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Discussing Dancing Dirty
Using Footloose to Get Our Teenagers Talking
An article from Jonathan McKee at

When I was 14-years-old I watched Kevin Bacon get Footloose. In the eyes of a teenager…the movie was awesome. Rebellion, self-expression, living for the moment, not flinching in any way to consider consequences.

Oh…to be young.

When I was 41-years-old I watched Footloose—the new one. In the eyes of a parent of teenagers…the movie was frightening. Rebellion, self-expression, living for the moment, not flinching in any way to consider consequences.

Oh…to be a parent.

Going Mainstream
Some would argue that the issue of dancing dirty isn’t anything new. I would argue that they haven’t chaperoned a dance in the last year or two.

Yes, guys were “grinding” up against girls decades ago and girls danced risqué even in the 60’s. But these kinds of activities have gone mainstream at today’s dances. By “mainstream” I mean, not just a small group of rowdy kids being naughty in the middle of the dance floor, I’m talking about “most” of the dance floor dancing dirty.

About a year ago I provided you a detailed look at what goes on “in the dark” at most school dances in the U.S. today. Since then I have talked with teachers, board members, youth workers, coaches and parents who have chaperoned dances across the country and they attest to the same thing.

For those concerned parents (a much smaller number of parents than you’d hope), they don’t know how to respond. Is “banning our kids” from attending dances the answer? Or is this simply an over-reaction? Is it possible to have a rational discussion about the subject with our kids proactively as the season of junior prom and senior ball rapidly approaches?

Consider using the new Footloose to springboard the conversation.

Presenting Polar Extremes
The new Footloose is full of over-reactions, and funny enough, as I hear people responding to the film, I hear two polar responses. On one hand, I hear the young people saying, “So typical of adults. So typical of the church. They don’t understand us or trust us.” On the other hand I hear parents gasping, “Did you see the new Footloose? It wasn’t at all what I expected. It was overtly sexual, full of attitude and anti-authority.”

Is either extreme right? Let me ask a better question. Can we use extreme voices like this to compel our kids to think?

That’s what the new Footloose is. It’s extreme. Characters are either overtly rebellious or they are painfully and stringently authoritarian, each side polarized against the other.

That’s why I’m using this film to get my teenagers talking.

Riling ‘em Up with Controversy
Parents always complain to me that they can’t get their teenagers to talk. Have you ever tried using controversy? If you want to get your teenagers talking, give them “case studies” under the guise of a story.

Want to have a discussion about ethics? You could try saying, “You must always tell the truth.”

Or…you could tell them this story:
    “A teenager in Sacramento signed up for a private school with strict guidelines: wear a school uniform, keep your hair cut a certain length, no drinking, smoking, etc. The young man signed on the dotted line and kept all the rules… his freshman year. But during the summer he grew his hair long. His mom liked it, all his friends liked it, his girlfriend liked it. So as the school year began, this young man decided that the school’s rules were stupid. He went to school the first day of his sophomore year and found himself sitting in the principal’s office by second period. Upon the administration’s request to cut his hair, the boy refused. He sited several passages in the Bible (Samson, John the Baptist). The young man was kicked out of school.

    “Who was right? The boy, or the administration?”
What teenager isn’t going to jump in on that discussion? We can use controversy like this to stimulate discussion. Footloose provides this sort of controversy that stirs the emotions of both parent and teenager.

Last year my then 15-year-old daughter Alyssa asked me if she could go to a dance at a local public high school with a few friends from church. Alyssa knows I know what happens at these dances, but she still asked me. “Dad, you and I both know what these dances are like, but you know me, you know the friends I want to go with, and you can trust me.” (She wasn’t waving her hand like a Jedi while she said these things.)

How would you answer your daughter if she asked you, “Dad, can I go to the Homecoming dance?” (My answer to my daughter here).

The fact is, Footloose brings up real life issues, showing imperfect people making bad decisions. What a great discussion piece!

Not all movies are great discussion springboards. Just look at our MOVIE REVIEWS & QUICK Q's page on this website where we deem plenty of films skip-able. But I think Footloose might be just the discussion springboard that many parents could use to talk about these issues.

Let me be the first to warn you, at times this movie made bad look good and good look bad. Subtleties like this are common in the media. This movie is unquestionably biased from the teenage point of view. (That might be one of the first questions I ask my kids: "Of the two points of view- the town vs. the teenagers- which side do your think this film was biased towards?" or, "Media is a powerful propaganda piece. Why might it be a good practice to be aware of a film's bias?") And Footloose isn’t G-rated (it’s rated PG-13), but neither is real life. Would you rather they watch this one with you…or at their friend’s house?

