© 2023 Iowa Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Freak Dancing


It's TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Juan Williams.


Unidentified Man #1: I like big butts and I cannot lie, you other brothers can't deny that when a girl walks in with a itty-bitty waist and a round thing in your face you get sprung, want to pull up tough because you noticed that butt was stuffed deep in the jeans she's wearing. I'm hooked and I can't stop staring. Oh, baby...

WILLIAMS: This hour, controversy about dancing at middle and high schools around the nation. The problem is a kind of dancing called freak dancing, and it's outraged some school officials and parents from coast to coast. They say this kind of dancing is far too sexual.

A recent USA Today article reported that parents in suburban Philadelphia have banned all crotch-to-crotch dancing. In Riverview, Michigan, students are required to pass a test on acceptable dance etiquette. And the freak dancing fad has become such a problem at Washington, DC, area private schools that over 40 private school officials in Washington met to discuss how to deal with it.

So how should parents and school administrators deal with freak dancing? When does a teen's actions on the dance floor constitute crossing the sexual line, and how does this dancing compare to the twist or the lindy hop? If you're a parent or a student caught in the controversy over freak dancing, we want to hear from you. Or if you remember dancing from when you were a kid and how your parents reacted, give us a call, too. Join the conversation: (800) 989-8255. That's (800) 989-TALK. The e-mail address, totn@npr.org.

With us now from his home in Puyallup, Washington, is Doug Guinn. Doug just graduated from high school last Sunday.

Congratulations, Doug.

DOUG GUINN (Recent High School Graduate): Thank you.

WILLIAMS: And welcome to TALK OF THE NATION. So, Doug, what is freak dancing? I saw an article about the controversy in The Washington Post, and it described young people standing front to front, grinding their hips, kids with their legs intertwined, both standing up and bending over. In fact, the paper said it can involve a guy and a girl or two girls or a guy or a whole clutch of people. And USA Today, in its reporting on this freak dancing controversy, described freak dancing as boys thrusting, quote, "their pelvises into girls' behinds, one halter-topped girl stooping so far over she looks like a center primed to snap a football." What's going on, Doug?

GUINN: The best way to describe freak dancing would probably be to watch the movie "Save the Last Dance." That's the--I don't really know how to explain it, except for if you watch that movie, you'd understand what I'm talking about.

WILLIAMS: Well, do you think that it's pornographic, Doug?

GUINN: No, I don't.

WILLIAMS: Well, if people are all intertwined and bending over and grinding each other, I mean, it sounds as if it might be objectionable.

GUINN: People who aren't doing it, and they're watching it, they might see it that way, but when you're out on the dance floor and you're dancing with your partner or whoever you're dancing with, it's just--people out on the dance floor realize it's just dancing, and that's all it is. It's nothing more than just going out there and having a good time just dancing.

WILLIAMS: Now Doug, I understand that freak dancing was banned at your school. Tell me what happened. Why was this ban imposed?

GUINN: The ban was imposed because of--the school administration felt like they needed to draw a line at dancing at school functions, and when it got banned, they just said, `No freak dancing,' and it was left up to the discretion of the chaperones. And the kids didn't really know what they meant because it'd vary from person to person, and from the chaperones, and it got to the point where kids weren't even allowed to dance close next to each other during the slow dances, and people were getting thrown out and we were getting video-cameraed and whistles blown in our face, and people like--the chaperones would go up and grab kids by the shoulder and, you know, pull them away and say, `Hey, you know, you're dancing too close.' And I just felt it was going way too far applying to the school, and I thought it was time to make a little change in the school.

WILLIAMS: By the way, Doug, did the student government have anything to say about this ban, or was it simply imposed by the administration, and what about the parents? Did they have anything to say about this?

GUINN: The school just went ahead and set the rules, and then they informed the leadership committee at our school, which is made up of student council members, and then from there, they just said that, and then afterwards, after I started making this big fuss at school, after I told them I was going to go ahead and throw my own dance and after I tried working with them and they said they weren't going to budge, I--then they ended up making guidelines for us to follow at school.

WILLIAMS: Well, now, at your dance I understand you had a deejay and a rap band, you played music from the movie, "Footloose." Why was that?

GUINN: I felt like after this whole thing started this whole dance thing that it was kind of getting ridiculous about what the school was doing, and it kind of reminded me of "Footloose" quite a bit, so we ended up playing the movie "Footloose" because I kind of saw it as the school being the church in the movie and me playing the role of Kevin Bacon, and I just thought it was quite interesting how we were re-enacting "Footloose" pretty much to a T.

WILLIAMS: Well, now, we have some music--I think it's "Party Up," by DMX, is that right? And I think--you can describe how people dance to this kind of music.

GUINN: Yeah.

WILLIAMS: Well, here it is.


DMX: Y'all going to make me lose my mind, up in here, up in here. Y'all going to make me go on out, up in here, up in here. Y'all going to make me act the fool, up in here, up in here...

WILLIAMS: So, Doug, what kind of dancing goes on when you play this kind of music?

GUINN: Freak dancing, dancing close, sometimes by yourself, just depends on what you prefer, and you just pretty much go to the beat of the music.

WILLIAMS: Well, now, were you surprised that the adults, especially the teachers and the administrators, had such a negative reaction to what you seem to think of as just normal human behavior, two people dancing?

GUINN: Yeah, I was, but ...(unintelligible) I understood how they were getting upset because they didn't see it, they didn't know what it was, and it was new and I understand that people don't like change. And this was a change for them, and they weren't ready for it. So I understood where they were coming from. I just didn't think it was right that they weren't willing to have an open mind.

WILLIAMS: Well, by the way, Doug, did you suffer any consequences for throwing the dance kind of as an act of defiance to the ban?

