Learning to cut rugs

Friday, November 14, 2003

WHEATON, Ill. -- Tonight dance history changes when as many as 1,200 students at Wheaton College will gather in the gym for the first real 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 where they can practice. And it explains why on Monday night and Tuesday night, dozens of students packed a room on campus for a quick dance lesson.

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

Nine months ago, the school lifted the dance ban, freeing students to cut the rug on campus or off, at clubs or other places.

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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