R-rated homecomings prompt cultural clash Provocative dresses, bump-and-grind dancing pit parents against students By Maureen Feighan / The Detroit News Ricardo Thomas / The Detroit News Clintondale High School students Stephanee Kogelman, left, and Jamie Geatches must keep stricter dress codes in mind as they shop for Saturday's homecoming dance. Cracking down School districts across Metro Detroit are cracking down on clothing, music and dance styles they say are inappropriate in schools. Plymouth-Canton Schools: No low-rider pants, shirts or blouses that create a "bare midriff", short shorts or short skirts. Students who engage in highly provocative or sexual dancing will be separated. Southfield: No hats, headbands, "do-rags," hoods, visors, see-through shirts and blouses, cutoffs, fringed or spandex shorts, trousers, slacks or jeans that will not stay up without a belt. Clintondale: No suggestive or see-through garments, spandex, hats or headwear, underwear as outerwear, see-through dresses, tube-top dresses, dresses with open backs below waistline, or plunging necklines for homecoming dance. Source: Detroit News research Comment on this story Send this story to a friend Get Home Delivery When Andrea Morris of Clinton Township chaperoned her daughter's homecoming dance at Clintondale High School last year, it wasn't the dresses girls wore that made her blush. It was the lack of material. That's why Morris, the mother of three, was relieved when Clintondale administrators implemented a dress code specifically tailored for the homecoming dance this Saturday. Banned: see-through dresses, plunging necklines and dresses with open backs below the waistline. Last year, "there was a lot revealed -- a lot revealed," said Morris, whose daughters, Stephanee and Shannon, will attend this year's dance. Welcome to the Eminem and Christina Aguilera generation. Hip-hop reigns, tank tops rule and "freaking" -- dancing suggestively against your partner in a way that sometimes looks like sex -- often is the dance of choice. Kids insist they're just wearing and doing what's hip. But school districts across Metro Detroit are cracking down at dances and in hallways because they say certain clothes interfere with the job of educating children. No writing on the rear end of clothes at Dearborn's Bryant Middle School. No droopy pants that can't stay up in Southfield. And no bare midriff tops or short shorts at Plymouth-Canton schools. The battle between kids and educators over clothing extends nationwide. In Berwick, Pa., cheerleaders were initially banned from wearing their uniforms to school this fall because their skirts were too short. The cheerleaders are now allowed to wear the uniforms until new ones arrive. And in Reno, Nev., high school students wore T-shirts to protest a dress code after other students were suspended for wearing bracelets and necklaces deemed to be weapons. t's natural for kids to want to express their individuality through clothing, music and dance styles, say scholars who study youth culture. Social historian Richard Powers says the more parents and school officials express disapproval, the more likely kids are to reject current cultural standards altogether five or 10 years down the road, just as young people did in the 1920s and the 1960s. Thirty years ago, "kids got expelled for hair touching their ears," said Powers, a professor of American social dance and a social historian at Stanford University. "That just looks silly now. The administrators have to look at what's really the damage here." But some schools aren't just stopping with dress codes. They are cracking down on dance styles and music, too. At Milford High School, songs that promote mosh pits or "bumping and grinding" weren't allowed at the homecoming dance on Saturday. At Salem High School's homecoming dance on Saturday, at least 35 chaperones kept an eye on inappropriate dancing. "Kids emulate what they see on TV just like we did back with 'American Bandstand,' " said Milford Principal Paul DeAngelis. "We monitor it, and we let them know what's appropriate." The 'Britney effect' For decades, dress codes and youth fashion have caused tension in schools. Many schools banned jeans in the 1950s, girls couldn't wear pants, and boys couldn't sport sideburns or allow their hair to grow past a certain length. Philip Cusick, an educational administration professor at Michigan State University, said the dress code tide changed in the 1960s with the birth of the counterculture. "That's when they stopped trying to fight it except for four-letter words and profanity" on clothing, Cusick said. And while there has been some movement to clamp down on clothing styles today -- he knows superintendents who even try to get their teachers to dress more professionally -- Cusick said "there's been a lot of resistance." The biggest challenge for many schools is the "Britney effect." Girls wear hip-hugger jeans, tiny skirts or tops that expose just a glimpse of their bellies, a la pop