You can lead a group of teenagers to the dance floor, but can you make them swing instead of grind?

Tom Cupp wasn’t sure when he arrived at Lower Cape May Regional High School on Monday night to give students a dance lesson.

But the former competitive ballroom dancer found a willing and even enthusiastic group of students, plus a few adults, willing to learn alternatives to the sexually suggestive dancing that had contributed to lower attendance at school dances and adults reluctant to chaperone them.

“The adults don’t like the way kids were dancing,” said David Pacevich, a science teacher at the school and member of a dance committee formed about two months ago to come up with a plan to make school dances more fun and less funky.

What they found was that a lot of students don’t like the sexual nature of current dances either. They just don’t know how to do anything else and get most of their inspiration from music videos.

“They do what they know,” said senior Hannah Lamey, 17, of West Cape May, who has danced pretty much her whole life.

“The dancing can get out of hand,” said senior Ty Altieri, 18, of North Cape May.

Teacher and junior class adviser Debbie Sundstrom said some students said they didn’t want to go to the prom because of the suggestive dancing and the atmosphere it creates.

“We don’t want to take their fun or their music away,” she said. “We just want them to have fun in a healthy way.”

Concern over the nature of dancing in schools is not new, or just a local issue. Nationally there have been dances canceled and rules enforced about dancing styles. In October students at a high school in Rhode Island protested and the homecoming dance was shut down early after the school instituted a no-grinding policy. Grinding generally involves two or more dancers rubbing their bodies against each other, especially a male rubbing his crotch against a female’s buttocks.

“They don’t even look at each other,” Sundstrom said.

Officials at other area high schools contacted said dancing styles haven’t been a big problem, though some do set standards for dance behavior.

“The behavior of our students at our district dances has been in accordance with the expectations conveyed to them, and we have not had any problems,” Donna Blair, director of curriculum and instruction for the Greater Egg Harbor Regional School District, said in an email.

Mainland Regional High School Principal Mark Marrone said that at the beginning of the prom they warn students against dancing suggestively and will ask them to leave the dance floor if the dancing becomes overly suggestive. But, he said, it really hasn’t been an issue.

Sundstrom and some of the other adults at Lower Cape May Regional said they remember getting dance lessons in high school, often in gym class. But that doesn’t seem to happen much anymore. Pacevich said the LCMR dance committee decided to offer dance lessons to give students other options.

Enter Cupp and dance partner Joy Cappellati, who took over the lobby of the high school for more than an hour, leading students through an introduction to swing, salsa and bachatta.

“You can still have plenty of hip action and body action without going down in the pit,” Cupp said as he and Cappellati did a quick demonstration.

Then it was on to the “slow, slow, quick-quick” beat of swing, first with the boys, then the girls. Cupp demonstrated how the male controls the dance, but said ultimately it’s the girl who decides just how close and friendly the dance will be.

“It’s really nice to see how interested they are, and how much they are enjoying it,” Cappellati said as she watched Cupp lead the class. “We really didn’t know what to expect.”

Girls outnumbered boys about two-to-one, with some of the boys admitting they came because their girlfriends made them.

“But it was fun,” said sophomore Mike Holden, 15, of Lower Township, who at one point told a male classmate “Don’t be like a rock, put your hips into it.”

Senior Veronica Golaszewski, 18, of the Villas section of Lower Township, a big fan of the TV show “Dancing with the Stars,” said she’s always wanted to learn to dance.

Cupp said he has taught classes at other schools, and students really do enjoy it.

“You should see them when they start getting serious,” he said.

Pacevich said the committee plans a second lesson Jan. 22, right before the next school dance that weekend. He was thrilled with the turnout and said if all those students go to the dance and are willing to try their new dances, they could start a trend that could even lead to a club.

“This was way more students than I expected tonight,” he said. “If they all come, and bring a date, it’s enough for a dance right there.”

Contact Diane D'Amico:

609-272-7241