AT EXACTLY 7:30 P.M., the lights went down in the Parish Life Center of St. Kevin School in Springfield, and the music started. After a couple lame songs, the DJ played Chris Brown’s “I Can Transform Ya.” You know, the song where he raps, “I gotta rip off your dress like a warm-up/but I’m just getting warmed up.”
But the seventh- and eighth-graders at this dance weren’t really listening. Instead, girls — dressed in short shorts and strappy tops despite the brisk December weather — stood talking, maybe a little too emphatically, all the while eyeballing a few guys who were brave enough to come near their circle.
What happened next might shock you: A young lad would come up behind a girl and, without so much as a hello, put his hands on her hips and his package on her butt, and they would sway side to side. That’s what they call “grinding,” and it’s the default interaction between the sexes at school dances these days.
The kids didn’t get totally crazy that night — they’re only in middle school. (Well, one threesome started grinding away as a “sandwich,” but that didn’t catch on.) Sometimes, a pair of boys would approach a girl, with one young Cyrano saying, “You wanna get with my friend?” On the rare occasion when the girl said yes, the happy couple would disappear to kiss somewhere beyond the watchful eyes of the chaperones. Since this dance was open to students from other schools, the kids didn’t necessarily know each other. As one boy explained afterward, “That’s the fun of it.”
I know all this because watching from the bleachers was my 13-year-old daughter. In the car on the way home, she told her BFF, Laurel, “some guy named Justin came up to me and asked me to dance.” As I listened from the driver’s seat, she said, “I was like, dance? Dance? Do people still do that?”
NO, THEY DON’T. I don’t mean to pick on St. Kevin School — in fact, God bless ’em for giving kids a little space to be 13, to act out and deal, however awkwardly, with a bunch of new feelings and the mash-up of cultural messages they’re receiving.
Like most schools, St. Kevin has a written policy against “dirty dancing.” It is ignored by the students, just as it is ignored by teenagers at middle schools and high schools everywhere. Principals go ballistic and clamp down; students resent it. Like past conflicts over short skirts and sagging pants, this issue has become a defining subversion in high-school life today.