What’s in the Name of a Father-Daughter Dance?

Christine Spaziano with her father Anthony in 1986, the last year her elementary school called the dance the two attended for years a “father-daughter dance.”

Just like a rose by any other name would still smell as sweet, you don’t need gender references in the name of a school activity for it to serve its purpose. As such, I’m really at a loss as to why so many people in Cranston and beyond are so upset that they can’t use the terms father-daughter dance and mother-son ballgames.

After all, if the purpose of these functions is for parents to model good behavior for their children, the least they could do is not alienate anyone from that opportunity.

It seems there are no shortage of Rhode Island communities that have been able to manage both.

According to East Greenwich Patch, one of the local elementary schools, “holds ‘Girls Night Out’ and ‘Boys Night Out’ events, according to Principal Cheryl Vaughn. The student is invited to bring a parent, grandparent or close family friend.”

Johnston Patch reports that “School Committee Member Robert LaFazia (Dist. 1) explained during a phone interview this morning that about 12 years ago, he and other parents at Thornton Elementary School started holding dances for families, rather than specifying father-daughter or mother-son.”

“We’ve been doing it ever since, and I’m glad we changed it years ago,” LaFazia told Patch. “We never had any complaints, the parents are happy, and all of the events have been great.”

Word is they also don’t use such exclusionary terms in some South Kingstown, Providence and Tiverton schools.

Even in Cranston itself, the practice of calling them father-daughter dances has come in and out of fashion over the years.

Christine Spaziano, a sales rep for the Providence Journal who graduated from Cranston West High School in 1994, remembers Oaklawn Elementary School changing the name of the annual dance she attended with her dad from a father-daughter dance to a “family dance.”

She recalled, “It wasn’t a big deal, there was no outrage. I still went with my dad even though they called it a family dance.”

So why is it a big deal now when it isn’t other places and wasn’t in Cranston before?

Well, one reason is the media got a hold the story and politicians will posture when that is the case. The other is that Cranston is still smarting from the last time the ACLU came to town. In that standoff over civil liberties, the school district ended up spending $150,000 to lose a lawsuit over a school prayer banner after a student sued with the help of the ACLU. Here’s hoping this issue ends better for Cranston schools than that one did.

Mayor Allan Fung told the Providence Journal, “I am utterly disappointed to have such a time-honored tradition under attack in the name of political correctness. Traditions like this are what make up the fabric of our childhood memories and definitely contribute to the well being of our children as a whole.”

It’s actually not that much of a tradition, and it’s a tradition that has been changed before with little fanfare.

More apt was what Gov. Chafee said told WPRO about the issue: “The times are changing.”


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Bob Plain is the editor/publisher of Rhode Island's Future. Previously, he's worked as a reporter for several different news organizations both in Rhode Island and across the country.

9 responses to “What’s in the Name of a Father-Daughter Dance?”

  1. leftyrite

    Wel, here we have it: another skirmish in the culture wars, or, a chance for empathy and inclusion for all KIDS, regardless of their family geometry.

    Guess what the “talks” will go with.

    Call all of these events family events…simple.

    Forget stigmatzation of single parent families, or families that are different from the classic model, whatever that truly is. Or, of kids who are sensitive to not being “normal.”

    Stop being chauvinistic about good fortune. If you’re ideal, great.  Feel blessed and be humble about it.

    And let the kid who doesn’t have a Dad go with Mom or Granddad, or Uncle Mike, or whatever loved and trusted relative of majority age to the Family Dance.

    But, no. In little Rhody, we’ll let the games begin.

    Christmas cannot be far behind. Ruin that, too, again, why don’tcha?? 

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  2. Sully

    “After all, if the purpose of these functions is for parents to model good behavior for their children, the least they could do is not alienate anyone from that opportunity.
    It seems there are no shortage of Rhode Island communities that have been able to manage both.
    According to East Greenwich Patch, one of the local elementary schools, ‘holds ‘Girls Night Out’ and ‘Boys Night Out’ events, according to Principal Cheryl Vaughn. The student is invited to bring a parent, grandparent or close family friend.'”

