The fluorescent lights in the gym were turned down and white Christmas lights were strung from the basketball hoops, looking the part of a winter high school dance, but all the dance partners were separated by a few feet in height.
Friday night was the seventh annual Father-Daughter Dance at the Beatrice YMCA, where dads and their daughters get all dressed up to show off their dance moves.
The event has become an annual tradition, said Beatrice YMCA CEO Alison Leonard, and it's a growing tradition at that. This year, they expected 125 guests, up from 119 last year and 50 people the first year. It would have been more, but they ran out of seating for everyone, she said.
The dance has also become an important tradition for many families, Leonard said, including her own.
“My daughter is too old now to come, but my husband and daughter have kept this day as a forever day now,” she said. “They're going out to dinner tonight.”
When the dads and their daughters arrive, they can get their photos taken. This year, Leonard said they’ll get to take the photo home in a special frame that allows daughters to write in what they love most about their dads and also allows the fathers do the same about their daughters.
After the photos, it’s onto the dance floor. There are some slow dances and some fast dances, Leonard said, but really, it’s all a way for fathers to connect to their kids and for participants to get a chance to dress to the nines.
Shaun Petet and his daughter, Hadley Petet, were at their first father daughter dance. Hadley was wearing a dress with a sparkly top and Shaun was dressed in a black suit with a red tie.
“I have one and I was like, I need a second time to wear this,” Shaun said.
In order to prepare for the dance each year, the YMCA closes the gym for the afternoon leading up to the dance, and helpers put up lights and decorations, turning the workout space into something magical.
The dance also features a cupcake walk that gives the kids a chance to go home with some dessert, but there’s also a sit-down dinner that is kid-friendly, Leonard said.
“The dads will get to enjoy chicken strips, cheesy potatoes and corn,” she said. “Then, we'll have punch and the tables will have candy on them for the kids to take home.”
The YMCA’s mission is to create opportunities for families to build their relationships, Leonard said. The father-daughter dance is a fun way for kids and parents to do some bonding, she said.
“The daughters are looking to their fathers and modeling what they are going to be looking for in husbands someday,” Leonard said. “So, the more bonding that we can do and the more opportunity for them to build on their relationships, the better relationships they're going to have some day when they get married and have children.”
Shaun Petet said he hadn’t practiced too much dancing in anticipation of Friday’s event, but his daughter, Hadley, had no doubt in his ability.
“You remember how you did at Laura's wedding?” Hadley asked him, reminding him of his skills on the dance floor.
“I do remember that at Laura's wedding,” he said. “I did dance there.”
“Do that same thing,” Hadley said. “Do it, do it!”