The Universal Notebook: Bumping, grinding and moralizing

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High school students in Scarborough and Gorham recently walked out on school dances when school officials forbid them from grinding, a form of dancing in which a dancer typically rubs his/her pelvis against his/her partner’s backside.

Disgusting, right? Lewd. Obscene. All decent folk should be appalled at such public displays of teen lust.

Wrong.

I say good for them. In recent years, Portland, Wells, Windham and several other Maine school systems have tried to stamp out grinding. It’s about time teenagers started standing up for their rights.

Unless a young person is coerced by peer pressure into grinding when he/she doesn’t want to, there’s nothing wrong with kids getting their yayas out on the dance floor. Parents and teachers may see grinding as simulated sex in an age of sexting, but kids obviously don’t see it that way, or they wouldn’t be doing the bump and grind in public.

When I was in high school in the 1960s, chaperones at school dances would occasionally ask couples locked in slow dance embraces to put a little daylight between their bodies, but mostly we just clung to one another, savoring the body heat, low light and soft music. The Twist was the potentially dirty dance of my day, but prigs have objected to popular dances crazes for hundreds of years. And that’s not even counting religious zealots who object to fun in any form. (See “Footloose,” a great dance movie.)

A quick check of the Internet reveals that the volta (no relation to Travolta) turned on dancers and turned off moralizers way back during the Renaissance, when a man placing his hand on a woman’s waist was just not on. Even the classic waltz ran into detractors in 1816 when the Times of London objected to the new ballroom craze as “the voluptuous intertwining of limbs.”

In the 1920s, the flappers who did the Charleston and Lindy Hop were considered dance-hall floozies. In the 1940s, the jitterbug got the uptight all hot and bothered as did, in their days, the turkey trot, tango and Lambada. Then Elvis the Pelvis ushered in the era of rock ‘n’ roll randiness with his 1956 performances on the Milton Berle and Ed Sullivan shows.

The floodgates of carnal dancing opened unleashing such terpsichorean outrages as the Bump and the Hustle in the 1970s, slam dancing in the punk 1980s and a virtual virus of gerundial jiving in the 21st century. Freaking, juking, shuffling, twerking and grinding make twisting look like child’s play.

All social dancing is a form of ritualized sex, foreplay on two feet. Back when I took ballroom dancing lessons in junior high, we were told we were acquiring social skills necessary to advance in polite society, but we knew what we were really doing – putting up with the polite pretense in order to put our hands on the opposite sex.

I do feel badly for the poor teachers, guidance counselors and assistant principals who have to stand by and watch the kids grinding. I’m sure it’s quite embarrassing. The only thing more embarrassing would be to have to watch the teachers, guidance counselors and assistant principals grinding. Gross, right?

Make no mistake about it though, Mr. and Mrs. Responsible Adult, if you object to teenagers grinding at school dances, you have officially become an old fart. Go get the early bird special, watch a little Lawrence Welk and turn in by eight. You’re history.

Hey, Honey, wanna dance?

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Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Brunswick. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.

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