'Footloose' in Port Angeles? Students spurn dances over tightened rules

By Arwyn Rice
Peninsula Daily News

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PORT ANGELES — Shades of “Footloose.”

Six months after a few dozen students staged a walkout to protest a new school rule banning back-to-front dancing, the majority of students at Port Angeles High School continue to spurn school-sponsored dances.

Saturday's Spring Fling, the school's only informal dance, was canceled after only 15 tickets were sold, Principal Garry Cameron announced.

It is the third dance that has suffered from extremely low attendance, threatening student government coffers that depend on the dances as fundraisers for the senior prom and the projects that the classes sponsor as their “class gifts.”

The issue is reminiscent of the 1984 blockbuster movie “Footloose” — remade in 2011 — in which high school students organize against a Midwestern town's rules against rock music and dancing.

The Port Angeles rules aren't as restrictive, but they motivated a student walkout last October during which several said just before the 2012 homecoming dance that they would no longer attend school-sponsored dances.

The rules, called “Face to Face, Leave Some Space,” are part of a national campaign for school dance policies and require students to have visible space between them, even during slow dances.

They also ban back-to-front dancing, which school officials have said could lead to “grinding” and other dance moves the officials deem inappropriate.

Grinding, which involve pelvic moves between dancers, was already banned.

There have been past instances in which students have been ejected for inappropriate dancing, and parents were called, Cameron said Monday.

The rules eliminate some ballroom dances and such party dances as the conga line and the bunny hop, students said, adding that most students don't grind or want to see other students grind.

Senior Laurel Jenkens, student body government representative to the Port Angeles School District board, pleaded the students' case to the board last month.

“We would like to reach a compromise in which school dances can be fun and safe for everybody,” Jenkens said.

She said that the student government drafted a strict “one strike and you're out” policy for school dances, and presented it to the school improvement team as a compromise.

The proposal was rejected, Jenkens said.

“Nobody is listening to us,” she told the School Board.

“They are not taking it as seriously as we take it.”

Jenkens said that homecoming is the only fundraiser for the associated student body government, separate from class fundraisers.

“We're losing a lot of money,” she said.

An average homecoming dance has an attendance of about 700 students, but only 267 attended in 2012.

“We lost $60,” she said.

The Junior Ball was the most severe loss, she said, which had 434 students attending in 2012.

Only six students purchased tickets in 2013.

“They [junior class] were left with only $73.84 in their account,” Jenkens said.

By comparison, in 2012, the class of 2013 began with $200 in the class account, and after the Winter Ball, had increased its funds to $2,818, she said.

School administrators have no plans to end the tradition of dances at Port Angeles High, even with dramatically lowered attendances.

“It's unfortunate, but we're not the first school to have gone down this road,” Cameron said.

Cameron said that in the end, it's up to the students.

“If students want to attend, we'll have a dance,” he said.

Ironically, Port Angeles' athletic archrival Sequim High School is gearing up for its 47th spring operetta May 2-18.

This year's student production is “Footloose.”

Reporter Arwyn Rice can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5070, or at arwyn.rice@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: April 22. 2013 6:10PM
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