GUINN: I think I did. I'm not sure. I was passing two classes the last day of grading, and later on that day--or earlier in the morning my teacher told me I passed, and I was going to, you know, get the credit, and then the news media showed up, and about next--the following day, my teacher that had told me I passed came up to me, like, `Oh, I ended up throwing in a couple of extra assignments and you ended up not passing this semester,' and that kind of shocked me. And my mom got some repercussions from the church. She ended up getting--she held a position as wedding coordinator at our church, and she was asked to step down because of my involvement in this dance, when she had nothing to do with it.

WILLIAMS: Oh, so the church got involved with this as well.

GUINN: Yeah.

WILLIAMS: Boy, so everybody in the community was kind of condemning this freak dancing.


WILLIAMS: All right. Joining us now is Deborah Roffman, author of "Sex and Sensibility: The Thinking Parent's Guide to Talking Sense about Sex." She's at member station WJHU in Baltimore.

Welcome to TALK OF THE NATION, Deborah Roffman.

Ms. DEBORAH ROFFMAN (Author, "Sex and Sensibility"): Thank you. Good to be here.

WILLIAMS: Now, Deborah, do you agree--you've been listening to Doug--I wonder if you agree that this is nothing but, you know, young people dancing and having some fun, and there's no reason for parents and administrators to be freaking out over it.

Ms. ROFFMAN: It's a really fascinating issue. I've had incredibly amazing conversations all year long with teachers, administrators, kids about it, and it's a no-brainer for people on both sides of the issue. It's kind of like the blind men and the elephant. Depending upon your perspective, you see it in very different ways. I run into kids and adults who will say, you know, `What's the problem here? They're dancing, they're expressing themselves, they're having fun, nobody's having intercourse, they're wearing clothing, you know, what's the big deal?' And then on the other side there are both kids and adults who will look at it and say, `Oh, my God, and this is happening where, in a school?' So it's been a real opportunity to shake out all these issues and to look at them in a less polarized way. And I think that's good for everybody.

WILLIAMS: We're talking with Deborah Roffman, the author of "Sex and Sensibility: The Thinking Parent's Guide to Talking Sense About Sex."

Now, Deborah, in talking to Doug and reading the descriptions of so-called freak dancing in The Washington Post, USA Today and other places, basically you're talking about people, you know, grinding their hips together, maybe intertwining limbs, people bending over. Is is that different than, you know, some of the dance trends that were hot in the '60s and the '70s?

Ms. ROFFMAN: Yeah. I think it's very different. I mean, I came of age in the '60s and I remember doing the twist, which was also considered to be a change and considered to be kind of on the edge, but the question I always ask students when they insist and protest that this is not sexual in any way is, you know, is this something that you would do with your sibling? Is it something you'd be comfortable watching two teachers do on the floor, or your parents? And suddenly, they start to see it in a different way. I mean, I would have, if he'd let me in the same room with him, danced the twist with my brother. I wouldn't have felt a sense of shame or discomfort about it. But immediately, if you re-frame it in that way, kids get the point.

I think it's really interesting, also, that there's this denial, almost, of the sexual level of this dancing. After all, you've got bodies bumping and grinding, their genitals together. You've very likely got at least some of the boys involved having erections, sexual feelings passing back and forth. It mystifies me as to how anyone can look at this and call it quote, unquote, "just dancing."

WILLIAMS: Doug, what would you say?

GUINN: I would have to say I disagree with her. I freak dance, and when I go out there, it's all out there to have fun, and through dancing, and once you leave the dance floor, you leave it at that. You were out there to dance, you were out to have fun, and there's nothing more to it, just simply go out there and dance and have fun.

WILLIAMS: Doug, you don't necessarily do this kind of dancing with your girlfriend or someone who's special. You can just do freak dancing with anybody.


WILLIAMS: So the sexual content as described by Deborah Roffman is something that you would disagree with. You just think freak dancing is something you do with anybody. It doesn't matter.

GUINN: Yeah. I had a senior grad night on Sunday into Monday morning, and I don't have a girlfriend and we had a--freak dancing on this cruise that we went on, I probably danced with probably 15 to 20 girls. None of them were my girlfriend, and I didn't plan on, you know, getting hooked up with any of them, but they were just my friends and I was dancing with them, having a good time.

Ms. ROFFMAN: Well, isn't that interesting. It's almost like things have really been turned on their head over the last 10 or 15 years. I think in the minds of many people, sex belongs--sexual contact--and I really would love to know whether or not we have an agreement here about whether or not this constitutes sexual contact if we're talking about contact between genitals.

WILLIAMS: Well, let me--hang on. Hang on, Deborah. Let's ask him. He's right here.

Doug, does it constitute sexual contact because in the way that Miss Roffman describes it, you know, there's all kinds of contact?

GUINN: I will agree there is contact, but I think that there's contact when you go up and give a person a hug, also, and you know, it just depends on how you take that contact. It depends on how you're giving it and how you're receiving it. If you receive it as sexual, then obviously it's sexual, but if you don't take it that way, then it's not.

Ms. ROFFMAN: I think that's sort of what I mean by things have been turned on their head. Hugging certainly can happen in lots of contexts, but your shoulders and your arms are public parts. I mean, your lips and your face--you can kiss someone in a sexual vs. a non-sexual way as well, and look at them in a sexual vs. non-sexual. Those kinds of behaviors can go either way...

GUINN: And that's like freak dancing.

Ms. ROFFMAN: ...because they are public parts. Genitals--this is what I really would love for us to sort of explore here--how is that genitals, we no longer see them as private parts of the body? The line of thought used to be that these are parts of your body that you share only with people you know really well, only with people that you have a long-standing relationship with, only under very special circumstances. And what I'm hearing you say and what I hear other young people say is, `Oh, no, it's the public nature of this. It's the fact that we don't know one another. It's the fact that there isn't a relationship that makes this OK.'

