The problem: Teenagers Dance Dirty
It’s no secret that teenagers don’t really dance anymore. If the 1930s had swing, and the 1950s had the twist, then the 2000s have dirty dancing. This isn’t the Dirty Dancing of Patrick Swayze back in in 1987, where a wealthy daddy’s girl is charmed by a hunky dance teacher. Yeah that was dirty, but those scenes had grace through choreography. Our new dirty dancing is nothing but–forgive me here–nothing but dry humping to music with lyrics about dry humping. In years past, circles of girls would dance and sing to one another to their favorite songs. You still see some of that, but what’s more the norm is two girls dancing provocatively with one another to entertain and taunt the boys in the room. It sounds awful I know because it is awful. Let’s figure out how to prevent this problem by first taking a look at how we got here.
Understand, your teenagers don’t dance like this because they are more evil than previous generations, it’s because they don’t know what else to do. Teenagers have historically been “bad dancers.” Movies have captured this in classics like Cant’ Buy Me Love (1987) and Napoleon Dynamite (2004), where lovable geeks mimic obscure dances they found on TV on the high school dance floor. We love these stories because most of us remember doing the same thing. I watched Club MTV as a kid in the 80s because they weren’t teaching kids how to dance on CBS. This happened back then and it’s happening now, except now teens have nothing but music videos: and they’re all dirty.
Now lets look at three solutions to the problem of dirty church dances:
Solution 1: Don’t Host a Dance
I know this seems defeatist, but here is a quick solution to the problem of dirty dancing that won’t go away (high school principals will tell you this.) It’s important to remember the reasons why churches have hosted dances over the decades:
- It’s a non-threatening way to invite new teenagers to your church.
- Dances can also show that a church youth group is a can be relaxed and fun.
Sheltered kids will be scarred by the dirty dancers, ruining goal number one. Goal number two isn’t going to happen if your dance glorifies and normalizes sin. Hosting a dance is a bright idea if you aren’t ready for the consequences. Go bowling instead.
Solution 2: Host a Retro Dance
If you are determined to host a dance, root out half the problem by not playing this decade’s dirty music (read: Lil Jon). An added bonus is retro dances can be less threatening to teenagers because there’s no expectation that anyone would actually look cool. Ridiculous is fabulous. Stick with the late 70s disco, or better yet–80s retro. I could be wrong here, but I can’t see a crowd of teenagers flooding the dance floor the Supremes. But know that retro dances require an eager group who willing to dress the part. You have to be excited about this or the teens will never get excited.
Solution 3: Teach them How to Dance
Even the smallest towns in America have a local dance studio with a resident instructor able to teach the basics of ballroom, swing, and salsa. Meet with the instructor ahead of time and explain what you are looking for. He or she might invite you to sit in on a similar dance class. The best instructors make dancing fun, dignified, and easy for beginners. If they are difficult or arrogant, find a different teacher for your youth group.
There are several reasons why this is the best option. First of all, these dances are FUN. Modern dancing might be provocative, but it’s not fun. But these older dances allow you to spin, dip, and twirl. Everyone smiles! Second, teenagers are compelled to help one another when you learn something together. If someone can’t get a move right, there will be a couple of peers who always jump in to work it out. It gives the mini-instructor a sense of accomplishment. Kids get a chance to shine. By the end of the night, everyone is shining because they are better dancers than they were an hour before.
Finally, the greatest advantage to this style of church dance is that it works well with a follow up Life Night on dignity, or courtship vs dating. I’ll let you draw the lines between the dancing and the teaching, but I can already imagine there are dozens of powerful lessons tucked in there.
So there you have it! Let me know your own experiences (good, bad and ugly) of hosting church dances. I’d like to publish some of your insight: email@example.com
Armando Cervantes, Director of YM at St. Angela Merici Catholic Church in Brea, CA, wrote:
In regards to you article on dances, I totally agree with you, and in actuality, we have had much luck with doing meetings based on real-life topics: Dancing, Fixing Cars, Finances, etc… For the dancing one, they learned Salsa and Merengue, and we talked about importance of human dignity, especially each other…it was amazing the response we got.
