Small town dust-up forces dad to think about dirty dancing and sexual mores


Last week the Middletown high school principal cancelled the student’s homecoming dance less than half way through the festivities.

Apparently, juniors and seniors were protesting a ban on a type of sexually suggestive dancing (known as grinding) imposed by the administration earlier in the school year.

The protest included a sit-in, as well as a profanity-laced chant directed at the principal, who took to the microphone to admonish the students and to warn them that the dance would be cancelled if they continued to protest.

Mind you, at 50, the only thing I grind are my teeth. But, unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last ten years most, you’ve probably seen examples of this type of dancing. If not, just flip your channel to MTV or an episode of Jersey Shore (or any reality TV show for that matter) and you’re bound to bump into some grinding.

Truth-be-told, I am not bothered by it when I see it. I certainly don’t avert my eyes or act as if I am disgusted by it – I am old, but I’m not dead. That said, it’s funny how views on sexual expression shift to the right in matters that involve your own kids.

The story of the cancelled homecoming dance unfolded in real-time through social media, which is a good thing, because the part of the brain that enables humans to articulate verbally is slow to develop in teenage boys, of which I have two.

When I asked my older son what happened, he simply said “We rebelled”.

Here’s something I’ve learned as a father of two teenage boys – If you want any details about what is going on in the life of your teenage son, be prepared to ask more questions than a New York Times investigative journalist, and be accepting of the fact that almost all his responses will be one or two-word answers. It’s an exhausting exercise in futility, like trying to draw blood from a stone.

Over time, I received a full accounting of what happened. That which I did not learn from interrogating my sons, I gleaned from the local TV news, our town’s daily newspaper, and most interestingly, Middletown Patch – a local community web site and public forum (I am including a link to the Patch article at the end of this post – it provides an interesting and entertaining take on small-town mores and values)

But the point of this post is to peel back the layers of my reaction to my son’s response to the question “Do you grind?”

Now, if I were to describe my older son (and my younger son for that matter), I would use terms like kindhearted, intelligent, well behaved and socially modest. My wife and I have raised our sons to be respectful of his elders and mindful of the rule of law, and to not act like a jackass in public. Our boys have always held up their side of the bargain – they’ve never gotten into trouble – basically, our two boys are very good kids.

To be honest, I just could not envision my son grinding away on a dance floor – it just seemed. . . I don’t know. . . out of character. Still, I was a bit nervous to even ask the question – perhaps I was afraid of the answer.

A few days after the dance, I was sitting in my living room – my son was across the room on the couch. It was just us; my wife was in the kitchen. That’s when I decided to let the question fly:

Me: Hey, can I ask you a question?

Son: Sure

Me: Do you grind?

The words seemed to hang in the air between us.

Son: “Sometimes”.

This is where things got interesting from my perspective – because I could almost hear my brain working – it was as if my brain and myself had separated momentarily – my brain, grappling with the word “sometimes” struggling to come up with an appropriate response.

And then I heard my self say (rather sternly) “Ask yourself if you would dance that way in front of me or your mom or your girlfriend’s parents – and if the answer is no – then DON’T! ”

And that was pretty much the end of the discussion – but not the end of me thinking about it.

I wanted to understand why I said what I said – because honesty, when I replayed my own words – in my own head, they sounded like total horseshit

Here is what I think happened:

I had no mental frame of reference on which to formulate a response – meaning, my brain searched its database and came up empty :


I remember feeling agitated at his response – I think that feeling was my brain throwing up its hands in exasperation – and that’s when I spat out my horseshit response.

So, what have I learned?

I learned that my kids and your kids live in a society drenched in sexual imagery and their dancing is a reflection of that society and we would have to lock them in a closet, throw out our televisions, take away their smart phones, unplug their computers, cancel our magazine subscriptions, turn off the radio and erase what has already been burned into their memories in order to put a halt to the grinding or the urge to grind, and that our best bet is to tell our sons to respect their girlfriends and to tell our daughters to respect themselves and to not get overly concerned with how they dance and to not judge a kids character by what they might do on a dance floor, because, after all they’re kids, but at the same time tell them that people are watching and people will make judgments and that if they get carried away on a dance floor expect to be called out by a teacher or a chaperone and if that happens be thankful that someone is reigning you in a bit and letting you know it’s time to cool it.

Here is the link to Middletown Patch article:

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