The dancing issue isn’t an easy one. Every time I write about the issue I receive polar reactions. But regardless of their point of view, every parent seems to agree about one thing: these are discussions we need to have with our teenagers.

So if you have teenagers, I suggest renting Footloose this week (it’s available for rent Tuesday, March 6th), popping some popcorn and watching it together.

Here’s some discussion questions you can use with your teenagers:

  1. This film was full of overreactions on both extremes. What were some of the ways you think the town council and Reverend Moore over-reacted?

  2. What were some of the ways that you saw the teenagers over-react in rebellion to authority?

  3. How do you think the town’s parents should have responded to the death of the teenagers?

  4. In the drive-in scene, Ariel and many of the other girls danced very provocatively. Why do girls feel the need to dance like this?

  5. How are guys affected by this kind of dancing? (lust) Does the Bible give us any guidance about this? (Matthew 5:27-30, I Corinthians 6:18)

  6. In the car wash scene, Ren and Willard said that the town needed a wet t-shirt contest. What are your thoughts about this? (This question is purposely vague- the answer might tell you a lot about your kid. Warning: Don’t over-react to their point of view.)

  7. When does dancing become “sin”?

  8. How could Christian teenagers today attend dances (if at all) and not get caught up in “sin”?

  9. What guardrails could parents, schools and/or communities realistically set up to help teenagers, but not hurt their ability to learn to make decisions for themselves?

Candid Confessions

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Jonathan McKee Jonathan McKee is the author of over twenty books including the brand new The Teen’s Guide to Social Media & Mobile Devices, If I Had a Parenting Do Over, 52 Ways to Connect with Your Smartphone Obsessed Kid; and the Amazon Best Seller - The Guy's Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket. He has over 20 years youth ministry experience and speaks to parents and leaders worldwide, all while providing free resources for youth workers and parents on his websites, and You can follow Jonathan on his blog, getting a regular dose of youth culture and parenting help. Jonathan, his wife Lori, and their three kids live in California.

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Comments on this post

   Sean         3/9/2012 9:12:41 PM

I have a feeling that if this were 1993 "DAZED AND CONFUSED" would have been used as the example here. Not about dancing of course, but the anti-authority stuff and what not.

   Matt         3/4/2012 3:56:09 PM

(Sorry I posted this comment on the linked blog, but realized it's rather old, so I would have been better to post it here) Having had quite a bit of experience in youth ministry, and having run our youth group here at the parish for about 3 years now, I feel compelled to share a story on this topic of what we’ve done, and how we’ve had some substantial success. About two years ago, one of our parents came to me with the same complaints of “dirty dancing” at the high school, but felt that he would like to help make things better. As I talked to our youth group kid about it, they were equally disgusted by the behavior, but wanted to effect a real change. The parent offered to help in organizing some swing dance lessons for our youth group kids. A local dance instructor even volunteered to help. Our youth group kids have really gotten into it and have become impressively good at it. Just about 2 weeks ago we hosted our 6th parish “swing dance” (about once every 3 months or so) where we require modest dress, provide a clean environment, and begin each dance with a volunteer instructor who teaches dancing lessons for about an hour prior to the dance. It’s been tremendously successful and we average about 80 high school kids at our dances. However, that wasn’t the best part. This fall, as the winter formal season came, I was pleasantly surprised to hear a story from one of our parents. I always talk to our kids about the importance of spreading our faith through their actions and truly preaching the gospel through their actions. One of the parents informed me that about 15-20 or so of our youth group kids decided to “take center stage” at the winter formal dance, and were doing real dancing, and some very impressive stuff, complete with lifts, tosses, etc. as a crowd of the other students, who were normally “grinding” started to gather around. Apparently, it was a show stopping moment that our youth kids had decided they weren’t going to be upstaged anymore. Afterwards, a number of the “other” students were asking our kids “where did you learn to dance like that?” We’ve even picked up a few new kids at our youth group through their involvement with swing dancing. A lot of our parish community has really come together behind these teens who are working hard to change attitudes at their school through their dancing. I know the experience has already strengthened the kids in their faith and in the knowledge that they really can change the world, even as teens. So I encourage all parents, if you don’t like something, and your kids don’t like it either, there are probably many other parents and kids who think the same. Don’t just restrict them, challenge them to change the world!

   Becca         3/3/2012 6:31:22 AM

Great questions! Thanks Jonathan.


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