Helmut Schmidt, Published March 28 2013
Ban on 'grinding' has Fargo North students going old-school for dancing at prom
But thanks to an impromptu dance academy, there’s a good chance at least some Spartans will cut footloose.
For the last few weeks, Wednesday nights in North High’s commons have featured the slap and tromp of feet on terrazzo – and plenty of toes – as students learn the two-step, polka, swing and waltz as replacements to the grinding many parents and officials see as too lewd.
Latin teacher Dave Volk and his wife, Mary, have taken on the task of helping students with two left feet and a case of dance fever.
“I’m not teaching them every proper move. I just love to dance,” Dave Volk said.
“I’m teaching them steps they can amend and make their own,” he added. “I want them to be in a culture where you can enjoy dancing without it being a sexual connotation.”
The lessons start at 7 p.m. The first night there were 20 students. There were 22 the next week, 30 two weeks ago and 35 at the most recent lesson.
“For those of you who aren’t brand new, this is where you work on your swagger,” said Volk as he demonstrated a basic two-step.
First he had the dancers stepping side to side, then forward and back, adding some extra clop to his steps to give the beginners a sense of the footwork.
“Try that. Just move with that for a second,” Volk said.
The group is mostly girls, but the ratio is not badly skewed. There are only a couple of ladies who have to pair up to get practice.
“A lot of guys think they’re too cool,” sophomore Ashley Blazek said. “If they want to get the girls, they have to learn how to dance. I’d be more impressed with a guy who could swing dance.”
Seniors Courtney Johnson and Zane Miller were first-timers at the lessons.
“I didn’t want to look silly at prom,” Miller confided.
“It was fun,” Johnson said.
Most importantly, it was a chance to learn without being criticized.
“No one was judging,” Johnson said. “It gets more people into it.”
“Everyone’s cool, having a fun time and laughing,” Miller said.
Miller said he probably wouldn’t have gone to prom if grind dancing was the only thing going on.
“Why do that when we have Mr. Volk helping us out?” he asked.
Prom is April 20 at North, and there will be “absolutely no” grinding, Assistant Principal Travis Christiansen said. That ruling came down last fall.
The grind is a dance in which the male pushes his pelvis against the female’s buttocks, thrusting to imitate a sex act.
Christiansen said seeing the grind at dances made many students, particularly the younger set, uncomfortable. “When they were exposed to that, they found that off-putting and intimidating,” he said
“There’s a little bit of rumbling and grumbling about the decision. But I would also say there are groups of students who are embracing the fact,” Christiansen said. “It didn’t really fit the culture we want at North High School. Is that something we’d want kids doing in the middle of our lunchroom commons in the middle of the day?”
Other schools in the metro area hew to the same rule: You can move to the groove, but keep in mind, no grind. Chaperones will pull students aside if necessary to enforce those rules, principals and dance organizers said.
None of the other high schools contacted run an after-school pre-prom dance class, though South High School teaches dancing as part of its curriculum, Principal Todd Bertsch said.
Prom at Moorhead High School and West Fargo High School is May 4. Fargo South High School has prom April 13, and Davies High School on April 6.
‘It’s a workout’
Keith Lehman, president of North’s student council, said the dance lessons have gone over well.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” he said, with those who have a few lessons under their belt teaching what they’ve picked up to new arrivals.
In addition to dance moves, the Volks teach the etiquette of the dance floor, and how best to follow the flow of the dance. Hint: counter-clockwise.
And they encourage the students to ask different partners to dance.
“You’re going to have to mix it up,” Dave Volk said, because dancing is about meeting new people.
While the group practiced adding some twang to their two-stepping, the Volks danced together in the middle of the crowd.
Years ago, when they first danced together, Mary Volk said Dave told her that if he stepped on her toes, “That’s just me telling you I love you,” she said.
“So that’s what we’ve been telling the kids” about stepping on their partners’ toes, she said.
The group is a mix, she said. Some drama students, some hockey players.
“I just hope that if we get the word out, other schools can do something similar,” Mary Volk said.
After a run through swing dancing, Dave Volk teaches polka steps, starting with marching in place, then marching in lines of about six or eight across the dance floor.
“As a kid, when I first got it, I realized it was a march,” Volk said, explaining the first part of the polka step.
As the group moved down the commons, Volk danced in front of them, throwing in some heel-kicking footwork – a polka padre, grinning and drawing smiles and laughter from the students.
“It’s a workout. You’ve got to love a polka!” Volk said.
Seniors Ashley Nickel and Mike Miller are going to prom together. The last time they had danced together was as part of the chorus in a school musical, they said.
“It’s just fun,” said Nickel, who is partial to swing dancing.
“I like the pretzels. The big flashy stuff,” Miller agreed. “It’s a lot more energy.”
“It’s a lot more fun,” to dance the traditional dances, Nickel said. “It’s fun to cut loose and be silly sometimes.”
Blazek is good with the grind being ground out for prom. “Our generation, that’s all we know from the television,” she said. “This type of dancing you can have fun with. And you can have your grandmother see you do it.”
Banned dances throughout history
1700-1800s – Waltz
Some objected to it because it required partners to touch each other, sometimes chest to chest.
1800s – Tango
The modern tango emerged as a dance of the underclasses in the working class part of Buenos Aires, Argentina, in the mid-1800s. It wasn’t until just before World War II that its growing popularity vaulted it from the poorer side of town to elegant dance halls.
1920s – Charleston
This dance was fancied by female “Flappers” at the time who wore short dresses and bobbed hair. It involves kicking and swinging the legs and arms in four basic steps. It was banned in some dance halls for being too scandalous and exuberant.
The dance was a precursor to the Lindy Hop in the 1930s, which was also banned because dancers took up more room on the dance floor.
1950s – Elvis
“Elvis the Pelvis’ ” hip undulations were viewed as too sexual by some.
1970s – The Bump
Dance involves bumping hips with another dancer, but bumping could progress to hip to backside, etc.
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Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583