WILLIAMS: Let me let Wendy, who's in...

Ms. ROFFMAN: I think that's an interesting twist.

WILLIAMS: Let we let Wendy, who's in Baltimore, join in this conversation.

Wendy, you're on TALK OF THE NATION with Doug Guinn and Deborah Roffman.

WENDY (Caller): Hi.


WENDY: I'm a middle school teacher in Baltimore...


WENDY: And I'm 28, so it wasn't long ago that I was dancing, and I grew up in Philly, and I went to clubs, and I was a club kid, and I have never seen the sexual nature be like this. I mean, I'm one of maybe only three chaperones at the dances that I attend that will actually go in and, like, just stand among the kids to break it up, almost, and the girls, like, give me nasty looks and dirty looks. I mean, they know what they're doing.

WILLIAMS: Well, what are they doing?

WENDY: I mean, they really do seriously, like, grind on each other and bend over, and I mean, these are well-developed seventh- and eighth-grade girls with little sixth-grade boys who--I mean, it's--I think it's actually quite repulsive, but you know...

WILLIAMS: But what...

WENDY: ...that's me.

WILLIAMS: But wait a second, now. Doug, what would you say to Wendy as a chaperone who's breaking this up?

GUINN: I think that if she can't understand that the kids are out there having fun together and she can't realize that no one's getting hurt because if it's both people doing it, then obviously, you know, they both want...

WENDY: But how...

WILLIAMS: What about that, Wendy? Everybody wants to dance.

GUINN: And if she doesn't like that, you know, they need to find chaperones who understand that kids are out there to have fun. That's what dances are supposed to do, is fun for kids and if this is the trend that kids want to do today, then people need to understand that, because if...

WILLIAMS: Doug, let Wendy respond to this, because we're running short on time.

WENDY: OK. Well, I understand that you're dancing and you're expressing yourself. But I think there comes a time when you have to understand that, you know, you might think that you're doing this in all fun and games, but these are, like, sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade boys.

WILLIAMS: We get your point, Wendy.

WENDY: You know?

WILLIAMS: Thanks for calling.

WENDY: So--OK. Thanks. Bye.

WILLIAMS: We're talking about freak dancing. I'm Juan Williams. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.




Unidentified Man #2: Took her to the hotel. She said, `You're the king,' I said, `Oh, be my queen, if you know what I mean.' And let's do the wild thing. Wild thing. Wild thing.

WILLIAMS: That's Tone Loc, singing "Wild Thing" from 1989.

Today we're talking about how kids are making their parents and administrators at schools across the country uncomfortable with freak dancing. Our guest is Deborah Roffman, author of "Sex and Sensibility: The Thinking Parent's Guide to Talking Sense About Sex." You're invited to join the discussion. Give us a call; (800) 989-TALK. Our e-mail address is totn@npr.org.

We're also joined by Doug Guinn. Doug just graduated from high school in Puyallup, Washington.

Joining us now is social dance historian Julie Malnig. She's an associate professor at the Gallatin School of Individualized Study at New York University.

Welcome to TALK OF THE NATION, Julie.

Ms. JULIE MALNIG (Social Dance Historian): Hi, Juan.

WILLIAMS: So, Julie, you're a professor of social dance. What is social dance?

Ms. MALNIG: Well, social dance is a kind of dance that we see all around us. It's what people do in their everyday lives. It's the kind of dancing we see in clubs, in dance halls, on the gym floor--anything, really, that isn't concert dance, right, that people train to dance, to perform. So it's really the kind of dances that ordinary people do in their day-to-day lives.

WILLIAMS: So, then, Julie, how does freak dancing fit into social dancing, and how do the dances that kids are doing now, this freak dancing, compare with, let's say--well, how their parents danced?

Ms. MALNIG: Yeah. Well, it's so interesting, because, you know, every generation, in every decade we have some new kind of dance craze or a new wave of dances, and they're often met with the same kind of consternation that I'm hearing from parents and administrators and officials today. And it always centers around issues of sexuality, right, and what's going to happen to my children? Is this going to lead to greater promiscuity?--and so forth.

This has been going on since the 19th century. Even with the advent of the waltz, there was an enormous amount of controversy.

WILLIAMS: Well, you know, I'm thinking as I listen, though, that what I'm hearing is that some parents think that this is really pushing the line, that this looks like people performing pornographic acts with their clothes on. Isn't that a bit more than doing the twist or any other dance that we've seen before?

Ms. MALNIG: Well, yes and no. You know, I'm a little bit more disinterested, I have to admit. I don't have children, and I might feel differently if I did. But I'm really intrigued by the nature of the phenomenon, and sometimes you have social dances that really do push the limits of sexuality. I'm not condoning this, but I think it's interesting to look at where it comes from. We're saturated--kids are saturated in, you know, popular culture with kinds of sexuality in MTV, in break dancing and in hip hop, which actually filters into a lot of the freak dances. So in a way, it's not surprising to see this, you know, hyper kind of sexuality in the dances.

You know, I think it can go both ways. I think some of what I'm hearing is that it is rather excessive at times, but isn't it better that the kids are doing this on the high school gym floor in the confines of a school rather than the real thing out in the parking lot?

WILLIAMS: Well, this is an interesting point. But what we heard earlier from Deborah Roffman--as you've been listening to show...

Ms. MALNIG: Yes, I have.

WILLIAMS: ...so you know Deborah's the author of "Sex and Sensibility." Deborah was making the point...

Ms. MALNIG: Yes.

