MELISSA BLOCK, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
And I'm Michele Norris.
Principals have been ringing their hands about school dances since well forever.
(Soundbite of slow dance music)
BLOCK: Think about the days when you slow danced. Maybe you got a little too close. Maybe the principal enforced the daylight rule, the need to have enough space between you and your partner to allow at least a silver of light to pass through. These days, things are a lot more complicated.
(Soundbite of hip hop music)
NORRIS: Lyrics are more suggestive, teenage dance moves more risqué. Thrusting hips, gyrating backsides. And the daylight rule, forget about it. Bodies are entangled back to front, pelvis to posterior. Kids call it freaking.
Some adults say it's actually akin to simulated sex. That's the view of the principal of Aliso Niguel High School in Orange County California. He has had enough. Charles Salter banned all dances for the rest of this academic year after an unwelcome display of dis-inhibition at his school's Welcome Back dance this Fall. We thought that decision warranted a chat as part of our continuing series, A Visit to the Principal's Office.
Charles Salter joins us now. Thanks for being with us.
Mr. CHARLES SALTER (Aliso Niguel High School): It's nice being with you.
NORRIS: What happened at that dance that prompted you to pull the plug?
Mr. SALTER: Well at the dance it was a number of things. One was the inappropriate dress. Two, we had caught some students who before they had come into the dance had had some level of alcohol. And three, there was a number of students who actually participated in this freak dancing.
NORRIS: But as you say, you've seen this happening in the past. It's not like students had just started dressing like this or dancing like this. Why this decision to ban all dances?
Mr. SALTER: Well the reason why I decided to ban the dances, and it was until further notice, is because I felt that as a school function it was important for me to make sure that we had some sort of order as to what was expected of students at a school function. And over the years I had spoken to parents through communications with them that this type of behavior was not acceptable to me or the school. And I just didn't see the results that I thought I should have seen.
NORRIS: You actually, if I understand, sent an email to parents in 2004 saying that the back to front dancing was one step from events that should be occurring on someone's wedding night.
Mr. SALTER: Yes.
NORRIS: What kind of response did you get to that?
Mr. SALTER: Well, I haven't had much argument from parents. It wasn't until I showed them a video of one of our dances that it really, really hit home. As a matter of fact, what is interesting is a lot of my teachers didn't want to chaperone inside the dance because of the fact that they didn't want to look at their students in the way that they were seeing them.
NORRIS: What's it like - you say the teachers didn't want to chaperone. You as principle don't have a choice. What's it like for you to be sitting on the side of the gymnasium watching this happen? Students you see normally during the school year who still look like kids.
Mr. SALTER: Yes, and you know, that's really what triggered it for me, because I look at my kids like they were my own daughter and my own sons. I'm sitting there and I'm looking at this and there was one particular young lady, I pulled her up off the dance floor and the boy who was dancing with her, and I said let me ask you something. I know your father. Would he approve of you dancing like this? And she looked at me and said no. Now mind you she was almost on all fours, bent over. There was a young man who was right up on top of her, thrusting on top of her with his bottom. I asked him, would you want your sister to be dancing with someone like this, and he said no. Then I escorted both of them out of the dance and called their parents.
NORRIS: Are you doing this in part because of those students, or are you also doing this because you're trying to draw a line. Are you in some ways imposing your morals on your student body?
Mr. SALTER: It's very interesting, because I thought a lot about that, and I'm not imposing any kind of morals. But one of the things as a school that we're responsible for doing is teaching kids appropriateness. And there are certain behaviors that are appropriate in various venues. This type of dancing is not appropriate in a school setting. And if students feel uncomfortable, and this is what I share with their parents, because of the sexual nature of the dancing and they let me know that, then I'm obligated, I feel by law, to create a different kind of environment where they are comfortable. Because to me, that is a form of sexual harassment.
NORRIS: Do you think the kids are really going to stop this dancing?
Mr. SALTER: Well, I know a lot of my students have told me they would still come to the dance if they couldn't freak. But my responsibility is really to this community and to the school that I work with. I will tell you this. Often I have spoke with parents and they have told me gosh, you know I shouldn't let my daughter dress that way but you know I feel like maybe I'm out of touch or my kid is saying all the other kids dress that way. Sometimes I'll see some others there that are dressing, and so they don't have those difficult conversations with them.
But now those parents are starting to step up and say hey, you know what? This is not right. So it lets me know that they are parents who really want this type of behavior to stop and they want some help.
NORRIS: So what's it going to take to bring a dance back to Aliso Niguel?
Mr. SALTER: What it's going to take to bring a dance back to Aliso Niguel is for the parents, the students and school administration to sit down at a table together and come up with standards for our dances. And not only to come up with the standards for the dances, what's to be expected, but also what the consequences are going to be when students don't adhere to those standards. And the reason why I say that is when it's time for me to administer discipline to those students, I want to make sure that I won't have to fight with the parents to make it stick.
NORRIS: Principle Salter, if I could ask you to reach back to your high school years, did you cut a rug on the dance floor?
Mr. SALTER: Did I cut a rug on the dance floor? When I was in college, I cut it all up. I cut it real hard, too.
NORRIS: Do you think the adults might have been comfortable with those moves?
Mr. SALTER: You know what, I didn't do anything that I couldn't do with my mom or my dad. Although I never danced with my dad, but I'm saying I would have felt comfortable with them watching.
NORRIS: Okay. If they peeked in the room they would have been okay?
Mr. SALTER: Yes. Absolutely. We did the Hustle.
NORRIS: Well, Principal Salter, all the best to you. Thanks so much for talking to us.
Mr. SALTER: All right. Thank you.
NORRIS: Charles Salter is the principal of the Aliso Niguel High School in Aliso Vajio, California.