Dan Aedo, Youth Minister at St. Patrick in Denison, TX, wrote:
Actually, we only have an annual Life Teen Christmas Ball which we hire a “pre-screened” DJ with references from other Life Teen and youth group youth ministers in the area. This can done by just asking around at the local Life Teen or youth minister meetings that we have each month. This year we also included a Mariachi band for a “Christmas in Mexico” theme.
The DJ is on after our dinner and plays for about 2 hours and it is our choice NOT to have any slow dances and only clean songs – NOT even if the dirty word(s) are bleeped out… the teens don’t even notice it… Then DJ Ron has a ton of songs both new and older that gets everyone on the floor and if you don’t know the dance… he’s very quick to help you or to assign someone to assist… We’re big on the country songs down here in TX! So, it’s easy for us to just start line dancing and the next thing ya know everyone is on the dance floor and the time flies by… next thing ya know the dance is almost over…
Ennie Hickman, Youth Minister at St. Timothy is Mesa, AZ, wrote:
Over the years, I’ve seen some pretty wild things on the dance floor. But you’re right in saying that this generation is not any more evil than previous generations, they just don’t know any different. It’s our job to give them alternatives. I have found more and more that my youth ministry has become teaching the “with it” kids how to live a Christian life and the “not so with it-Churchy kids” how to live without completely isolating themselves from culture.
A Church dance is the perfect mix of both worlds. We try and do enough popular (clean) music as we can to give the latter a feeling of coolness, but always have some type of theme to go along with it, to give the former a sense of good ‘ol wholesome fun.
Some things that I’ve done in the past that have worked:
- A Retro Christmas – complete with afro wigs as a party gift
- A Thrift Store Christmas – no one is allowed in without wearing something bought from a thrift store
- An All-Saints Ball on Halloween – no one allowed in without dressing like a saint
- A Square Dance with a Caller and all – i was hesitant about this, but it really worked, everyone participated
Some things that have turned out to be nightmares:
- Having a teen DJ – in this particular case the teen only liked country (which might work in Dennison, TX but not in Houston)
- 50s Sock Hop – although the outfits are fun, they only know the songs from Grease!
- Pajama Jam – do I have to explain?
- No DJ just a band – the band was so limited in what they could play.
Apart from that, I think it’s really important to have some good munchies, if not a full meal at the dance to erase the awkwardness. It’s good for the Core and the YM to be out there on the dance floor as well. It not only keeps the “booty” dancing to a minimum, it give the teens a small glimpse into the past of who these people were as teens.
Running man forever!
Greg Iwinski, Life Teen Alum, Reviews Editor for LifeTeen.com, wrote:
A themed dance is definitely a great idea, and has worked well in my experiences with dances. When teens are encouraged to dance as fun or crazy as possible, it really cuts down on any possibility for dirty dancing. There are tons of themes that you can use, from a retro dance to a swing night, or even a night full of line dancing songs (like the Electric Slide).
I agree that pre-screening your DJ is very important. Pick out what songs exactly you want to be played, and make sure that your DJ won’t play a dirty song just because your teens have requested it. Keep the music clean, and you’ll keep the dancing clean.
Bart Kennedy, Life Teen Alum, Franciscan University of Steubenville Graduate Student, wrote:
One of the major downsides to having a dance is the major upside: you get a lot of teens who aren’t normally a part of your program. This provides an opportunity for your CORE to meet them and try and draw them in, while also keeping them on their toes so these visitors don’t ruin the environment for everyone else. Your CORE will need to mingle on the dance floor and set the tone, and be willing to step in if some of the teens are trying to get their sexy back. After all, some of these teens don’t know how to act.
This is also an opportunity for you to encourage your regularly attending teens to show their peers that it’s possible to have a good time without degrading themselves.
It should be a given that there be no slow jams. Whatsoever. Also, give the DJ a playlist, and don’t get by on playing edited versions of songs, because frequently there is a tremendous amount of explicit sexual content that isn’t edited out, and it doesn’t serve your purposes of ministry to provide the setting for the teens to listen to graphically sexual music, even if they hear it all the time outside of the church dance. With a little work, it is possible to provide a good-sized playlist of music that’s fun to dance to and doesn’t lead to temptation, or have the teens singing along with Ludacris.