WILLIAMS: Deborah was making the point, these are very young kids. These are middle school-aged kids. Some of them are sixth-graders. And you know, girls are developing much more quickly these days, so you have these girls and these little guys, and they're freak dancing out there, and people are like, `What is going on?'

Ms. MALNIG: Right. Right. Well, you know, I do think there are some excesses in this kind of dance, and I probably would be concerned if I were a parent. But I also know, you know, just looking at this historically, that you can't say definitively that doing the kinds of dances that we're talking about lead to actual sexual behavior. I mean, part of it is sublimation. That's what dance is about, particularly social dance, you know.

WILLIAMS: Isn't that interesting. So generally--well, no. Let me ask Deborah to jump in here.

Deborah, what you've just heard from Julie is it's about sublimation, which is what dance as always been about, and secondly, that the kids are in a gym in a supervised situation. They're not out in the parking lot. They're not out in the woods. Why not let it be?

Ms. ROFFMAN: I think the historical context here is very, very in perspective. It's very helpful, but we can't just look at that. I think we have to look at both the developmental issues here, which you just alluded to, as well as to some societal issues that I think have not been mentioned. I don't really think that this dance is sort of part of the natural progression of culture as it evolves and as kids--after all, kids always mimic and ape and try to copy adult behavior, particularly teen-agers. That's always happened, and that always will happen.

We have an unprecedented phenomenon in this country going on right now, and I will tell you that it has adults more alarmed--and by adults I mean particularly teachers and parents--more alarmed than anything I've seen, including AIDS, over the last 30 years that I've worked in this field, and that is...

WILLIAMS: Slow down! Slow down! Wait a minute.


WILLIAMS: Did you say, more alarmed than they are about AIDS?

Ms. ROFFMAN: That's right. That's right.

WILLIAMS: Holy smokes. I don't know what to say.

Ms. ROFFMAN: And I'll tell you. I'll tell you why. I'll tell you why.

WILLIAMS: Go right ahead.

Ms. ROFFMAN: Adults feel as if their kids--or parents feel as if their kids are being taken away from them. Again, it's not just kids aping adult culture. Over the last 10 years or so, there has really been a systematic attempt in the entertainment and advertising media to do what I'll call dumb-down adulthood. You know, about 10 years ago, we started to see models who were dressed to look like, and who acted like, and who posed as if they were adults, and they were teen-agers, the message being teen-agers are just short adults. And then we watched as it dropped down to, like, pre-teens, that pre-teens are just really short teen-agers, and it's OK for them to dress and act and look like adults.

And now what's happening is that there really is a targeted attempt by merchandisers and advertisers to directly get to these eight- to 13-year-olds, who are now being called tweens, who have about $17 billion of expendable income, who influence about $128 billion of family expenditures, and parents are telling me, `I cannot take my seven-year-old or eight-year-old to the store without having to choose among dresses that are highly sexualized...

WILLIAMS: Well, in fact, they...

Ms. ROFFMAN: ...and that are designed to make her look much more grown-up than she is.'

WILLIAMS: Well, it's the way they dress these days in terms of the halter tops...

Ms. ROFFMAN: Well, but see, what I'm saying is...

WILLIAMS: ...and the midriff showing...

Ms. ROFFMAN: But it's more than style. There's a whole lot of power here. there is an attempt, really...

WILLIAMS: Economic power.

Ms. ROFFMAN: Absolutely. Huge economic power. This is a huge market, and, OK, so you step back and you look at freak dancing and you say, `OK, well, they're not having intercourse, nobody is getting pregnant, nobody's getting a sexually transmitted infection. You know, what's the danger here?' Well, if you look in the larger developmental context, where I'm always looking, the danger is that kids are growing up in society where the message is `anything goes,' and increasingly, those messages are being targeted, including in terms of this dance, to younger and younger kids.

WILLIAMS: All right.

Ms. ROFFMAN: The last message you want middle school kids to get is that there are no limits.


Ms. ROFFMAN: They need clear limits.

WILLIAMS: Let me bring Doug back in here for just a second, Julie, and I apologize...


WILLIAMS: ...but I wanted to ask Doug, Doug, do you feel, in fact, that this trend is not something that is self-generated, that people of your generation are crazy about, but in fact it's being pushed on you by, you know, the Britney Spears and by the TV shows and the music videos?

GUINN: I don't think Britney Spears is pushing it on us and TV. I think it has a lot to do with not just a certain person in the music business, but when you have R&B and when you have hip hop, that has a beat, and that's the music that's in style, you need something to dance to and when that's the music you're playing, you got to dance to it. And this is just the dance that happened to fit at the time, so as long as I think hip hop is running the charts and stuff, I think that's what's going to be--that's the dance that's going to happen because that's what kids want to hear.

WILLIAMS: All right. Now, Julie, you wanted to jump in.

Ms. MALNIG: Yeah. Just a couple of things in response to Deborah. First of all, I just have to say this one interesting thing, that, you know, in 1915, the pope tried to ban the tango, which I think is kind of interesting, you know, just to put this in a little bit of perspective, that...

WILLIAMS: What did the pope say at the time, Julie?

Ms. MALNIG: Oh, well, you know, the pope, along with, you know, many other people in society just felt the tango was absolutely risque, this kind of intertwining of body parts and limbs, you know, that we're talking about today. It didn't do any good. People still danced it anyway. But I really do want to respond to something Deborah said, which I think is interesting, that--and I agree with--that we do have to look at the trends in the culture, marketing trends, MTV--how, you know, so much of kids are influenced by, you know, a kind of crass, commercial, popular culture, you know, that's trying to sell products to kids.

