Port Townsend, Port Angeles high school students spurn dances with rules; Sequim's been there, done that

By Arwyn Rice
Peninsula Daily News

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PORT TOWNSEND — Student government leaders and Port Townsend High School administrators are negotiating to find a way to save future dances after a crackdown on dancing styles led to a cancellation because of a lack of ticket sales.

Not a single ticket was sold to the spring dance in March after the Port Townsend School Board approved the “Face to Face, Leave Some Space” dance policy in late January, Principal Carrie Ehrhardt said Tuesday.

The Face to Face policy, which is gaining a national foothold, bans front-to-back dancing and close physical contact between dancers, and it often requires students and parents to sign a contract agreeing to those terms before the kids can attend dances.

The Port Townsend action followed “serious problems with students dancing inappropriately” at the Winterfest dance, Ehrhardt said.

“It was our last dance without Face to Face,” she said.

Students in Port Townsend are reacting like those in Port Angeles, where the high school canceled the Spring Fling dance last week after only 15 students purchased tickets.

Since the rule came into effect in October, formal dance attendance in Port Angeles has plummeted by more than half, leaving the student government without its traditional fundraisers.

The all-out student rejection of the new dance rules has Port Townsend School District administrators talking to students about a compromise to save the remaining dances, Ehrhardt said.

“O'Meara Dance Studio will come in and offer dance lessons,” she said.

Ehrhardt said the lessons, offered mostly to freshmen and sophomores in physical education classes, won't teach specific dances but instead provide instruction on ways students can dance and move their bodies that is comfortable and fun, with a variety of different beats and music — but within acceptable guidelines.

Two dances remain this year, she said.

A freshman class-sponsored “Let's Dance” is scheduled for May 10 to replace the lost spring dance in March, and the Senior Prom is planned for June 1.

She said she doesn't know if students will return to the dances yet.

“We're working on it,” she said.

At Quilcene High School, Principal Jeff Youde said Monday he had never heard of the Face to Face policy.

Quilcene High School has a “no public display of affection” policy in place for general purposes, but there are no dance-specific rules at the school, Youde said.

About 30 percent of the school attended the recent Junior Prom, the last dance the school held, and ended with a nice, appropriate slow dance, he said.

Youde said that while the students weren't perfect and occasionally had to be reminded about the rules, there were no problems.

“It was a good, wholesome evening,” he said.

Chimacum High School has similar rules to Quilcene, said district Superintendent Craig Downs.

School rules for behavior apply at dances, but there are no specific policies for dancing, Downs said.

Downs said he was not completely familiar with the school's exact policy, and high school Principal Whitney Meissner, who manages the dances, was out of town Tuesday.

In Sequim, the Face to Face rule was implemented in 2007, and there was a similar student pushback and decline in student attendance as in Port Angeles and Port Townsend, said Shawn Langston, principal of Sequim High School.

A spring 2008 dance that had a history of selling nearly 500 tickets had only 190 participants that year.

Students and parents appeared before the School Board to plead their case to establish a compromise, but the policy remains at Sequim dances, Langston said.

He said most of the school's “pep dances” were permanently canceled for a lack of attendance, but the school's four formal dances remain.

Dance attendance is nearly back to pre-rule numbers, he said.

Schools across Washington state are implementing the rule, which has slowly become a standard policy in the region, Langston said.

Langston said that in Puyallup, where he used to work, students and parents who objected to the policy chose to organize alternative dances to take the place of the school dances — beginning as far back as 15 years ago.

At Forks High School, the district has dance rules but not an official board policy, said Diana Reaume, superintendent of the Quillayute Valley School District, who added that the district does not have the Face to Face policy.

“I don't know that we've had problems with dances,” Reaume said. “Our dances are fully attended.”

Principals at smaller high schools in the West End saidt no special rules have been implemented for their dances.

“We don't have a lot of problems at our dances,” said Stephanie Teel, principal of Clallam Bay High School, adding that the school has not needed to make any special rules.

“One of the issues is that we have so many staff members at our dances, it's not a problem,” she said.

Similarly, Neah Bay High School Principal Ann Renker said dances at her school have no specific rules, but students are monitored and know what the expectations are.

“We make sure we operate safe and appropriate dances for everyone that goes,” Renker said.

Crescent High School Principal and Superintendent Clayton Mork was not available to return calls about the Joyce school Tuesday.

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

Last modified: April 23. 2013 6:25PM
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