Students in Medford and elsewhere across the nation are coming under scrutiny at dances, as schools try to crack down on the sexually suggestive dancing known as grinding. - Mail Tribune illustration / Jamie Lusch

Schools, students at odds over 'grinding'

Homecoming dance chaperones stood on raised platforms in the North Medford High School gymnasium and shined flashlights on hundreds of students to catch partners engaged in a popular style of dance known as grinding.

By the end of that night in October, 20 students had been kicked out of the dance for grinding, and another 30 students left in protest.

"It wasn't any fun and a waste of time and money," said North Medford senior Alyssa Mauer, who left the dance voluntarily after some of her friends were banished for grinding.

The growing popularity of grind dancing has provoked an increasing number of high schools across the nation to crack down on it or cancel school dances altogether. During a typical grind dance, girls back up to the boys, or boys dance up against girls' backsides.

North Medford and Grants Pass high schools this year began requiring students to sign contracts agreeing not to grind dance at the event and acknowledging chaperones may force them to leave if they break the rules.

"This (grind dancing) has been an ongoing problem and has risen significantly in the past five to six years," said North Medford Principal Ron Beick. "We've struggled over at what point we should draw a line."

North Medford officials tried talking to classes and showing videos to demonstrate what is appropriate and inappropriate dancing, but neither measure was effective, Beick says.

Another year, school officials gave students wrist bands. If a student had to be admonished for inappropriate dancing, a chaperone would cut off the band. If the student was caught in a second violation, he or she would be kicked out of the dance. However, chaperones were uncomfortable with banishing students from the dances, because some weren't sure whether students understood the rules. A student contract seemed the best way to ensure students were aware of the rules and that chaperones would feel confident in enforcing them, Beick said.

Grants Pass High School followed suit earlier this month. Its homecoming dance in October was temporarily halted in midstream after students disregarded warnings to stop grind dancing. At the high school's winter dance, school administrators required students to sign contracts not to grind.

Both the Grants Pass and North Medford principals said some students have complained about grinding at school dances.

"I didn't have a problem (with the rules)," said junior Sarah McGrew. "It made me feel kind of childish, but I don't like to watch dirty dancing either."

Grants Pass Principal Ernie Baldwin said some girls complained that boys have come up behind them and started grinding with them.

"They're uncomfortable; they don't know how to respond," Baldwin said. "Some feel violated, and I can't have that."

The conflict over grinding at high school dances is not unique to Southern Oregon. Cleveland High School in southeast Portland called off its winter dance this year after teachers refused to chaperone due to the grinding problem, according to The Oregonian newspaper.

Still, North Medford students said the dance rules have become too heavy-handed.

"I'm not one of those people who dances dirty, (but) the whole fact of having teachers standing around and watching us was weird," said North Medford sophomore Bri Owens. "It makes things awkward.

"How would you feel if someone was just watching you? I can see where the (administration) is coming from, but we're teenagers, and we're going to do what we want to do."

Some North Medford students said they're considering boycotting the prom as a result of their discontent over homecoming.

"I don't want to spend $50 on a (prom) ticket and get kicked out after 10 minutes," said North Medford senior Brandon Todd.

North Medford senior Jared Gutridge said he'd rather hang out with friends than face the stifling environment he experienced at the homecoming dance or the prospect of being kicked out.

"They pay, like, $15 to get in," he said. "I don't think that's fair."

Todd said the decision to banish students from the dance for grinding is shortsighted, as those students will likely go someplace where there's no adult supervision.

"You don't want to go home early when you have permission to stay out till 4," Todd said.

Despite the new rules, Beick said, the homecoming dance drew the largest attendance in his 16 years at the school, with about 900 students showing up.

"Even though we have some kids who were mad, we had some kids who said (homecoming) was the best dance ever because they were uncomfortable standing next to people dancing inappropriately," Beick said. "You almost have a behavior war between the kids. The kids who want to do inappropriate dancing versus the kids who don't want to be around it."

Paris Achen is a reporter at the Mail Tribune. Reach her at 541-776-4459 or e-mail Leslie Johnson is a North Medford High School senior who is working at the Mail Tribune as part of her senior project.

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