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Missouri School Board Dance Ban: Who's Out of Step?

April 06, 1986|LORI DODGE | Associated Press

PURDY, Mo. — The school board here isn't budging on a century-old anti-dancing policy. One opponent branded dances in the gym an "avenue for alcohol consumption, drug abuse and illicit sex."

But many students and parents think that school-sponsored dances are healthy fun, and they have threatened a lawsuit and are planning a rally.

They even invited the stars of the movie "Footloose," in which a citywide ban on dancing was defeated.

Misplaced Priorities

"I wish to goodness we could get everybody as excited about mathematics as we have this," complains Supt. Richard Place.

In this southwest Missouri community of 928, the dancing issue comes up annually, and earlier this month the Purdy R-2 Board of Education again upheld its policy to the dismay of most students.

The rally that some of the parents are now helping students organize is designed to show the school board at its April 14 meeting just how much support there is for school-sponsored dances.

The intensity of the argument has stayed high.

"It's pushing people further and further into a corner," Place said. "Their willingness to compromise is out the window. It just sticks in people's craw."

A local Baptist minister, the Rev. Ted Davis, said the next step after dancing at school would be dancing in nightclubs.

Sees Lure of Immorality

"What goes on in the roadhouses except the illicit activities that tend to immoralize the whole neighborhood?" he asked. "I just can't see opening another avenue for alcohol consumption, drug abuse and illicit sex."

At the recent school board meeting, about 250 people turned out to show their support for the board's policy. Fewer than 50 opposed the policy, Place said.

But some of those who think school-sponsored dances are a good idea believe the turnout was lopsided because ministers put pressure on their congregations, including out-of-towners, to show up.

"They rallied in the churches," said Carolyn Flummerfelt, the mother of a 15-year-old high school student. "We made no special effort to get more people out."

Surprised at Decision

She said she and other pro-dancers were surprised that the school board based its decision on the turnout at what was supposed to be an informational meeting.

"We believe religion is at the base of it," Flummerfelt said.

A lawyer for the parents, Raleigh Johnson, sent a letter to the school board warning of a suit to overturn the no-dance vote if it was shown that board members were taking a religious stand.

Because the dancing issue has become so divisive, many people are reluctant to show their true feelings and support dancing, said Joan Fox, a mother. But they would show up too if Purdy's rally wins support from Hollywood, she figures. Hence, the invitations to the "Footloose" stars.

However, agents for Kevin Bacon and Christopher Penn said that the actors were busy--Penn with a film, Bacon with a play--and wouldn't be able to go to the April rally.

Davis, who spoke at the meeting, denied that opposition to dancing is a religious issue.

"We're being labeled as religious bigots, which we're not," he said.

Davis and several other ministers formed a ministerial alliance that sent a letter to the school board outlining its views.

Warnings Given

The letter said it was "common knowledge" that dancing involved other activities considered unacceptable. It warned of alcohol consumption, access to drugs and an increased risk of teen-age pregnancy.

The students from Purdy have dances now, but they have to rent a place in Monett, seven miles away. Sometimes they rent the community center, which is right next door to the school.

"We don't want to dance there," said Robert Johnson, a Purdy senior. "We want memories at our school."

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