But I also think you have to--you can't lay it all at the feet of the dance itself, you know, because people and kids always want to dance, and there is a kind of self-expression, expression of identity, that's always going on on the dance floor, you know.

WILLIAMS: Well, let me--before we jump...

Ms. MALNIG: So, I mean, I think she's partly right in that sense.


Ms. MALNIG: Because we do have to be careful about the commercialization of it. But I think that point...

WILLIAMS: Well, I get that point of agreement. I'm just thinking to myself, though, that there is a point of disagreement between the two of you. I mean, on the one hand, there seems to be a line here, and I wonder if Julie and Deborah can agree. At what point does the freak dancing go beyond dancing and into something that is unacceptable, inappropriate? Is there such a line, or do you think there's no line, Julie, and, Deborah, you think there is a very clear line.

Ms. MALNIG: Well, Deborah?

Ms. ROFFMAN: Again, especially when we're talking about middle school kids, it almost doesn't matter where adults draw lines. What's important is that kids get that there are lines and that adults are thinking about these things and that there are important values to think about. And that's precisely what adults are concerned about that I speak with, that the message is there are no limits. When you have kids who are in the throes of early adolescence, who don't know who they are yet, who don't know what their values are, who are constantly testing, and they are supposed to test, and they are also...

Ms. MALNIG: Correct.

Ms. ROFFMAN: ...from my perspective, supposed to be having developmentally appropriate, age-appropriate sexual experiences that are in control and appropriate for that age.

Ms. MALNIG: Yeah. But I--I'm sorry.

Ms. ROFFMAN: But this is something very different. If there are no limits, if that--picture a sixth-grader walking into a dance. He's 10, 11 years old, he's looking around, he's seeing all this bumping and grinding, he's been taught all his life that sex is private and blah, blah, blah, and then he sees what's going on and he goes, `Oh, my God,' and then he looks around and he says, `Oh, well, gee, you know, everybody seems to be comfortable. Nobody's complaining. The adults aren't doing anything. I guess this is what's expected of me.'

WILLIAMS: Julie, come back in. I want you to respond to...

Ms. MALNIG: But the thing is sex is not private anymore. I mean, the problem is it is out there everywhere in the popular culture--television, newspapers, magazines. How can kids not be, you know, responding to that? My feeling is that as long as kids aren't getting hurt, that, let's say, young girls aren't feeling uncomfortable, because I think they're...

Ms. ROFFMAN: How do you know they're not?

Ms. MALNIG: What's that?

Ms. ROFFMAN: How do you know they're not?

Ms. MALNIG: Well...

Ms. ROFFMAN: Can you imagine a middle school dance scene where there isn't a lot of social and peer pressure going on? And again, you know, what is--we're back to this old question that the Clinton issue helped us to address, and I wonder if we've forgotten those conversations: What is sex? You know, we keep saying, `Well, this will lead to something.' As far as I'm concerned, there is something going on here of a sexual nature.

WILLIAMS: All right, let me let Lesley in Cleveland jump in the conversation. Lesley, you're on TALK OF THE NATION. Welcome.

LESLEY (Caller): Hi.


LESLEY: I was listening to this conversation with real interest. I used to chaperone--my son is going into high school now, but for both of them, I chaperoned at a Catholic school, and I have sons that are 14 and 16, and I noticed that each year, the dancing got more and more--just sexual in nature. And a lot of parents were hesitant to say anything, and I never had a problem. I talked to the other mothers and I said, `This is not right.' The kids that I knew--there was other schools that would come. I went up to the kids and said, `Would you want your mother standing here watching you dance like that?' And, of course...

WILLIAMS: So did you stop it, Lesley?

LESLEY: Absolutely. Absolutely. I told girls that were not from our school that didn't seem to understand that would have to be told several times that if they didn't want to dance properly, they could not come back.

WILLIAMS: All right.

LESLEY: And if they wanted to turn 18 and go dance at a cabaret somewhere, that was certainly an option, but it wasn't going to go on in this school because it's not right.

WILLIAMS: By the way, Lesley...

LESLEY: I'm sorry, I don't think that a 14- or 13-year-old kid gets to make the rules. It's up to parents to set limits. And we get to make the rules. Since when--I can understand children having an input. Fine, they can have an input, but that doesn't mean they get to tell us what is OK and what isn't. If they don't like it...

WILLIAMS: You're...

LESLEY: ...oh, well, you're kids.

WILLIAMS: You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. By the way, Lesley, how old are you?

LESLEY: I'm 47.

WILLIAMS: OK. So, Lesley, when you were growing up, I mean, people were, you know, getting crazy, too.

LESLEY: We had dances and there was never a hesitation for an adult to come up to you and say, `You're dancing too close.' And you know what? You were embarrassed if they said something to you, so as you saw them approach, at least you would get apart. It doesn't mean the kids don't have those kind of urges, but you got the message loud and clear what was right and what wasn't right. And if your parents or adults can't step in to tell you that--it's ludicrous to think that kids that age have ste...

WILLIAMS: So for you, it's a matter of parents exercising their authority and doing--you know, being adults and not abdicating that responsibility.

LESLEY: Yes, having a spine, going ahead, risking being unpopular with the kids. Oh, well. That is your job.

WILLIAMS: All right. Thanks for your call.

LESLEY: Your job is not to be their friend. Thanks.

GUINN: Can I say something?

WILLIAMS: Sure, go right ahead, Doug.

