Schools move away from father-daughter dances
HAMPTON, N.H. (AP) — The father-daughter dance has been a tradition cherished for years in schools all over, but some New Hampshire parents and officials are questioning whether gender-specific dances should be removed from schools altogether.
The Hampton Parent Teacher Association voted in November to change its Daughter’s Choice Dance to a Family Dance to more explicitly include boys, as well as to switch its annual mother-son event to a family event to make girls feel included.
The dance was previously known as the Father-Daughter Dance but was changed two years ago to be more inclusive, some saying the move helped avoid triggering traumatic emotions for girls without fathers. Hampton parents who wanted to keep the Father-Daughter Dance saw the Daughter’s Choice Dance as a fair compromise but view the new change as a step too far and are advocating for the Daughter’s Choice Dance to return.
Father-daughter dances are still held around the Seacoast region. The Portsmouth Recreation Department’s Father/Daughter Valentine Dance took place earlier this month.
The debate over being inclusive to all genders has been held in other communities, too. The Rollinsford Grade School’s father-daughter dance was also changed to be a daughter’s choice dance after community members were concerned the traditional name was not inclusive enough. The dance was not held this year, but only due to weather, according to Principal Katherine Lucas.
Lucas said the discussion of whether to make the change was not only a long time coming but welcomed.
“I think we wanted it to come,” Lucas said. “I think people in education, certainly in our building, were looking forward to that conversation, just wanting to ensure that every family was included.”
The discussion has taken place in other parts of the country, like in New York City where some expressed outrage after school officials changed their father-daughter dances to fall in line with the state Department of Education’s gender-neutral policy.
Hampton fathers speaking out against the change argue the Daughter’s Choice Dance was already inclusive, as anyone even boys who wanted to come would never be rejected. They say calling the dance a family dance changes the culture of the evening. Kendra Duvall, who is advocating for the Hampton PTA to bring back the Daughter’s Choice Dance, said the new name could encourage more moms to crowd the dance floor and scare the dads away, for example.
Adam Kalar, a father who agrees with Duvall, likened the tradition to a dance between a father and his daughter on her wedding day. He and like-minded fathers have said there should be two dances to ensure the fathers and daughters have their night.
“The father and the bride have this moment,” Kalar said. “Having this opportunity, it’s that moment, and we feel like it’s being infringed on because of political correctness.”
Proponents of the change say it makes sense for schools to move away from events that are not inclusive to all gender identities. Jodie Bray Strickland, a Hampton School District parent, said the problem is not only about inclusion but removing the idea that students are getting a separate but equal experience. She said social changes can be “sometimes hard and uncomfortable.”
Portsmouth Recreation Director Rus Wilson said his department has worked to be more inclusive with its father-daughter dance, which he said is also paired with an annual mother-son dance. The department plans to begin advertising more clearly that mothers and other significant role models are welcome to the father-daughter dance.
Wilson said changes like that and having two dances, one for both genders, goes “above and beyond” in making sure all families feel included. He likened it to sports programs that are divided by gender.
“It’s sort of like, we have Father’s Day and Mother’s Day. I wonder if (critics of separate dances) would be interested in getting rid of both of those and just have a parent’s day,” Wilson said.
Kelly Martin, another Hampton mother who agrees with the move from the Daughter’s Choice Dance, said the conversation is one of many important ones being held in the Seacoast about changing cultural norms. She cited recent news coverage of various stories related to diversity, from a North Hampton transgender teen who testified before the Legislature to tension that rose at a Kittery race event when one attendee asked a question about “white pride.”
“These are conversations that our society needs to continually look at with an open mind about what is in place,” Martin said. “It’s easy for people to be like, ‘You’re attacking our father-daughter dance.’ That’s not the case. I’m not taking that away from you. What we’re doing is making sure everyone is included.”
Those who see the change as problematic say the tradition is one of which they hold fond memories. Duvall said she loves her memories from the father-daughter dance her late father took her to when she was young.
Martin said that tradition can be kept but believes it should be done privately, like religious ceremonies.
“If a Jewish person wants a bar mitzvah for their 13-year-old, you’re not going to do that as a PTA event,” Martin said. “If you’re going to do that, it’s your own religious experience.”
Leslie Lafond, a Winnacunnet School Board member, believes the potential for children to not feel included is not such a threat to necessitate schools doing away with father-daughter dances altogether.
“Why do we have to take away something that hundreds of people benefit from because three or four feel left out?” Lafond said. “I believe you can respect diversity by having a father-daughter dance... (If) a few can’t do something, then there’s other things available for them. At some point, we can’t please everybody.”
Information from: Portsmouth Herald, http://www.seacoastonline.com