princess Britney Spears. Shannon Grech, a 16-year-old junior at Dearborn's Divine Child High School, looks like she's been influenced by the Britney effect. Wearing hip-hugger jeans, a black tank top and big hoop earrings, Grech works at Wet Seal, a trendy teen clothing store at Westland Mall. The aspiring fashion designer said she tries to get away with her style as much as possible at Divine Child, but the rules are strict. No part of the stomach can be shown, flip-flops are forbidden, and tank tops are a no-no. Infractions can result in an order to change clothes or put on a sweater and even a detention. "I don't like it," Grech said. "I think they should just let you dress how you want and express yourself." The problem with letting kids express themselves too much, educators say, is that some styles can be distracting. And sex isn't the only issue. In Dearborn, a high school student was sent home in February after he refused to take off or turn inside out a T-shirt with President Bush's face and the words "International Terrorist" on it. The American Civil Liberties Union sued the district, claiming it violated the student's First Amendment right to free speech. A federal judge in Detroit issued a preliminary injunction earlier this month, allowing the student to wear the black T-shirt. Still, district spokesman David Mustonen said he believes school dress codes, including Dearborn's, are more lenient than they were 20 years ago. Dearborn's code largely lets individual school administrators determine what dress and clothing is appropriate. "Twenty years ago, boys weren't supposed to wear shorts to school," Mustonen said. "Now, boys can wear shorts. The whole point is we're trying to establish an atmosphere conducive to teaching and learning. Clothes that may be perfectly appropriate after school for a party or the park may not be in a classroom setting." But teens like Megan Moore, a junior at Westland's John Glenn High School, said her school goes too far and has double standards for boys. She said girls can wear tank tops only with straps 3 inches wide, shorts must be at least to a student's fingertips in length and midriff tops are strictly forbidden. "It's retarded," said Moore, 16. "(The restrictions) are all for girls. Guys can wear muscle shirts -- and they don't care. But if we show just a little bit of stomach, they make us change." Controversial dancing If the latest clothing styles give educators headaches, many say dancing -- particularly "freaking" -- gives them migraines. Kids insist freak dancing is harmless, and they're just grooving with the music. But educators say the style is inappropriate and have even taken steps in some schools nationwide to ban it. Palo Alto High School in Palo Alto, Calif., imposed a freak-dancing ban in February that ejected kids from dances because administrators considered it demeaning and pornographic. No schools in Metro Detroit have gone that far. But in Canton Township, administrators sent a letter to parents of kids at Plymouth-Canton Educational Park this month that laid out guidelines for both attire and dancing at the homecoming dances. Officials advised students not to engage in provocative sexual dancing and said chaperones would monitor the dance floor to "redirect" those who dance inappropriately. Jerry Ostoin, Salem High's longtime principal, said administrators do "question the dance style." But he remembers what it was like being a teen-ager, pushing cultural boundaries at the time. He said he was in a rock 'n' roll band as a youngster when a sponsor told them they couldn't play at a dance. "One of the biggest problems with kids is we've changed," Ostoin said. "We've forgotten what it's like to be young." For decades, dances considered too sensual have created controversy, said Powers of Stanford. Even the waltz was once considered too sexy, he said. "The waltz caused probably more protest than any other dance in history, which was around 1800," Powers said. "There are books, quotations from the time, about how it would lead to the most licentious of consequences." Later, the tango and the Charleston sparked protest followed by the mother of all controversial dance music, rock 'n' roll. Powers said even Congress debated banning rock 'n' roll in the 1950s. "It really was a battle," Powers said. But Powers said the same themes that sparked the Roaring '20s and the counterculture 1960s -- disapproval of dancing, clothing and other elements of youth culture a generation earlier in the ragtime era and restrictive 1950s -- he sees now for the first time since the 1950s. He said the disapproval of freak dancing is just one aspect of it. Kids also are getting flak for everything from body piercings to clothing styles. "It's exactly the same list as the 1950s and the ragtime era," Powers said. "I can see what's coming. I can't advise parents or administrators. But the smart road would be to downplay (this). Asking for trouble and backlash would be to make a big issue out of it."