GUINN: I just want to say about the dancing in front of your parents and stuff, I've grown up in the church my whole life and I've been raised in the church, and we're a very strong Christian family, and when I threw this dance, my parents attended. I'm not saying that they supported me or not supported me. They just showed up because they thought that was their place to be, because I was doing this, and there was a big commotion. And I was out there dancing and my parents were out on the dance floor also about maybe three feet away from me, watching me as I danced, and I felt no shame with what I was doing. And for you to sit there and say that, you know, these are just kids, they shouldn't have an input--if you really want to get down to it, God says in the Bible--or Jesus said, `They shouldn't look down on the young ones because they're young.' And I think that's--kind of goes to show how our country has taken--you know, just because we're young and stuff doesn't mean that we don't know what we're talking about sometimes.

And there are guidelines that need to be set and there are rules that need to be followed, and there is a point where you cross the line, and that shouldn't be going on at school. But for a majority of the people in the school, they know what the line is and they're not trying to cross it.

WILLIAMS: All right, Doug, let me let someone about your age into the conversation. That's Carmen, who's 21, and she's in Michigan. Carmen, welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.

CARMEN (Caller): Hi, Juan.


CARMEN: Thank you for taking my call.

WILLIAMS: Delighted to have you.

CARMEN: I just have a quick question. With all these anti-freak dancing rules, do you think that students are going to be encouraged to go other places to have fun, avoiding school functions and inevitably doing actually more dangerous things to occupy their time?

WILLIAMS: Let's ask Deborah.

Ms. ROFFMAN: I'm glad Doug said what he said about--that kids really need to have input. Adolescents, as I said before, are developing an evolving sense of who they are, an evolving sense of values and an understanding of the world around them, and they absolutely have to be engaged in the conversation, and...

WILLIAMS: All right, what about Carmen's question about kids going to clubs and just doing this stuff away from the school?

Ms. ROFFMAN: In my experience, if you do sit down with kids--and I do this with groups of kids all the time--and talk these things through and help kids understand that adults are not being either anti-sexual or arbitrary about where they're coming from, but that they're coming from a set of values that's, again, not anti-sexual, but they're trying to teach young people the proper context in which sexual experiences should occur--and it's really the context here that most adults are upset about--kids can see that.


CARMEN: I was just going to say because of all the--you talked about before, all the marketing and the whole--the more sexual culture, that even though their parents are going to sit down and tell them, `Oh, this is bad. You shouldn't do this,' they're exposed to it and, in most situations, are more dominated by the culture than they are what their parents are saying to them. And...

Ms. ROFFMAN: Right. This is precisely what has parents so worried...

WILLIAMS: All right, Doug...

Ms. ROFFMAN: ...and very frightened.

WILLIAMS: Doug, I know you have to go away, so I wanted you to give us your final thought on this, having heard, you know, the perspective offered not only by Carmen, but by Deborah and Julie. Do you feel any differently now at this point in the conversation than you did at the start?

GUINN: No. I just wish that people would have a little more open mind about kids today and how kids are more responsible than what people give them credit for...

WILLIAMS: All right.

GUINN: ...and that's about all I have to say.

WILLIAMS: Thanks so much for joining us, Doug. We appreciate it.

GUINN: Thank you.

WILLIAMS: Doug Guinn is a graduate of high school just this last Sunday at Puyallup, Washington.

We're talking about freak dancing. Join us. I'm Juan Williams. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.



Tomorrow join Ira Flatow on "Science Friday" as the talk turns to the latest research using stem cells. That's tomorrow at this time on TALK OF THE NATION/"Science Friday."

Now we're going to hear Digital Underground from "The Humpty Dance" in 1990.


Unidentified Singer: ...crazy. Allow me to amaze thee. They say I'm ugly, but it just don't faze me. I'm still gettin' in the girls' pants and I even got my own dance.

Singers: The Humpty Dance is your chance to do the Hump.

Unidentified Singer: Come on.

Singers: Come on. Do me, baby. Do the Humpty Hump. Come on and do the Humpty Hump.

WILLIAMS: Our guests today are Deborah Roffman, author of "Sex & Sensibility: The Thinking Parent's Guide to Talking Sense About Sex," and Julie Malnig, a social dance historian and editor of Dance Research Journal. Join the conversation, (800) 989-TALK. Our e-mail address is totn@npr.org.

Julie, I wanted to ask you about raves. I know there are lots of people who are upset about raves, who think they invite drugs, and then there's also people who were upset about rap music and about rap concerts and the violence attached to rap concerts.

Ms. MALNIG: Right.

WILLIAMS: Does that fit into this whole freak dance controversy?

Ms. MALNIG: Well, it seems like it does to a certain extent because certainly a lot of the music is to, you know, a rap rhythm. And some of the steps and postures and styles come out of hip-hop dance. And, you know, a lot of that dance and music is very sexually explicit. So, you know, I think we have kind of an interesting phenomenon here of seeing this kind of transmission, you know, of break and hip-hop dance and even the rave culture kind of infiltrating suburban middle-class communities, you know, and kids who are kind of adapting those styles for their own purposes.

WILLIAMS: Now, Deborah, this is an interesting point. Could it be that what you have here is suburban white parents in middle America upset at what was, you know, a dance craze that was evident in urban black America going back to the early '90s, if not before?

Ms. ROFFMAN: Well, I think that's an old story, isn't it? I mean, it's not just freak dancing that has had that pattern in the past. As soon as it hit suburban white communities, everybody's up in arms. So I don't want to discount that at all. However, I need to say again that I think there are fundamental values here that parents hold and want for their children, and it doesn't matter whether they're Republicans or Democrats or black or white or Hispanic. I listen to parents and I hear that what they want their kids to think is that sex in any form should be meaningful, caring, private, consensual, responsible, gradual, all of those things. Those are core values, I think, that cut across all kinds of racial and economic lines, as I listen to parents. And they look at this kind of dance and they don't see those values reflected. And they can't always articulate that. That's what I mean by it's not anti-sexual, it's anti the context in which sex is being portrayed, and they are concerned. As Julie was saying before, sex has become very public. Well, just because that's so, do we accept that? There certainly is a display of sex everywhere in very, I believe, demeaning, dehumanized kinds of ways. Do we just want to accept that or do we want to teach our children something different? And that's what has parents so upset.

