School 'dance' for all

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

The dancers kept to the cafeteria, bouncing, swaying and bumping to the tunes. The players stuck to basketball, Ping-Pong and poker. Some were glued to the walls, and others walked about to watch the crowds.

Forget the school dances where the gym floor was empty and girls and boys stood on opposite ends.

It was Teen Night at Lakeview Junior High School, where seventh- and eighth-graders in Pickerington partied without the pressure of growing up too soon.

"They are still kids," said Michelle Waterhouse, president of Lakeview's parent-teacher organization. "We have to remember they are still 12-, 13-years-old, and some aren't ready to go to a school dance."

Middle schools throughout central Ohio have been revamping dances for years. They've added Guitar Hero competitions, dodgeball matchups with teachers and dance lessons. Schools no longer call them dances; they are socials, gatherings, activity nights.

And for the kids interested in dancing, parents have made sure their boogieing is age-appropriate. The disc jockey skimps on the slow songs. The Top 40 music is scrubbed clean of foul language. The atmosphere is casual, and parents are littered on the dance floor to police the naughty dancing.

Administrators say it's important for middle-schoolers to have some time to play.

"Middle school is a lot more stressful for kids than it used to be," said Penny Stires, principal at Olentangy Shanahan Middle School. "We have high expectations for kids during the school day. Kids need to be kids, especially at the middle-school level."

"We're really trying to foster the development of the whole child," she said. "They are discovering who they are and what they want to do. We want to give them as many experiences as we can give them through their middle years."

Shanahan is adding activities such as video games and a corn-hole tournament for the first time at its Oct. 30 dance.

Lakeview, which started teen nights when it opened in 2003, hosts four events during the school year. Last month's event was the first of the year. More than half of the school's 870 kids attended; 42 parents chaperoned.

Kids could pick their activity: dancing in the cafeteria; basketball; Ping-Pong; bingo; and card games in the gym. Tables were set up in the hallway if all kids wanted to do was talk.

Most of the kids were on the dance floor. Girls and boys danced in separate groups. Parent chaperones said there was some dirty dancing, but kids pretty much kept it clean.

Seventh-grader Nick Niemeyer and four of his friends already had wandered to the dance floor before settling in at a table for a Texas Hold 'Em match. He was happy to have the games.

"I'd be screwed" if it was only dancing, he said. "I can sorta dance, but not in a good way."

Eighth-grader Heather Byers played some Ping-Pong and took in some dancing. The night, she said, was more for socializing.

"At school, you can't really talk to each other" because students are kept in teams, she said. "Here, people are more open."