Carl Perkins, in his first year as principal at Howard County's Centennial High after several years as a middle school principal, says he was shocked by what he saw at last month's Back to School Dance. He says he had warned that dancing that simulates a sex act would not be allowed, but more than a half-dozen students were ejected for "freak dancing."
That crackdown brought protests from students. And it led some to threaten a boycott of one of high school's memory-making traditions: the homecoming dance, scheduled for tomorrow.
"It's not like you're going to get pregnant by dancing," said Shirley Shin, a senior who is considering skipping tomorrow's dance. "There is a distinct difference between dancing and having sex. Without the dance, who knows what people are going to do?"
With the success of the festivities in jeopardy, the PTSA organized a town hall-style meeting. The gathering of educators, parents and students yielded a list of dancing guidelines intended to eliminate confusion over what's acceptable.
The new rules include: "no leg wrapping around others," "no forceful thrusting" and "no removal of clothing."
"We are asking students to act appropriately," Perkins said. The principal declined to go into detail about what actions led students to be dismissed from last month's dance, saying, "The freak dancing says it all."
The popular dance style - which includes enough suggestive contact to be described by some as akin to a standing lap dance - has forced area school administrators to decide how much is too much.
School officials, seeking to take control, have in some instances drawn rules to cover dance moves.
Howard appears to be the only jurisdiction in the Baltimore metro area that addresses dancing specifically in its systemwide policy, which includes a ban on dancing that "suggests a sex act."
Some jurisdictions, such as Baltimore and Carroll counties, leave it to individual schools to regulate dances. In Harford County, inappropriate dancing could be dealt with under the disruptive-behavior portion of the systemwide policy, officials said.
In January, a dance at Severna Park High was shut down early because of what administrators deemed violations of a general, school-system-wide prohibition on "inappropriate bodily contact."
Anne Arundel County schools have not instituted any new policies on dancing but leave it to administrators to make calls on a case-by-case basis, spokesman Bob Mosier said.
At the Centennial event last month, many students were angry because even hired security officers were taking part in reprimanding students, which Perkins later said should not have happened.
Centennial's PTSA organized the town hall meeting, which brought together teachers, students and parents.
"The groups were sort of talking separately," PTSA President Denny Donovan said of the flap over the September dance.
"We thought it would be a great idea for all of us to come together and collaborate so that homecoming could be a great event."
Tomorrow night's dance is the culmination of a weeklong series of homecoming events at Centennial that includes a pep rally, parade, pancake breakfast and a football game against Long Reach High.
Some parents said they were taken aback when they saw the guidelines, which were distributed via an e-mail newsletter sent by the administration.
One parent said she had heard her daughter, a junior, complain about the Back to School Dance, but did not know the extent of what happened until reading the new guidelines.
"If it is as bad as the list, yes, that is a problem," said the parent, who also asked that her name not be used out of concern over the possible effect to her daughter.
Kristen Moore, a senior, said she thinks the impression of what goes on at dances has been exaggerated. The 16-year-old said she is in favor of the new rules, though she admits "going with the flow" and engaging in freak dancing.
"Every generation thinks that the next is out of control," Moore said. "As long as they are not hurting anyone, then I think it is fine."
Others found the rules more troubling.
"A lot of my friends left the [September] dance after 30 minutes because of the strict rules," said Kathy Lisiewski, a 17-year-old senior. "Sex is the origin of dance. Technically all dance is simulating sex. It's one of those things. If it offends you, you don't have to look."
Perkins said students must recognize what is at stake for them.
"We are providing this activity as a privilege. ... If they abuse that privilege, they can have it taken away," Perkins said.
The principal said the chorus of boycott threats has tailed off this week.
"Right now it's business as usual," he said Monday afternoon.
Despite the inordinate amount of focus on the dance, Donovan said one of her biggest concerns this week is making sure that the pancake breakfast is a hit.
"Everybody is in agreement that we would like to have a homecoming dance that kids would like to come to and that parents are comfortable having their kids go to dance," Donovan said. "The consensus is that homecoming is on track."
Baltimore Sun reporters Nicole Fuller, Arin Gencer, Sara Neufeld and David Kohn contributed to this article.
These guidelines were developed by students, parents, teachers and staff at a meeting organized by the Centennial High PTSA earlier this month and distributed via an e-mail newsletter. The following is a list of prohibited inappropriate "dance" moves:
* No wrapping legs around others
* No "making out" (intimate kissing)
* No removal of clothing
* No hands in clothing
* No touching of bikini/private areas
* Avoid any dancing that suggests a sexual act, including but not limited to:
* Forceful thrusting
* Bending more than 45-degree angle
* "Freak trains"
Note: Back-to-front dancing and break dancing will be allowed if the above guidelines are followed.