WILLIAMS: All right. Let me go up to Warren, Maine. Hi. This is--you're on TALK OF THE NATION.

SCHLOMETE (Caller): Hello.

WILLIAMS: Yeah, hi.

SCHLOMETE: Hi. How are you?

WILLIAMS: Fine. You know, I can't read your name, so why don't you introduce yourself to us.

SCHLOMETE: My name's Schlomete(ph).

WILLIAMS: OK. Well, nice--thanks for joining us, Schlomete. Go right ahead.

SCHLOMETE: OK. Well, I'm 48 years old and I've been dancing all my life, and I think that dance is the most marvelous non-verbal way to express oneself. And in my life, dancing has saved my life, and being able to express things that, if I express them in words, might get me in a lot of trouble. It's been a safe space for me to be able to dance. I do contact improvisation, which involves--now I haven't seen specifically what you're describing. Is it freak dancing?

WILLIAMS: Right. Yeah.

SCHLOMETE: So I don't know how it relates to contact, but in contact improvisation, all kinds of body parts contact all kinds of body parts.

Ms. MALNIG: Right.

SCHLOMETE: And for me, it's a way to learn if I can trust people. It's not dissimilar from volleyball, where you kind of have physical contact with people.

WILLIAMS: Well, slow down a second. I think Deborah Roffman's going to disagree strongly here.

Ms. ROFFMAN: Well, also--and I don't know--we have to be very careful--what age group are we talking about here? Again, young adolescents and even adolescents, many of them clear through high school, cannot be left alone to make those kinds of distinctions. They need...

SCHLOMETE: But if they're at a public school dance, they're not being left alone.

Ms. MALNIG: Right.

SCHLOMETE: They're, in fact, in a public forum where there are chaperones to observe their behaviors and do course corrections if necessary, call the parents and say...

Ms. ROFFMAN: Right.

SCHLOMETE: ...you know, `I saw your kid on the dance floor...'

Ms. ROFFMAN: Yeah.

SCHLOMETE: `...and you might want to talk to her a little bit.'

Ms. ROFFMAN: Right.

SCHLOMETE: You know, if we don't allow kids to express themselves publicly, then they're going to choose private venues that we don't know anything about. And I would be very concerned about that. I...

WILLIAMS: Well, let me let Deborah respond to that.

Ms. MALNIG: I'd like to jump in there.

Ms. ROFFMAN: As I...

WILLIAMS: Oh, I'm sorry. Go ahead--who wanted to jump in?

Ms. ROFFMAN: Well, let me just say, as long...

WILLIAMS: I've lost.

Ms. ROFFMAN: ...as adults are stepping up to the plate and using situations like that as teachable moments, I think it's wonderful. What I'm seeing is that adults aren't doing that, and they're dumbfounded. They don't know what they think and they don't know how to share it with their children in a way that their children can hear.

WILLIAMS: All right. Thanks for that call. Let me go to Casey, who's in Michigan. Casey, you're on TALK OF THE NATION. Welcome.

CASEY (Caller): Hello.

WILLIAMS: Hi. How old are you, Casey?

CASEY: I'm 16.


CASEY: Hi. I would just like to say that, you know, I really--and I'm talking about the high school community predominantly, but I think that kids can be a little bit more--well, actually, a lot more responsible than you're really giving them credit for. I mean, I don't...

WILLIAMS: Well, do you do freak dancing, Casey?

CASEY: Occasionally, and I don't really find it sexual or anything like that. It's just something fun that we do with friends and people we know and...

WILLIAMS: Well, now, Deborah Roffman said earlier on the show, Casey--I don't know if you heard. She said, well, you know, it's different than just touching. It's, you know, people really grinding against each other and it looks like something you wouldn't be comfortable doing with your brother, in your case, or having your parents see. Is that true?

CASEY: Well, it really depends on what--how far you've gone, and I don't know about in other schools, but in my school, the kids usually know that there's a line and...

WILLIAMS: What's the line, Casey?

CASEY: Before foreplay.

WILLIAMS: Before foreplay. OK. So, you mean, like, you shouldn't touch anybody's skin or something like that.

CASEY: No, it's dancing, but it's not--you know, you aren't allowed to have sex on the dance floor, but it's OK if you touch each other. I mean, it's not like giving anyone, like, a hand job through their pants or anything, but, you know, if you're just dancing and having fun and it doesn't go really far, then I don't see what the real problem is.

WILLIAMS: Well, let me let Deborah Roffman talk to you. Go right ahead, Deborah.

Ms. ROFFMAN: Again, we're back to--What?--sex. You know, if they're not having intercourse and people have their clothes on, do we not have sex? I mean, we could say that about probably what happened in the White House. People probably had their clothes on and there was no intercourse going on. If you're eating Cheerios, are you eating, but not if you're eating, like, Froot Loops? I mean, there is--sexual behavior exists on a continuum. Again, we've got genitals touching, bumping and grinding. We have sexual feelings very often because this is what kids tell me. We have erections. I just want to say, well, you know, if it walks like a duck and talks like a duck and it looks like a duck and it quacks like a duck...

WILLIAMS: It is a duck.

Ms. ROFFMAN: ...and if it's not sexual behavior, what is it?

WILLIAMS: Well, let me--so you think, Casey...

Ms. ROFFMAN: I know it's dancing, but is it just dancing?

Ms. MALNIG: Juan, can I jump in here?

