Elementary students told they can't say no when asked to dance — what's happening with school dances?

School dances have been causing controversy for promoting sexist stereotypes, and now, blurring the lines of consent between boys and girls.

The latest example involves a Utah mother and her daughter’s elementary school dance, which requires girls to accept boys’ invitation to hit the floor.

Mom Natalie Richard told Salt Lake City local news station Fox13 that she was in disbelief when her sixth-grade daughter came home from Kanesville Elementary with a set of ground rules for an upcoming dance: Students fill out cards with the names of five people with whom they’d like to dance, and if someone’s name is picked, they must fulfill the request.

School dances have sparked serious debate recently. (Photo: Everett Collection)
School dances have sparked serious debate recently. (Photo: Everett Collection)

“The teacher said she can’t [say no],” Richard told the station of her daughter’s obligation should she be selected to dance. “She has to say yes. She has to accept, and I said, ‘Excuse me.’”

When Richard spoke to the school principal, “He basically just said they’ve had this dance set up this way for a long time, and they’ve never had any concern before.”

A representative from the Weber School District told Fox13 that the rule is meant to be positive. “Please be respectful, be polite,” the rep told the station. “We want to promote kindness, and so we want you to say yes when someone asks you to dance.”

Kanesville Elementary agreed to send permission slips to parents who weren’t aware of the rule. However, that’s not sufficient for Richard, who told ABC13, “Psychologically, my daughter keeps coming to me and saying ‘I can’t say no to a boy.’ That’s the message kids are getting.”

School dances pose potential problems for some. (Photo: Paramount Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection)
School dances pose potential problems for some. (Photo: Paramount Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection)

Last week, there was outrage among Staten Island parents when an elementary school rescheduled its father-daughter dance for “kids and caregivers of any gender” due to state guidelines that discourage gender-based practices on the basis of sexism and stereotyping.

Parents complained about the decision on Twitter, and as one told the Post, “All this gender crap needs to just stop.”

“Gender-based activities are rooted in old-fashioned gender stereotypes,” Lenora Lapidus, director of the ACLU Women’s Rights Project, previously told Yahoo Lifestyle. “For example, father-daughter dances exclude children raised by single moms, lesbian couples, a grandmother, or who otherwise don’t have male figures in their lives.”

Meanwhile, on Monday, the Post reported that several other New York schools plan to move forward with their own father-daughter dances, although the Department of Education is involved to ensure inclusivity.

Generally speaking, school dances have been on the decline over the past few years, due in part to social media. As one assistant principal told Business Insider of her school’s lackluster dance attendance, “Technology definitely allows the kids to find easier and faster ways to interact with one another, so maybe they don’t feel like going to a school dance is a necessary way to socialize. But it’s disappointing to watch the tradition fade.”

The “hook-up culture” is also problematic, playing out on the dance floor. In 2015, a principal in Maine banned school dances due to dancing that simulated sex. “It came to a point where I had to say no. We’ve got to do better,” Gorham High School principal Chris Record told the New York Daily News, blaming pop culture in a memo, writing, “It is by no means the students’ fault, but the dancing they have witnessed on MTV/VH1/movies involves primarily only sexually suggestive grinding.”

In 2013, a principal in Vermont canceled all school dances, with the exception of a prom, writing in a blog post, “Students and adults alike are uncomfortable with ‘grinding’ as this style of dance is called. It is inappropriate, demeaning, and does not represent our values in both school and community.”

The emergence of strict dance dress codes has also left many less than enthused about the school tradition. In September, a school in Wisconsin refused to sell dance tickets to students who wouldn’t allow officials to pre-approve their dresses, triggering complaints of sexism.

And in 2015, a student wearing a floor-length prom gown was threatened with suspension for showing too much cleavage, a claim her mother felt was discriminatory toward her “plus-size daughter.”

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