parents, school staff and students should meet to devise dance guidelines that are palatable to all.

On Nov. 13, McClung met with student government members to find a solution to the intergenerational divide.

"I'm really impressed with Dr. McClung," Glos said. "He really wants us to figure out something so we can continue to have dances and they will be fun for everybody."

Now it's in the student government's hands to organize a meeting between students and people of their parents' generation to design a school dance code.

"We both see both views, and that makes it harder," DeGroff said. "Students to some point know they're dancing in inappropriate ways, and parents understand we need some leeway. Both are not sure which direction to go in as far as compromising."

All area schools dealing with 'freak' dancing

Young freak dancers are bumping and grinding their hips at school dances across Northwest Tucson, inspiring blanched principals to make some of the dancing stop.

At Marana Middle School, music selection has been key in that effort.

"We try to suggest music to our deejay that leads to fun dances as opposed to the songs that are associated with freak dancing," said David Liss, the principal.

It helps to handpick the deejay.

"For one dance, we hired my little brother because he cleared the list with me," said Colleen Rogers, a dance organizer. "He even threw in some '80s music. The kids loved it."

At Cross Middle School, freak-dancing enthusiasts are given time-outs.

"We actually have them sit out for 10 minutes and explain that the reason they're being timed out is because they were dancing inappropriately," said Robert Vinyard, the principal.

At the middle school level, that's usually all it takes, he said.

At Canyon del Oro High School, students have been asked to leave dances when verbal warnings didn't stop their sexually explicit dance moves, said Bob Wendel, an assistant principal.

"We walked around the dance floor and watched for what we felt was too suggestive," Wendel said.

Freak dancing at the school has intensified during the past year or two, he said.

"This last dance, we spent almost the entire time monitoring that and asking students not to dance like that," he said.

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