WASHINGTON CITY — Freedom of speech? Not so much, some might say, when it comes to words posted on Facebook – at least insofar as their impact on a back-to-school dance party scheduled to be held in Washington City Saturday. The expectations of hundreds of teenagers across Washington County, including eight teenaged DJs amped to show their spin skills, were pushed aside Wednesday when Washington City canceled the Nerds and Jocks back-to-school dance because the word “rave” was included in the party’s description on Facebook.
TSUnami PROductions contracted with the Washington City Community Center to hold a Nerds and Jocks back-to-school teenage dance party, said Joshua Rios, who described himself as counselor for TSUnami Productions, an enterprise of his twin sons, Antonio Rios, 18, and Damon Rios, 18. But the city canceled the event when a few community members called the Washington City Community Center and expressed that they would no longer sponsor the community center unless TSUnami PROductions was not allowed to hold their back-to-school dance, he said.
Joshua Rios was subsequently called to a meeting Wednesday with Community Center Director Wendi Bulkley, and Washington City’s Director of Leisure Services, Barry Blake.
“I thought I was just going in there to meet and we were going to make sure everything was set up for the event,” Joshua Rios said.
Instead, Blake informed him that the dance party was canceled and held up two sheets of paper printed from TSUnami’s Facebook page, Joshua Rios said. The concern was that the posts made by Antonio Rios contained the word “rave.”
The first post mentioned a song titled, “Eat, sleep, rave, repeat,” by Fatboy Slim, and the second talked about the type of events Tsunami Productions is planning to organize such as concerts, dances, private parties, secret parties, and “raves.” An additional post of concern to the city pertained to how Joshua Rios described what the music was going to feel like at the event; he used words like “sick,” “nasty” and “radical.”
“My son has never been to a rave, never done drugs, never been in trouble,” Joshua Rios said.
The intended use of the word “rave,” he said, was in reference to the type of music that would be played – electronic-music, which is one of the meanings of the word “rave.”
At the same time, drug use and sex are also affiliated with this word, in the illegal sense, which is the reason the city had a heightened reaction to the Facebook postings and, he said, a misperception of what TSUnami PROductions is affiliated with and the type of events it promotes.
“It’s unfortunate, it seems there was a misunderstanding,” Washington City Mayor Ken Neilson said. “The word was probably used in the euphoria of trying to promote the event. I don’t think we would be opposed if they tried to hold a future dance.”
“I erased the posts immediately,” Joshua Rios said. “That is not the definition of rave, I’m thinking of rave as music, the definition of rave is electronic music being played in a certain format.”
Joshua Rios went straight to the police station after the meeting with Bulkley and Blake and spoke with Washington City Police Chief Jim Keith, a conversation he recorded. In that conversation, Keith said that he supported Blake’s decision canceling the dance and that the concern surrounding the use of the word “rave” is “because of what is out there and the perception that is out there.”
The city’s reasoning was that the public doesn’t understand the difference between an event being held at the community center by a third party versus an event being held by the community center itself, Lex de Azevedo, also known as DJ Lex, said in an email to St. George News. In other words, you’re not just renting the location, you’re partnering with the community center, he said.
“This was very surprising to me,” Azevedo said. “If you follow that logic, you’re left with a scenario that the city could deny anyone use of the facility based off a single complaint by the public or sponsors of the community center.”
“We have been instructed to direct all questions regarding the dance party to the city manager, Roger Carter,” Bulkley said on Friday. Carter has not responded to St. George News’ inquiries on the matter.
Washington City resident Bradyn Poulsen started an online petition Friday asking the city to release a formal announcement explaining why this event was canceled.
“I have yet to find anyone that actually believes the event would have been anything other than a back-to-school high school dance,” Azevedo said. “It’s still unclear to me as to who made the initial complaint, and if it was a legitimate complaint. The complaint wasn’t given an opportunity to be rebutted.”
Joshua Rios said that he planned on hiring police officers and security just as he had done July 11 for the first TSUnami PROductions teenage dance party held at the Washington City Community Center. For that party, he hired two policemen, 10 security personnel and had numerous parental chaperones to provide safety precautions.
“I have done events at the community center for years. They’ve always been great to work with,” Azevedo said. “It’s a good place to have dances because teens and parents know it’s going to be a clean and safe environment. It deters the troublemakers from showing up to events because they know police are nearby.”
Damon Rios has been heavily involved with Special Olympics and Antonio Rios with soccer. They both love to entertain, Joshua Rios said, and thus hosting and promoting events came as a natural fit.
“What’s sad is they are experiencing the same challenges from local cities like I did in the ’90s,” Joshua Rios said. “From 1995 to 2014, we as a community still treat dancing events the same.
“… If you are a comedian, if you’re an actor, if you’re a DJ, if you’re a performer, if you’re an athlete, if you’re in the public eye of entertainment, you’re not held as liable and literal of your words, lyrics or expressions of art, because then the Beatles, Elvis and everybody from that time to now, and even now, would all be in trouble, incarcerated in jail.”
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