This was my column in Sunday’s Greenville News.  You can’t link it online without a subscription, so I’m posting it here.  I didn’t like the title in the paper, so I’ve changed it.

Dancing as foreplay…not always a good idea

I first learned to dance when my best friend’s sister taught me to move carefully to the beat of music, so as not to embarrass myself at a junior high school winter ball. Fortunately, pocket video cameras were not available.

Much later, Jan and I took some ballroom classes, which were great fun. At least, until her pregnant tummy made it impossible to see her feet, because little Elysa was inside. (I wonder if that’s why my daughter loves to dance?)

Anyway, I appreciate dance. It’s a beautiful expression of feeling and emotion. While I don’t watch any of the current crop of dancing reality shows, I enjoy dance scenes in movies. I still smile when I see Al Pacino tango with Gabrielle Anwar in ‘Scent of a Woman.’ Likewise, I laughed out loud when Jennifer Lopez said, in ‘Shall We Dance,’ “the Tango is a vertical expression of a horizontal desire.”

Dance is romantic and elegant. It expresses love and joy. King David famously danced in joy before the Ark of the Covenant. (No Southern Baptist that one!) Dance can be spiritual, poetic, dramatic and artistic, all at once. Professional dancers, whether in ballet troupes or Broadway shows, are true athletes, in addition to being remarkable performers.

At a certain point, of course, dance can cross over into something like foreplay. Which is why some public schools in our area are either asking students to sign a ‘dance contract,’ or are simply cracking down on certain types of behavior on the dance floor.

highschooldanceHowever, unlike the story-line of the movie Footloose, the idea is not to ban dancing, no matter how angry and outraged some people find themselves at the restrictions. Furthermore, the initiative has the support of many other parents, teachers and students. It’s just that a significant number of folks are tired of watching students dance in a way that is suggestive, uncomfortable for viewers and which (in previous generations) might have resulted in a shotgun wedding.

Admittedly, in the teenage years, dancing isn’t necessary; holding hands can have sexual connotations! But dance in particular lends itself to, oh heck I’ll just say it, temptation! I know, I know, it’s an antiquated idea, and we live in a scientific age of freedom, reason and liberality.

So here’s some science. Teen pregnancies and STD’s are far too common. Some STD’s can be fatal, or cause dangerous cancers. Teen parenthood can be very difficult, for parent, child and society alike. So it seems a little disingenuous to suggest that the solution to the problem is merely birth control. Part of the solution has to be behavioral. And while teens need sex education, just as much as they need education on heart disease, exercise and diet, they also need to understand that abstinence is a worthy, if difficult, ideal.

That said, asking them to refrain from simulating sex acts at school sponsored dances, while dressed provocatively, on weekends, with cars available, seems to be a reasonable request. There are those who will laugh. They’ll respond with the old ‘they’ll do it anyway, so don’t be a stick-in-the-mud fundamentalist’ argument.

To which I’d say this: they’ll bully, don’t worry about it. They’ll drink and drive, what can you do? They’ll experiment with drugs, it’s just natural. They’ll carry weapons; it’s an evolutionary drive to dominate! They’re bound to eat too much junk-food and watch video games, but hey, those crazy kids have minds of their own!

If we care about kids, and about the struggles and dangers that face them, we’ll teach them how to behave. We have to realize that it takes more than barrier birth control to help them live happier, healthier lives. Their own brains are bathed in chemicals, in hormones, in personal struggles and desires. In fact, their brains are not fully developed for decision-making until around age 25.

So it’s up to us to set and enforce some simple rules to guide their behavior. We can’t watch them 24 hours a day, but when they’re at school activities, at least, they can learn some propriety; a character trait that they may find useful someday, even as they rail against it now.

And maybe, they can learn that it is actually possible to enjoy themselves within acceptable limits of behavior. Even on the dance floor.

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