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The State

Not Quite Footloose in a Wheaton First

November 14, 2003|From Associated Press

WHEATON, Ill. — Andy Morgan can't dance, but he figured he was in no danger of embarrassing himself.

After all, he went to a high school that did not permit dancing. And when it came time for college, he settled on a Christian school that had not allowed social dancing since the war. The Civil War.

"I've had a great excuse all my life," Morgan said.

Not anymore.

Tonight, 21-year-old Morgan and as many as 1,200 fellow students at Wheaton College will gather in the gym for the first dance in the school's 143-year history.

Which explains why students in recent days have been seeking out classmates who know this stuff and looking for places to practice.

"It's crunch time," said Steve Paulus, 20, sounding more like he was talking about cramming for a final than learning to hold his own when the swing band the Rhythm Rockets takes the stage.

Change does not come quickly or without great deliberation at this quiet campus 25 miles outside Chicago.

It was not until the 1960s that the school lifted the rule prohibiting students from going to movies. For generations, students were barred from dancing on or off campus except with members of the same sex or at a square dance. It was not until the 1990s that students and faculty were permitted to dance with spouses or relatives at family events such as weddings.

Nine months ago, Wheaton lifted the ban altogether, freeing students to cut the rug on campus or off, at Chicago clubs or other places. (Wheaton also eased its ban on alcohol and smoking for faculty and staff. They can now drink and light up off campus, as long as it is not in front of undergraduates.)

Under the new set of rules, called the Community Covenant, students may dance, but should avoid behavior "which may be immodest, sinfully erotic or harmfully violent."

Judging by what happened Monday night, meeting those criteria will not be a problem. There was no slithering going on, only students, some about as rigid as rakes, watching their feet as they tried to master some basic steps.

"They had a lot of fun, but they kind of approached it from almost an academic standpoint," said Rich Nickel, a local dance instructor who helped get the students ready for the Rhythm Rockets' lineup, which will feature such standards as "Sentimental Journey" and "Sunny Side of the Street."

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