Dray Norwood has brought his four daughters to the Daddy/Daughter Dance nearly every year since the first one in 2003. What started as an event attended by 25 people in a cafeteria has grown into a gymnasium full of 1,000 people 15 years later.
“It’s all about getting to spend quality time with my girls, before they go away,” said Norwood.
Thirteen-year-old Lenehja Norwood said she has gotten a lot taller since she attended her first Daddy/Daughter dance as a young girl. This year, she and her three sisters wore matching black and white outfits and braided their hair for a special night out with their father.
“It took a while to decide how we were going to dress and what we like,” said Lenehja.
The dance, which sold out for the fifth year in a row, was held at North Division High School, 1011 W. Center St. The event was hosted by Milwaukee Recreation, Milwaukee Fatherhood Initiative, Social Development Commission and Milwaukee Public Schools.
“It’s kind of like the old saying, ‘If you build it they will come’ and I think that’s really what happens with most of our programs,” said Brian Hoffer, marketing manager for Milwaukee Recreation.
Hoffer said Milwaukee Recreation hosts many events every season targeting youth development, and the Daddy/Daughter Dance is its flagship event.
For the first time, the dance was streamed live on Facebook this year.
David Polk said his wife spent a lot of time getting his two daughters ready for the night. They came downstairs all dolled up and they took pictures together before coming to the dance.
“It was like an early prom night for my girls,” said Polk. “We’re definitely making this a ritual.”
More than 100 volunteers and staff worked to put on the event. Photographers were there to take professional pictures for the fathers and daughters to have a memento from the night.
Dale Shuster, a volunteer who used to work for SDC, knew that even after he retired he would want to participate in the event.
“I think it serves a need. I think there are unfortunately not a lot of outlets for positive family experiences, but I think this is one that people recognize, and they jump at,” said Shuster.
Toward the end of the night, the dance floor was transformed into a “battlefield,” with daughters on one side and dads on the other.
Brooklyn Love, 9, in a white, flowing dress said that the dance battle is her favorite part of the whole night.
“Except we smoke them every time,” said Greg Love, her father.
The dance competition pits the dads against the daughters. Hip-hop songs from the ‘90s such as “This Is How We Do It” inspired the dads to show off their old moves, sparking laughter from their daughters. The daughters danced to modern songs such as “Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae),” as the fathers beamed with pride.
The daughters won.
Dale Williams, project coordinator of the Milwaukee Fatherhood Initiative, said that the night is about fathers showing daughters how they deserve to be treated on a date. He added that it is sometimes the first date dads have with their daughters, but it should not be the last.
“Our mission is to get fathers involved with the lives of their children,” said Williams.