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Dirty Dancing: Restrictions at Beyer High's winter formal create controversy

It's winter formal season for Modesto schools. To many students, this is a night out where everyone dresses up and makes it a night to remember.

As Beyer High School senior Alex Angarita says: "Formal is a rite of passage. It's your chance to really celebrate the coming year with your friends."

While these dances are considered a privilege for students with a certain grade-point average, should dances be strictly regulated, as Beyer's winter formal is?

During the whole school week before Dec. 5, rules and regulations concerning the types of unacceptable dancing were stated on the intercom during the daily announcements. Everyone knew the Modesto City Schools Guidelines for High School Dances by heart because they were repeatedly spelled out, making it clear that there would be heavy supervision at formal. It became crystal clear that dancing that could be classified as lewd would cause the lights to go on and the music to be changed.

The heightened emphasis on the guidelines was in response to previous Beyer dances. The Hawaiian dance in the beginning of the year left a bitter taste in students' mouths, leading to a boycott of the following homecoming dance.

This was also drilled into our minds as a result of a new disciplinary figure on campus, Assistant Principal James Lake. Lake arrived at Beyer this year and cracked down pretty hard on gang-affiliated kids and kids in trouble. He also cracked down really hard at dances.

There was excitement in the air about winter formal, but everyone was a little wary of what was to come. When people arrived to the "Night in Paris" themed dance, they had many opinions.

"The dance was set up beautifully, but the tension between administration and the students ruined the free spirit that formals at Beyer usually held," said Ashley Cipponeri, a junior.

The dance proceeded smoothly for the 90 minutes before the administration began stopping some people for dancing too provocatively. It got to the point where the music was turned off and an announcement was made that if the seductive dancing didn't stop, the music would be changed from the playlist. Many students were unhappy about this.

Previous formals haven't drawn "much administrative intervention, so the sudden strict rules and supervision took many students by surprise," said Alice Anderson, a senior.

About 15 minutes after the playlist warning was announced, the music was changed from modern pop and rap to country and songs from the '50s. The change was met with anger from the students, including Kellie Miller, a junior. "I don't think it is fair that administrators played swing dancing music, chicken dance and cha-cha slide. People pay more for tickets, spend a lot of time and money to prepare and expect to have a good high school dance."

Many students thought it would have been fair to eject from the dance those students who were behaving inappropriately, not to punish the entire group. However, Lake said, "There were too many students bumping and grinding."

In his view, there was no way he could comply with both the students' wishes and the regulations of Modesto City Schools dances. "I would rather field a hundred phone calls than deal with the embarrassment of a parent walking in. If any parent walked in there, they would not say that's dancing."

Arielle Dualan, a senior, raised this question: "Who is to say what really is inappropriate nowadays?"

Dancing has changed from the '70s and '80s due to pop culture, media and society's views. There's no stopping a revolution when it happens, and this isn't just happening at Beyer, it's happening at every school. Turn the television on to MTV or any popular teenage show and you will find this explicit kind of dancing. It's everywhere in music videos or down the block. It's hard not to blame teenagers from expressing themselves this way when their idols do the exact same thing.

On the other hand, the administrators are only trying to set a good example to lead students away from inappropriate behavior and to show that you can still have fun without dancing provocatively. "Do I allow students to have this fun? Pretend I don't see it? I wouldn't be doing my job of keeping them safe," said Lake.

It can be argued that the moves on the dance floor can influence later behaviors that might not be wise.

When it comes down to the gritty details, people who were there to have fun still had fun without making obscene gestures. They just had to make their own fun.

"The dance was fun to some groups because they found ways to dance that were acceptable and still full of energy," said Ashley Cipponeri.

It's not a significant worry if the prom attendance will drop greatly because the people looking for a good time won't let anything ruin it.

Nicole Au-Yeung is a junior at Beyer High School and a member of The Bee's Teens in the Newsroom journalism program.