The school that canceled its homecoming semi-formal in response to a sexually suggestive dance craze has scheduled a new dance. But twerking won’t be tolerated at Bennington’s Mount Anthony Union High School.
Twerking has been around long enough to make it into online versions of Britain’s Oxford Dictionary. It’s defined as dancing “in a sexually provocative manner involving thrusting hip movements and a low, squatting stance.”
Officials at Mount Anthony Union High School had watched with growing concern for a couple of years, as the dance craze grew. Then, at the MTV Music Awards in 2013, pop star Miley Cyrus twerked graphically before an audience of 10 million people. Mount Anthony Union principle Sue Maguire believes it marked a turning point at her school.
"When she did that publicly we seemed to see a little more over-the-edge dancing," Maguire says. "It crossed the line after that, in our opinion."
Administrators shared their concerns with the student senate last year, but nothing changed. Maguire says she and her colleagues talked and worried about it all summer.
"And we said, 'We’ve got to do what’s right,'" Maguire says. "Because by that time we had had girls share with us that they felt uncomfortable, and if even one of them felt uncomfortable it’s not okay. And it wasn’t always consensual. Males would come up behind them and they didn’t even know who they were and what was happening."
Petitions were drawn up. During the first week of school, Maguire wrote a letter to the Bennington Banner explaining the situation. The story was picked up by the national media and Maguire was deluged with requests for interviews. A headline in Billboard read: "Miley Cyrus blamed for canceled high school dance."
Maguire was also getting calls from parents.
"I heard from several saying, 'Thanks for letting us know, I had no idea. I hope my daughter wasn’t doing that,'" Maguire says.
Jessie Kuzmicki, the MAU senior class president, says twerking hadn’t bothered her. It’s something that’s happening all over the country, she says.
"It’s kind of just the way we’ve been exposed to dancing, I think, and that’s how we know how to," Kuzmicki says. "I guess we were kind of desensitized to the nature of the dancing, but with the cancelation, it kind of caused everyone to take a step back and really think about it a little bit."
Kuzmicki learned that other schools have taken similar steps in response to highly sexualized dancing. At Stowe High School, all dances except the prom have been suspended because of twerking. She says students were upset by the cancelation at Mount Anthony Union, but not so much because they wanted to dance a certain way.
"It was really just the cancelation of a really fun social event that everyone was looking forward to," she explains.
So Kuzmicki and some other student leaders worked out a compromise with school administrators. They asked their classmates for ideas. Kuzmicki says most of those will be incorporated into the new dance, scheduled for November.
"And so it just showed collaboration on both sides," she says.
Students who attend the dance will sign a contract that includes a dress code — a student suggestion, Kuzmicki says. The contract also requires students to dance face-to-face. There will be DJs, who’ll take requests. But they’ll stick to music that’s less conducive to the kind of dancing that’s now banned. Tables and chairs will also be added, so that students who want to can get off the dance floor.