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Steamy High School Halftime Shows Draw Georgia Board's Ire

November 04, 2001|From Associated Press

SAVANNAH, Ga. — The marching band launches into the Motown classic "Just My Imagination" as Beach High School's dancers let their knee-length coats slip from their shoulders and begin to shake their hips in shorts, tights and miniskirts.

Is their act too sexy for a high-school halftime show?

Yes, say some school board members, who believe some cheerleading and dance squads are emphasizing sex appeal over school spirit.

The Chatham County school board is set to vote Wednesday on a policy banning "lewd gestures, inappropriate comments and suggestive or vulgar movements" by any student group, from glee clubs to wrestling teams.

The effort has some parents jeering.

"It's the same as whenever Elvis Presley came out in the early days," said Yvonne Holmes, the mother of a 16-year-old cheerleader at Johnson High School. "They said he couldn't move his hips and they could only film him from head-to-waist. It's just a different dance they're doing."

This coastal city of 131,000 is known for a split personality of Bible Belt religion and bawdy revelry--such as an annual St. Patrick's Day celebration that packs both churches and bars.

Around the country, youngsters have borrowed dance moves from the likes of Britney Spears and Janet Jackson, and hip-hop dance trends have moved from the inner city to suburbia.

"Shaking your rear end is really common in cheerleading," said Valerie Ninemire of Dallas, who runs the Web site "Cheerleading has become highly competitive, and these young men and women have to stay up with the latest trends and the moves and the music."

Around the country, costumes have gotten skimpier and some schools have barred cheerleaders from wearing their midriff-baring uniforms to class on game days. But Ninemire said she has not heard of any other school system cracking down on suggestive routines.

Holmes and her daughter, Christy, said the board got involved when the father of a Johnson High cheerleader complained about some of the squad's moves. Christy said the girls were told they would have to alter their routines--"hip movements, and that's mostly it." She said the cheerleaders are baffled as to how they might have offended anyone.

Diane Cantor, the school board president, said the board has heard complaints for years, and the proposed policy merely sets guidelines for principals to decide what is appropriate.

Fans at Beach High's homecoming game Oct. 16 said the girls should be left alone. In their blue-and-gold uniforms, cheerleaders augmented their heel-to-toe hopping, hand clapping and high kicking with only an occasional pelvic thrust or hip swivel.

"They're not doing anything like we did in '62," said Sally Stanley, a former Beach majorette. "We GOT DOWN! In '62, I would get all wild. This was nothing, baby."

Though fans at the Beach game denied it, school board member Lori Brady said she suspects the girls have toned down their act in the weeks since the board got involved.

Brady said she has seen sexually suggestive movements such as hip thrusts at football games for years.

"Not that I've seen this happen, but it would be inappropriate for a dance team to turn around with their rear to the audience, push it out and start shaking it all over the place," she said, recounting one complaint from parents.

Beach High Principal Roy Davenport said he has not received any complaints this year. "It's just young people dancing," he said. "It's tasteful."

Some suggest the gap separating the students and the school board may be racial as much as it is generational. Savannah's population is 57% black, and both Beach and Johnson High are mostly black. Holmes said the parent who complained at Johnson is white.

"When we shake, as African Americans--because we're so healthy--it's going to shake a little harder than any Caucasians," said Lisa Wilkins, a 1994 Beach graduate. "What are you going to tell me to do? Square dance?"

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