GORHAM — In a move that has disappointed students, Gorham High School has done away with school dances other than the prom because of concerns over sexually suggestive dancing.

A homecoming bonfire will be held Friday instead of the traditional first dance of the school year.

“Word around the school is no one is going to go, and it’s going to be lame,” senior Billy Ruby said of the bonfire.

A year ago, Gorham High students walked out of the homecoming dance because a controversial dance style called grinding was prohibited.

Dances were canceled for the rest of the year and none was scheduled for this year, aside from the prom, where students tend to be better behaved because it’s a more formal event, said Principal Chris Record.

In a letter sent to parents last month, Record said the prevalence of grinding, in which the buttocks of one dancer are backed up against the pelvis of another, makes it impossible for chaperones to control.

He doesn’t blame the kids, he said, but the nature of the contemporary dance culture.

After school Tuesday, some students said they’re fine with not being able to grind at dances. They’re upset about losing the chance to get dressed up, take pictures and enjoy the music.

“If there’s people grinding, kick them out. Don’t ban the whole thing,” said junior Kiara Sweet.

After the student walkout at Gorham High last year, students at Scarborough High School did the same.

David Creech, the Scarborough principal, did not return a call for comment Tuesday on whether his school has changed its dance policies.

LONGSTANDING ISSUE LOCALLY, ACROSS U.S.

Suggestive dancing at school events has been an issue that schools throughout the country have grappled with for decades, and schools have dealt with it in various ways.

In response to a ban on grinding, students at an Illinois high school held their own “anti-homecoming” at a private club. A high school in Vermont banned last year’s homecoming dance because of an increased amount of twerking, another sexually provocative type of dance that involves squatting and hip thrusting. Several years ago, officials at Skaneateles High School in upstate New York changed DJs and tried to introduce formal dances, like the waltz or the hustle, to try to get kids to dance differently, but ended up canceling dances when students wouldn’t stop grinding.

The issue isn’t new to Gorham High, either.

Two years ago, Gorham High’s School Council, a group composed of students and staff members, reviewed the school’s procedures for dances to prevent grinding.

A decision was made to increase lighting and the number of chaperones, but when those and other changes were implemented last year, two-thirds of 350 students at the homecoming dance left early, according to Record’s letter.

“The following week, GHS was disrupted by an uprising of sorts by the seniors and juniors, demanding that grinding should be allowed,” Record wrote.

The disc jockey at the dance, who also works for Portland radio station Q97.9, invited students to speak on air about the incident, which Record believes exacerbated the situation.

Brian Lang, market manager for Townsquare Media’s radio stations in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and Portland, including Q97.9, believes the principal was in a tough situation, and that it’s in the school’s purview to make and enforce the rules for dances.

But, Lang said, it should be up to parents to teach their children about appropriate behavior.

“I think blaming the radio station is ridiculous,” he said.

SCHOOL’S ‘NEW DIRECTION’ DISAPPOINTS STUDENTS

Despite rumors that Record decided to cancel dances for the remainder of last year, he said, it was student leaders who believed that the dances wouldn’t be worthwhile to organize.

Then near the end of the year, Record said, administrators decided to “move in another direction regarding offering safe and appropriate events” for students, such as Friday’s bonfire.

Those events also serve as fundraisers for the Student Council, which could have a hard time raising money for scholarships and other activities.

Gorham High students interviewed Tuesday said they either weren’t planning on going to the bonfire or hadn’t decided, and would probably go to other parties or hang out with friends instead.

Record said he’s heard opinions from “across the spectrum” on the matter from students, parents and alumni.

“I’m sorry people are upset, but my number one job is to keep students safe,” he said.

Record said the administrators’ decision isn’t necessarily permanent, and he’ll continue to have a conversation with student leaders about how to improve the school’s culture.

Meanwhile, from seniors missing out on their last homecoming dance to freshmen looking forward to their first, students say they’re disappointed.

“I would have definitely wanted a homecoming dance,” said freshman Cooper Lyons.

Students said it’s especially hard knowing friends at other schools are having fun at homecoming dances where there’s less issue taken with grinding.

Record said the problem isn’t unique to his high school.

“It’s not a Gorham issue. It’s a Maine issue, it’s a national issue,” he said. “I’m not trying to lead the way, I’m just trying to make good decisions for the school community.”