WILLIAMS: Yeah, go right ahead, Julie.

Ms. MALNIG: I mean, if you--but again, I have to come back to this point. If you're talking about social dancing, you're talking about physical bodies in motion and in contact...

CASEY: Yeah...

Ms. MALNIG: ...you know, OK, so we're talking about degrees, but we're still talking about a form of dancing that's still, you know, (technical difficulties) in public places. Maybe some of the parents at some of the individual schools can talk to kids who they feel are, you know, really pushing it. But I really want to respond to that caller earlier, who made, I think, a very interesting point about forms of dance that we're talking about--social dancing--are really places where people, and young people, can test out behaviors, personas, identities on the dance floor in a positive way and really learn about themselves.

WILLIAMS: Casey, you wanted to come back in.

CASEY: Well, I actually really agreed with the comment that was just made about you're expressing yourselves and experimenting in a public place, where there's adult chaperones who will tell you--you know, if they find it really bad, then they'll tell you to stop. And I think it's just a form of expression. It's not going to lead to, you know, having sex or anything and...

WILLIAMS: Well, Deborah--I think Deborah disagrees with you, Casey. So, Deborah, do you think Casey is just, like, a silly 16-year-old who's being fooled, she doesn't even realize?

Ms. ROFFMAN: No, I don't--you know, it's so amazing to me that--I feel like I'm such a conservative here in this conversation and I'm so used to being accused of being the opposite. I have unbelievable faith and trust in kids' ability to be responsible. I've worked with kids for 30 years. And I also know that teen-agers are not short adults, and there are limits and that one of the jobs of adults is to figure out where those limits ought to be. And as long as there's dialogue going on, as long as adults are able to articulate what they believe in and why and what they believe is good for kids and that dialogue happens, that's what's ideal. I'm not talking about control here. I'm talking about adults doing their job, which is to provide clear values and clear limits, and kids doing their job, which is to test those limits--that's what they're supposed to do--and adults being able to come back and help find the compromise zone. And as long as people are doing that--I think that's what I said at the very beginning of the program. That makes me very happy.

WILLIAMS: You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. Casey, thanks for the call.

CASEY: Oh, thank you.

WILLIAMS: All right. Let's go to Linda, who's in California. Linda, you're on TALK OF THE NATION. Welcome.

LINDA (Caller): Thank you. Thank you very much for taking my call.

WILLIAMS: Delighted.

LINDA: I was just thinking, listening to the original conversation--my original point was that something resembling this dance goes back at least to the turn of the 20th century, goes back at least to 1902 and probably is older.

WILLIAMS: They had freak dancing back in 1902?

LINDA: They called it the slow drag...

Ms. MALNIG: That's right. They did.

LINDA: ...and it was on the Mississippi Delta.

WILLIAMS: No kidding?

Ms. MALNIG: She's absolutely right.

LINDA: I was recently reading Alan Lomax's book called "The Land Where the Blues Began," and something very--there's a description of the dance. It's extremely close to what's being done now.

WILLIAMS: Do you remember what the description was, Linda?

LINDA: It's a fairly long passage, but it's, you know, essentially dancing to a blues beat with considerable physical contact.

Ms. MALNIG: Right. And similar kinds of grinds...

LINDA: Yes. It was...

Ms. MALNIG: ...use of the hips.

LINDA: And in 1902, it was considered too obscene to even be described.

Ms. MALNIG: Yeah. Yeah.

Ms. ROFFMAN: Can I ask a question? I remember--it's been a long time since I saw the movie "Dirty Dancing," but I...

LINDA: I wanted to bring that up, too.

Ms. ROFFMAN: But what I remember--and I may be wrong about this--I meant to take it out last night and look at it--what I remember is that there was a great deal of emotion that went between those two people, that it really, truly was a dance of two beautiful bodies blending with one another in very sensuous and attractive ways, and that there was a connection between the two. Am I right about that? And can we draw some comparisons between that and this kind of admittedly depersonalized kind of body part contact that goes on...

WILLIAMS: Good point. Good point. Linda, would you make a distinction?

LINDA: Well, I would also point out that in "Dirty Dancing," you're seeing a highly choreographed portrayal. I think awkward teen-agers on the dance floor are mostly concerned with how they look to the other kids.

WILLIAMS: Good point. Thanks for your call, Linda.

LINDA: Thank you.

WILLIAMS: Let me ask you, Julie, to wrap up. We're running short on time.


WILLIAMS: What--I mean, so what's next, I mean, for the next generation? What are they going to be outraged about with their kids?

Ms. MALNIG: Oh, God. I can't predict that yet, but I'll tell you that they will be outraged. I mean, look, you know, I'm of a generation that came out of rock 'n' roll dancing, and that was--you know, that was considered pretty--you know, pretty risque at the time, and children necessarily rebel against their parents and the generation that preceded them.

WILLIAMS: All right.

Ms. MALNIG: So, you know, I have no doubt that we will see another wave.

WILLIAMS: Deborah, do you think that there's going to be more bans? Very quickly. We're running short on time.

Ms. ROFFMAN: My concern, again, is this young age group. I think what Julie just said may really apply to older teen-agers, but I don't know how this is going to affect younger teens long term. I really don't.

WILLIAMS: All right. Deborah Roffman, thank you so much. I really appreciate your joining us today.

Ms. ROFFMAN: My pleasure.

WILLIAMS: Julie Malnig, thank you for joining us.

Ms. MALNIG: Thanks so much.

WILLIAMS: Earlier we spoke with Doug Guinn, a member if of the Puyallup, Washington, high school class of 2001.


WILLIAMS: Be sure to join us at this time next week, when we broadcast our next Changing Face of America program from San Francisco. In Washington, Juan Williams, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.