    I am confused by your logic. These events, which would otherwise be a reaonsable solution, would not past muster with the ACLU’s demands either, as they are also gender based.

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    1. PinkHatLib

      Gender based isn’t the issue so long as there is parity. For instance, schools have girls soccer and boys soccer. No problem. Here’s the ACLU’s statement (in part):

       “The controversy that has suddenly arisen in a political campaign over father-daughter dances in Cranston is old news – the matter was amicably resolved with school officials over four months ago. And it was resolved for a simple reason: the school district recognized that in the 21st Century, public schools have no business fostering the notion that girls prefer to go to formal dances while boys prefer baseball games. This type of gender stereotyping only perpetuates outdated notions of ‘girl’ and ‘boy’ activities and is contrary to federal law.

      “PTOs remain free to hold family dances and other events, but the time has long since passed for public school resources to encourage stereotyping from the days of Ozzie and Harriet. Not every girl today is interested in growing up to be Cinderella – not even in Cranston. In fact, one of them might make a great major league baseball player someday.”

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      1. Sully

        Right, but it has to be the same event, so gilrs night out can’t be a dance if boys night out has a sport themed event at Healthtrax, and vice versa, regardless of what the actual students would prefer to do.

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      2. Sully

        “Gender based isn’t the issue so long as there is parity.”

        However, per the link above,

        “Brown told The Associated Press that gender-specific events are not appropriate and commended the school system for banning them.”

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  3. smc

    Mr. Plain,
    This article is incorrect!!!!!!! The dances in Cranston have NOT been called Father Daughter for several years!! That is not the issue right now!! We are being prevented from having a girls’ event and a separate boys’ event…. That’s the issue!!  We have difficulty finding a venue to hold a family event with 800+ people, not to mention the chaos of an event that big! Our girls’ choice dance invites each girl with the date of their choice…. ANYONE they choose! We have had moms attend, grandparents, etc…. It is never an issue. The boys at our school were not interested in a dance. We sent home a survey and the boys wanted something different. A committee put together an awesome bowling event and it is a big success!!
    It is so frustrating that this keeps getting reported incorrectly!! We include everyone and we are very careful about how our invitations are worded!! Please feel free to come to Cranston so you can hear the truth!!  

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  4. leftyrite

    The original theme was based on a certain conception of a family, as I see it. We’re supposed to have families of a certain configuration; still, after all these years.

    That’s the main issue. Gender-referenced activities still allow a degree of choice; let’s not muck that point up.

    The fact is that a second grader, or, indeed, a kindergartener, (like my grand-daughter, last year,) might not have a Dad to take to the dance. That’s the big issue. The mother-son baseball thing seems like yet another talking point– a canard, if you will.

    Let’s stop showing off how regular we are. It’s extremely constipated. 

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  5. smc

    I would also like to add that we never assumed that the girls would want a dance… We asked!! We also asked the boys what they would like. Parents filled out surveys, much like voting! We listened to what they wanted and planned the events they asked for. Yes, times are changing, and we’re trying to listen to what the CHILDREN want!!

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  6. donroach

    If someone does not have a dad then that person can have a stand-in attend the dance with them. I think living every day life without a mother or father is a far greater struggle than deciding whether or not to attend a father-daughter or mother-son school event. I lost my mother in high school and dealing with THAT was a much bigger deal than any other peripheral issue that accompanied the fact that my mother was no longer present in my life.
    This situation is just an example of the ACLU run amok and it pisses me off to no end. The ACLU is trying to make gender equal same versus equal. There’s a large gulf between same and equal. Boys and girls are not the same, don’t all deal with the same issues, but certainly should be treated equally. The ACLU, in this case, has done a disservice to children, parents, and guardians in Cranston but while one can understand the ACLUs general attack on anything that resembles ‘tradition’, that the school department concurred is the height of idiocy.

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